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Effective Pull-Ups:
The Key To A Bigger,
Stronger Upper Body

by Philip Nation, nationtraining.com

While having a few minutes to spare until my next client and not wanting to pour into the usual free time reading, I decided that I had to do something to burn off some energy and that could help me in my pursuit of increased muscle and strength.  It was truly a MacGyver workout. I was on the clock as I only had 10 minutes to get something worthwhile done and I didn’t have time for any warm-ups or mobility drills. Luckily, I did have a pull-up bar, a stick of bubble gum, and a paperclip. (The last two were not needed!)

I decided that my best bet was the pull-up, a super manly exercise, and for good reason.  They are probably the best indicator exercise of overall relative total body strength; they absolutely hammer your core, back, biceps, and pretty much every muscle in your upper body.  Being a red-blooded, testosterone-fueled male, that’s what I want (and nothing demands attention from the opposite sex like a wide back, big shoulders, and big arms).  The king himself Arnold Schwarzenegger said that doing 50 pull-ups a day played a huge part in developing his monster back.  However, most people rarely see any progress or results from tpull-ups because they go about it all wrong.

In order to get good at anything you have to practice. The same is true for weightlifting and strength-training.  The saying “practice makes perfect” is misleading. Only “PERFECT practice makes perfect”!  Next time you are in the gym I want you to try a sure bet to get you:

·       More total pull-ups than you ever have before in one training session

·       Recover faster so you can do it all again in a few days (the more often you train a muscle the faster it grows).

The above points combined lead to bigger and stronger muscles, what we all want as men.

Instead of starting by doing as many pull-ups as you can on the first set I want you to do only one, that’s right I want you to do one rep.  Then I want you to wait 20 seconds and do two pull-ups, wait another 20 seconds and do three pull-ups, and finally wait another 20 seconds and do four pull-ups.  That is a total of 10 pull-ups in about two minutes.   After your set of four I want you to start over and complete one rep, then start the entire cycle over again completing it four more times for a total of five total cycles.  This will equal 50 pull-ups in around 12 minutes. 

I am sure you have tried to crank out pull-ups before, only to find that you get around five to seven brutally hard reps on your first set, then every following set the amount of reps you complete dwindles to around two or three on most likely your third and final set.  This approach only leads to around a measly fifteen pull-ups, you don’t get anywhere from doing only fifteen pull-ups! 

The reason your performance stunk is that you put so much effort into the first set; you literally burnt yourself out and fatigued your nervous system (the brain for your muscles) which inhibited your performance on the following sets.  It’s not your fault, this is the approach taken in many a gym across the country. But that doesn’t mean it’s the correct one.

The approach I outlined earlier allows you to complete more reps overall by minimizing the strain on the central nervous system, but still allowing the muscular system to work hard.  This is easy to understand if you just think about it.  The hardest point in the routine is the fourth repetition. This is at the point your body is most fatigued, so simply dial back on the intensity and allow full recovery for the nervous system by only doing one rep on the next set and then building back up. The muscles still work hard, but the nervous system is not overloaded.

You can also use this system for increasing muscle mass on other areas of your body by picking different exercises.  For example, pick parallel bar dips if you want bigger triceps or front squats if you want bigger legs and use a 10 rep max weight. Follow the above protocol twice a week starting at 5 cycles and working up to 9 or 10 cycles over a six week period and you are sure to see strength and muscle gains.

Put this to work next time you are in the gym and give me a shout with your results, I guarantee you will complete more pull-ups and feel fresh when you finish the last set!

Philip nation is a personal trainer with a B.S. degree in Health and Human Performance that trains clients of all levels including athletes, executives, and everyone in-between.  Philip trains his clients at Sky Fitness & Wellbeing in Tulsa, OK. He can be contacted at Philip@nationtraining.com.


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