I was given a task about three months ago to help Ryan Williams, our newest trainer at Primal Fitness Pittsburgh, to master his pull ups that he was having difficulty with at the time. During our first session, I noticed that much of Ryan’s pulling came directly from his trap muscles. Over the course of the first month, we had to get Ryan into the habit of fully engaging his lats and abs to gain the correct tension patterns for his pull ups. Not only did we see some significant improvement in his overall form, Ryan gained significant amount of strength to the tune of being able to do 24kg weighted pull ups. . .for reps.
I had a light bulb moment when I witnessed this feat. A BIG ONE!
For those of you who know why the 24kg pull up is the center of my universe right now, the above finding was quite significant. Seeing the success in this man lead me to trouble shoot my own pull up in my practice. I noticed something too while practicing and while reviewing my first attempt ever at the 24kg pull up for the Iron Maiden Challenge.
I was using my traps for the entire pull, just like Ryan was initially. And according to my very smart chiropractor, “that means you’re using only 60% of your strength for the pull. What you need is the proper tension training to engage everything you have. If you’re getting that close to the bar using your traps, just imagine what would happen if you engaged your lats and abs correctly!”
My traps are freakishly strong, but that does not serve me justice in this weighted pull up I am wishing to master. In fact, having freakishly strong traps is probably the #1 reason I have struggled to go for reps with body weight pull ups, let alone the weighted ones. The first step I took to begin getting myself out of this trap dominate pull pattern was to seek the advice of a incredibly intelligent chiropractor out in Sewickley. If you don’t know about Scott Rehab and Spine, you will now. Dr Justin Scott was able to work out some trigger areas in my body that were causing major complications in my pull movement. Too much tension in the traps leads to a compensation down your back that literally inhibits the firing over your lats. That is no bueno if you’re going for a max lift pull. After a solid three weeks, I was ready for body weight pull up training. Time for serious lat and ab activation!
Now, how does one begin to re-train the body to fire the lats and abs correctly? Obviously, working on the hollow position for the end of your pull up helps. I knew how to do that with Ryan Williams, as I was a second pair of eyes for him. But. . .I needed a pair of eye balls for my own sake to be sure that I was doing this right. I teamed up with a good friend of mine who happens to be a gymnast for some advice on body weight pull up drills that demand the utmost precision when training tension correctly for the pull ups. Check out this video below for some training tips from the gymnast herself, Lisa Joseph.
Now that you know how to practice the hollow hold on the floor, here’s how to use the hollow hold in a dead hang body-weight pull up.
A great way to test your tension patterns for weighted pull ups is to use a much lighter weight than what you are normally used to training with. In the next video, I did a weighted pull up with an 8kg kettlebell to get set and used to tensing my abs and using my lats properly for the lift. The result? It felt pretty good. . .pretty easy. . . which is pretty awesome.
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Happy to report the weighted pull up practice is back in action and will be in full throttle next week. Took some time off to have my chiropractor work out some icky stuff in my back. Good news: the light pulls feel easy and my heavier ones are just about where they need to be. Really excited to get to work on the program I had written up for me next week. Here we go! #roadtolevel2 #kettlebells
As you can see, the pull ups are getting EASIER now, and that is WITH more weight being added. This is exactly what you want for maximal body weight pull ups or, in my case, when your training for the Iron Maiden challenge which requires the 24kg pull up itself. Special thanks to Lisa Joseph for her help with the hollow drills!
As a reminder! April 1st kicks off the first online training program of the year, the Powerful Pull Up Program. This program is suited for beginners a like, as you’ll have access to my training videos on our VIP coaching forum live on facebook! Details can be found on my previous post here! Register today by clicking this link!