Pull-Ups... Are They Worth The Trouble?

Pull-Ups... Are They Worth The Trouble?

In life, there are many things which can be considered universal favorites. A warm cup of coffee in the morning will be turned down by almost no one. A high-five after winning just about anything is always seen as a welcome gesture.

A smile and a nod at a stranger is a nice way to clear the air, break the ice, and connect either others around you. Of course, this means there are also a few items which are universally disliked by just about anyone, no matter their age, experience, or goals. And in the gym, one of the near-universally disliked things would most definitely have to be the pull-up!

Why do people universally dislike, and as a result, often skip adding pull-ups to their training regimen? There are a lot of reason why people seem to avoid one of the most impactful yet potentially uncomfortable and dangerous movements in the gym. It’s not a comfortable movement.  We often look silly doing it.

Moving little to no weight isn’t that rewarding. And some of us, no matter how big and strong we are, just seem to have a hard time moving our own body weight using only our arms. Plus, there are people who sustain injuries from this heavy and unsupported compound movement, often due to reckless training style and an “anything goes” approach to getting the body up the bar!

However, there are a lot of reasons why you SHOULD be including pull-ups in your regular back training system. They are a compound movement which, when utilized correctly, are very effective for building up pure, thick, functional and lean muscle. You stimulate a large number of back muscles, as well as muscle fibers all over the body. The workout delivers fast results as well. Ten minutes of pull-ups can bring out more back development than a half hour of isolation work. But you’ve got to complete the repetitions correctly! 

Your journey to pull-up greatness will start slow – and that is intentional. Running onto the gym floor and jumping to the bar, heaving yourself up for a dozen wild repetitions, is a recipe for strain and pain. You’ll look foolish, and your results will be minimal. Depending upon the “body English” and momentum to swing your way to partial repetitions does nothing but make you look silly. 

Your back muscles will only respond positively if they actually have to do the work. Keeping your body slow, upright, and moving under a controlled manner is what matters now. This is why you should start your journey using the assisted pull-up machine, if your gym offers one. Being able to remove 80% of the weight from the lift will allow you to slowly develop the back, arm, shoulder, and core muscles over time. Within a few weeks of adding ten reps for four sets, you should be ready for the next step – standard pull-ups!

Now you’re ready to start with one actual unassisted repetition.  It doesn’t even have to be a “complete” repetition, and you don’t have to complete many of them.  Make a goal of simply knocking out five reps for your first pull-up training day. Work as slowly as possible, and don’t worry too much if you cannot pull yourself completely up. You’ll get there. Aim for 5 reps with this first workout, then take the week to recover. 

Return next week and aim for 8 reps this time. As the weeks pass, continue to add just a few reps each week, even if you can only complete 2 or 3 at a time. An ideal layout would be 4 sets of 10-15 repetitions of perfect form, smooth and steady repetitions.  But don’t worry if you cannot do that now – you’ll get there!

When training with pull-ups, it is important to throw your ego out of the window. Sure, it does feel good bragging to your gym buddies about how many repetitions you were able to complete on the squat or bench press with “X” amount of weight. But if you had to use cheating to move the body for that number of repetitions, then your efforts will be for naught, and you won’t be making weekly progress as a result of your efforts.   

A few tips for training can make your workout more productive. Use lifting straps if they help to protect your hands, improve your grip, and give you more confidence. Don’t worry about training to failure with pull-ups. Stop before you have completed the maximum number of repetitions, at least in the beginning, and you will always have a little gas in the tank for additional sets.

Use the strongest grip that you can muster, always changing up hand position until you find the handle that suits you best. And finally, seek to discover the perfect mental spot for you when completing these reps. You’ll need to train in a slow and disciplined manner, but you can do it!

You don’t have to use pull-ups with every exercise. They’re not fun, and many people find out that it’s just not a movement for them. However, if you are able to summon the discipline and reach down and find the work ethic and focus to complete this exercise, you will no doubt discover a great number of positive results.

Your grip, arm and back strength will skyrocket. You’ll notice changes all over, from the chest to the shoulders to the back and core. You’ll become thicker too, as this compound heavy-ish movement really does target some muscle groups which typically lie dormant during your standard back training, often heavily dependent upon “iso” movements like cable pulldowns and rowing. Over time, you’ll develop a body which is bigger, thicker, and stronger thanks to your inclusion of pull-ups in your back training.  Stick with it!

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