Pullups can be hard. I didn’t like them for a long time. I was never a gifted pullupper.
It took me awhile to build enough strength to make them easy.
I used one of those assisted pullup machines at the gym. You put your knees on a pad and hold onto an overhead pullup bar. The adjustable weight counterbalances your own body weight and makes pullups easier or harder, depending on how much weight you select. The more weight you add, the easier the pullup.
I used this machine because it is all I knew about. If it hadn’t been for this machine, I may still be troubled with pullups.
Now I have many options in my toolbox on how to develop pullups. Two of which are modifications featured today. The best part is that you do not need to wait in line at a gym for the fancy assisted pullup machine. All you need is a bar and a workout buddy.
The negative pullup works the eccentric portion, or the down part, of the pullup. I love eccentric movements. They build strength in both the muscle and the muscle’s connective tissue.
Most athletes who have trouble with strength movements find they excel at the negatives. This is because the difficult part is greatly minimized by reducing the weight or with assistance. All that is left is the easy part of the movement. By controlling the tempo of the easy part, or the eccentric portion, you can condition the muscles involved.
This prepares them for the next progression in which you focus on the concentric portion. As you get better with the eccentric part of the pullup, you will also get better at the concentric part, the up part.
Your gym buddy or trainer can help you in your initial pullup to the bar. If you are solo, use a bench, box or stool to get you in place at the top of the pullup. Use lots of help for this portion. Remember the focus is in the controlled descent from the pullup.
When your workout buddy helps you onto the bar, hold there for a second and then slowly let yourself down while counting four seconds. Be sure to say one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, four-one-thousand. Otherwise your count will accelerate as you fatigue. It is funny to see people count to four in one exhausted exhale breath.
For those of you who can already do pullups I have another trick to build strength in the eccentric portion. It involves your workout buddy playing a more active role in your misery. The eccentric pullup is performed the same way, only this time your partner pulls down on your hips as you maintain the controlled four-count descent.
This version can get pretty intense, especially if your workout buddy enjoys your suffering and gives you good resistance.
Workout buddies, don’t be jerks and rip your friend off the pullup bar with all of your might, laughing at them as they hit the floor. Be a good friend and apply enough resistance so the exercise is difficult but not impossible. You will feel when your friend starts to fatigue and can adjust the resistance accordingly. Generally, you will apply more resistance with the first sets than you do with the later sets because fatigue will set in and arms turn to noodles.
This exercise is effective in making a person tired. You use the large latissimus dorsi muscles and all the other smaller muscles across the entire back to help stabilize. Don’t be surprised if you are unable to do more than three your first time.
Negative pullups also can help improve grip strength and endurance. Hold onto that bar with a closed hand. Some people like to hold the bar only with the four fingers and let that thumb just hang. Wrap your thumb around the bar and use it to press into your index finger. This will turn your hands into a vice instead of a hook.
Chris Huth is a Las Vegas trainer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.