Category Archives: Benefits of doing “man” exercises
If you can’t hold the weight, you can’t use the weight so as obvious as it sounds…We are only as strong as our weakest link.
Often we ignore grip training in favor of lifts that are more fun and that, we feel, give us more bang for our buck.
But there really is no better full-body, functional lift than the farmer’s walk.
You could actually argue this is the MOST functional exercise. I mean just think about how often you need to hold something and walk with it!
And guess what!?!
IT REALLY WORKS YOUR GRIP! Along with your arms, back, shoulders, core and legs…So just about EVERYTHING!
Basic Farmer’s Walk Variations:
1. Two-handed Dumbbell or Barbell Farmer’s Walk:
Basically, you hold heavy weights in each hand and you walk to set points or for a set amount of time, maintaining perfect posture. You want to use weights that CHALLENGE YOU and make you want to drop them just before your round is done.
Do not let your head jut forward or your shoulders round forward.
Do not let the weights rest on your legs. Hold them just a teeny bit away from your body or at least so they aren’t RESTING on your body.
Keep your core tight and walk with your shoulders down and back and your head up.
2. Two-handed Fat Grip (or Kettlebell) Carry:
This is the exact same as the two-handed Farmer’s Walk except you are challenging your grip even more by making the grip itself BIGGER.
Fat grips are a great way to challenge your grip because they make the handle bigger and more awkward to hold. The more awkward an object is to grip, the more it challenges your strength!
When you do carries with dumbbells that have fat grips on them, really focus on not letting the dumbbell slant forward or backward toward the ground. Make sure you carry the dumbbell so that it is level with the ground.
I also use competition kettlebells instead of dumbbells to challenge my grip more because their handles are bigger than the handles of dumbbells. This can be a great option if you don’t have fat grips.
Kettlebells are also great for carries because the bell wants to hug your legs and you have to lift them out a bit more from your body, which challenges your upper body and core even more.
The point though is…THE LARGER, MORE AWKWARD, THE GRIP THE MORE YOUR FOREARM AND HAND STRENGTH WILL BE CHALLENGED!
3. Unilateral Carry (with or without fat grips):
Whenever you load down one side, your core is forced to work harder to stabilize. Plus I just love unilateral exercises because they force each side to work individually and help you correct any imbalances.
When doing a unilateral carry or farmer’s walk, you are going to hold a weight on one side. The more awkward the weight, the harder the move will be.
You are then going to walk forward. Do not allow yourself to either lean away from the side with the weight or toward the side with the weight.
The challenge is to PREVENT ROTATION. This is an anti-rotational move. You want to walk as if you have either no weight or at least equal weight in both hands even though you are only weighted down on the one side.
Keep a nice tall posture and make sure your shoulders stay level and you don’t lean. Keep the weight off of your leg as well. You do not want to rest it on your hip or thigh.
4. Uneven Farmer’s Walk:
I find that I’m often carrying something in both hands; however, those two items are usually different weights.
One of the most functional farmer’s walks, in my opinion, is the uneven carry.
To do this move, carry a lighter weight in one hand and a heavier weight in the other. Make the difference noticeable.
Just like with the unilateral carry, the challenge is to not rotate and to act as if the weights in each hand are even. Keep a nice tall posture and your core tight. The weights should not be resting on your legs and you should not be leaning to one side. Your shoulders should be level and your head should be held high, not looking toward the ground or jutting forward.
5. Overhead Carry (unilateral or two-handed):
While this farmer’s walk (I think it is also known as a waiter’s walk) is not as grip intensive, it is a really REALLY great stabilization exercise and is super core intensive.
This move can be done carrying a weight in both hands or as a unilateral movement.
The goal of both moves is to press the weight straight overhead and keep your core tight and your low back from arching. Try to get your bicep by your ear and your arm(s) locked out straight with the weight overhead. Try to relax your shoulders down and back as you carry and not shrug too much.
REALLY REALLY focus on keeping your core tight.
If you do a unilateral overhead carry, remember to not rotate or compensate for the fact that you have a weight only on one side. You want to walk as if you have an even weight in both hands.
Slosh pipes or awkward weights are great for overhead carries IF you’ve developed the shoulder and core stability. These unstable weights, or uneven weights, can be a great way to progress the overhead carry.
However, if you are a beginner or have had shoulder injuries in the past, you may want to be careful with this move. This move requires good shoulder stability and both lat and chest flexibility.
Start slow with this move if you have limited shoulder mobility or have suffered from shoulder injuries. While this can be a good way to re-develop shoulder strength you do not want to force mobility and stabilization that isn’t there yet!
Stop letting your grip strength limit how much you can lift. Your are only as strong as your weakest link! Start using farmer’s walks today to strength your grip and get a full body, FUNCTIONAL workout!
AND…While Farmer’s Walks and Carries are probably the best ways to develop grip strength because they also develop full body FUNCTIONAL strength, there are other exercises you can do to develop grip strength (especially if it is your weakest link!).
Check out these 10 grip strength exercises by Fight Camp Conditioning for more ways to strengthen your grip. And the best part about these 10 exercises is that some of them can be used to create even more farmer’s walk variations (like a farmer’s walk with the pinch or claw grip or even a bottoms up carry!).
Because of sitting all day, we tend to hunch forward. Our chest and lats can become tight and often the muscles in our back, especially our lower traps, are weak.
And then on top of that, people spend way more time on their chest shoulders and triceps than they do on their back and biceps. This only adds to the imbalance and creates worse posture.
It can also hinder you from being able to do pull ups! (Which recently I’ve gotten asked a lot about!)
Here are some great stretching and foam rolling moves you should do before beginning your back workouts and using the exercises below. The exercises in the post above can also be great activation moves!
These back exercises will help correct your posture and can also help you improve your pull ups!
1. Inverted Row variations:
You can perform a two arm inverted row or even a rotational or anti-rotational single arm row. All three develop great back and core strength to improve your posture and build your back strength so that you can work up to a full pull up (or add to the number of pull ups you are currently able to do)!
Make sure with all three that you are keeping your core tight.
For the basic inverted row, you will hold an XT strap in each hand. Walk your feet out so you are leaning back. The closer to parallel to the ground you get, the harder the move will be. Squeeze your core and glutes and press your chest out so there is tension behind your shoulder blades. Then row up, keeping your body in a nice straight line. Row until your chest comes up to the handles and then lower yourself back down. Don’t let your hips sink as you lower back down. Also, keep your chest pressed out the entire time (do not let your low back arch though).
Do do a single arm anti-rotational row, you are going to do basically the exact same thing just with one hand. You want to keep your shoulders even just like you are holding the strap in the other hand. Do not let the shoulder of the arm not holding anything rotate toward the ground. As you row in, also make sure the shoulder of the arm rowing doesn’t shrug up by your ear.
With the rotational row, you are going to open up as if almost doing a hanging side plank. Do not let your hips dip toward the ground. As you row up, keep your core tight and rotate toward the strap, reaching as high up the strap as possible. Then rotate back up and repeat.
2. Row variations:
You can do a barbell row or a single arm dumbbell row. You can do a row with or without rotation. These are also a great way to develop back strength and improve posture.
Here are two great row variations using a band.
Two-arm Row – Lean forward and loop the band over itself and stand on the point where the band crosses over itself. Make sure there is tension even when you are fully extended if possible. Lean over, creating a nice straight line from the tip of your head all the way down your tailbone. Your chest should be pressed out and shoulder blades pulled down and back. Keeping your arms in by your sides, row up on the bands. Bend your elbows and pull the bands to your chest. Control the bands as you relax back down. Keep your core tight and tension in your back. Do not let your back round as you do this move! You want to make sure you are pressing your butt back and away and creating a nice straight line with your back.
Lawn Mower Row – This is a rotational row, but could also be done without the rotation. I call it the lawn mower row because it kind of looks like someone starting a lawn mower (apparently this is the midwest girl in me as many people I say that to now just kind of stare at me blankly…). Again loop the band and stand on the place where it crosses over. Reach down and then pull the band up toward your chest. As you row up, rotate open toward the band so that you can actually row up past your chest. Then control the band back down to the start and repeat.
3. Scapular Hold variations:
As you all know, I love the scapular wall hold. But there are other variations out there that are great. Basically a scapular hold is just the top hold of a row. You can do it on XT straps by holding at the top. Or you can do it by lying face down on a bench and rowing up and holding at the top. You could even just hold at the top of the two-arm band row.
Scapular holds are great at creating that scapular retraction that we need to be able to do pull ups. They are also great at strengthening our lower traps so that we have less neck and shoulder pain AND BETTER POSTURE.
Honestly, these are one of the few exercises that I have no problem if you almost do them every day. If you are sitting for a long time at your desk, get up and do them. They should be apart of your warm ups when you do deadlifts or back days. Shoot you may even include them on chest days just to get in a little extension in your back since it is so often in flexion!
These are great for injury prevention especially if you’ve had back, neck or shoulder problems!
4. Pulldown variations:
These are great subs if you can’t do full pull ups. While I love assisted pull ups, pull up holds and deadhangs, these are also useful in developing strong lats for pull ups.
You definitely want to make sure though that you’ve rolled out your lats and chest before doing these moves.
Bands or even a cable machine can be used for these moves.
Kneeling Pulldown – Kneel on the ground. You can even sit back on your heels. Place a band in a door or looped over something higher off the ground. Hold a handle in each hand and reach your hands up overhead. If the band isn’t straight above you, you will want to slightly lean forward so that your upper body is inline with your extended arms. Then pull the band down toward you. You can do variations with your palms facing toward you (chin up), palms parallel or even palms facing away (pull up). Keep your core tight and your arms in by your body as you pull down. Do not let your elbows flare way out.
One of my favorite variations of this move is the Pivot Prone Pull shown by Nick Tumminello. It really works on lower trap strength.
Straight Arm Pulldown - While I don’t use this move that often, it can be another great way to strengthen your core and lats.
You can use a cable machine or a band for this exercise. Anchor the band or cable above your head so that there is a little tension when you hold your arms out straight at shoulder height. Keep your core tight and your arms straight as you press the band down toward the ground and then back toward your legs. Keep your chest up nice and tall and do not round forward. Feel your back and lats engage as you press down. Control the band back up to shoulder height.
If pull ups really are your focus, this is a great move to use.
5. Pullover variations
Pullovers are also a great move to use to strengthen your lats.
You can do these with a weight or on the XT straps. This move is very core intensive. Do not let your low back arch!
Weighted Pullover – Lie on a bench or table. Set up so only your upper back in on the bench and your feet are on the ground. Bridge up and extend the weight up over your chest with your arms out straight. Keeping the elbows slightly bent, reach the weight back and overhead, extending back as far as possible. Keep the hips high and the core tight. Then pull the weight back over so that it is above your chest and repeat.
XT Pullover – Face away from the XT strap anchor point with one strap in each hand. The closer to parallel you get to the ground, the harder the move will be. Extend your arms out at about shoulder height. Slowly let your hands extend overhead, keeping your arms pretty straight. Keep your body in a nice straight line. Do not let your hips go up in the air or sag toward the ground. Then press down on the straps and bring your arms back down to about shoulder height.
All of these moves are great to improve your posture and build a stronger back so that you can do more pull ups.
HOWEVER, in your desire to do more pull ups, do not do a back workout every day. Muscles get stronger when they have time to rebuild…AKA you need rest days! If you constantly break your back down, you won’t get any stronger. So DON’T do these exercises every day!
All too often we give up at the first sign of fatigue or shake-age (that is my very technical term for when a muscle starts to fatigue and it gets hard to press /pull/squat/whatever the weight).
If we want results, we have to push. And that doesn’t mean working out for a lot longer or doing a ton more.
But it does mean forcing ourselves to push just a little bit harder.
It does mean forcing out those couple of reps that we really don’t want to do because they hurt.
Forced reps can be done in a variety of ways, but the point of doing them is to “force” a couple of reps that our body really doesn’t want to do so that we cause growth and change.
We aren’t going to get stronger and fitter if we just continue to do the same comfortable weight for the same comfortable amount of reps.
You need to push yourself.
Most likely your “discomfort” is more mental than it really is physical. And pushing yourself to do an extra few reps will not only push your body, but also your mind.
If you push your mind, in the future you will be able to work harder, which will lead to even more progress.
This doesn’t always mean going to failure or even past failure although going to failure isn’t a bad thing.
It just means doing a couple more than your body THINKS it can do.
So how can you force out those extra couple of reps?
Well for one, you can just do them. Sometimes by just telling yourself, “I’m going to do 8 this week because I could only do 6 last week” will be enough to make you do the extra reps.
But sometimes we really feel like we can’t eek out any more.
This is when you can use a couple of different options. Below are three techniques I like to use to make my body do just those couple of reps past discomfort.
1. Drop Sets – Drop sets are great if your goal is muscle hypertrophy. Drop sets, where you complete reps with one weight and then drop to another weight and force out more reps, really helps you recruit more muscle fibers so that you cause more muscle gains.
Let’s say you can only do 8 single arm rows with a 40lbs dumbbell. You could either choose to stop there or you could force out extra reps by quickly dropping the weight and doing more reps with that lighter weight.
With drop sets, you do reps with a certain weight and then lower the weight and do more reps and continue to do reps and lower the weight until you’ve either completed the allotted sets or you’ve hit failure.
You can either do bigger drops in weight and try to increase the reps you do with each round OR you can only slightly decrease the weight, which means your reps will actually go down with each round.
With drop sets, do not rest between rounds. Try to quickly drop the weight and go right back into the exercise. The lack of rest is key to complete fatigue of the muscle.
You will probably not do more than one set of a drop set with an exercise since it will take you basically to failure. Make sure that the weight you start with is heavy for about 6-12 reps.
Rest-pause technique means that basically you bust out as many reps as possible, take a short little break and then go back and bust out as many more as possible until the number of reps or sets you set out to complete are done (or you’ve hit complete failure).
There are a number of ways to do the rest-pause technique.
In his article, Colin mentions one way to do it:
…[O]ne example of a rest-pause set would be to pick a weight you can do 6 times. Perform the exercise as many times as you can, (6 seems like the most likely number here don’t you think?) then set the weight down and rest for 15-20 seconds. Lift as many as you can again and repeat this process until you can no longer lift the weight. Now you can work to failure here, but let’s be smart people. You don’t want to go to actual failure on lifts where you can end up with weight on top of you unless you have a spotter. Although that is another benefit of rest-pause training. If you don’t have a spotter this is how you can get those extra reps you couldn’t safely do before as the brief rest periods will give you enough stamina to do more.
As Colin states, not needing a spotter to go near failure is definitely an upside to the rest pause technique.
Two other variations I love are:
- Do as many rounds as needed to complete a certain amount of reps. So say your goal is 30 reps on squat. Pick a weight you can do for no more than 10 reps the first time. Perform as many squats as you can with that weight and then rest. Rest no longer than 30 seconds, then pick the weight up again and perform as many more reps as you can. Continue resting and performing reps until all 30 are completed with a weight that you technically could only do for 10 reps!
- 10-7-3-1. For this rest-pause set, you will pick a weight that is challenging for 10 reps. You will perform 10 reps then rest for 10 seconds before performing 7 reps. After seven reps, you will rest for 7 seconds before performing 3 reps. After three reps, rest for 3 seconds before performing 1 rep. Then rest for a couple of minutes before performing another 1-3 sets.
3. Assisted Reps - So this one is only doable if you happen to workout with someone or there is someone there who can assist you.
But basically how assisted reps work, is that you complete as many reps as possible without assistance and then when you’re about to hit failure or can’t do any more on your own without resting, your partner jumps in and assists you with the lift.
This can be done with almost anything – squats, bench…Probably not deadlift…But the point is that someone else helps you raise a weight you couldn’t get up on your own.
One of my new “favorite” ways to use it is on push ups (Jeff at my work showed me this one…It is a combination drop set and assisted reps technique).
To do this on push ups, perform as many as you can from your toes aka go to failure from your toes and then instantly drop to your knees and keep going. When you can’t do any more from your knees, have someone then assist you with push ups from your knees until you can’t do any more without them basically having to do all the work.
All three of these techniques will help you get more out of your workouts without necessarily spending more time in the gym. They will also push your muscles to work harder in the time allotted so that you get great results more efficiently.
The great part about the techniques above is that they can be combined to mix things up or force yourself to work even harder.
You can do rest-pause drop sets. Or drop sets with assisted reps.
Anyway, whatever technique you chose to use, the point is to bust out those couple of extra reps that your mind and body are telling you that you can’t do.
What is your favorite way to get yourself to do those extra couple of reps?
A while back I did a post about what I thought were the five foundational exercises for health.
I said, “Deadlift, Squat, Push Up, Pull Up and Sprints.”
I started thinking about this list after the wealth of new information I’ve learned over the last year since writing that post.
What would I change about that list now that I’ve experienced so much more and learned so many new exercises?
The crazy part is….
Those to me still hit everything.
Although the Turkish Get Up was a tempting one. Super functional. A great way to get total body strength. A great way to help older adults strengthen their core and create a stronger mind-body connection. A GREAT move. Probably the closest one to making the list. But would it make the list…No…It would be #6.
Same goes for the hip thruster or glute bridges. While the hip thruster is arguably the BEST glute exercise out there and glute bridges are great for glute activation, which is essential, they just wouldn’t make the list. They just aren’t as complete to me as the five moves I chose.
Honestly, deadlift, pull up, push up, squat and sprints hit EVERYTHING. Almost all the moves work the entire body. And they are functional. They are also movement patterns that I think everyone should be able to do.
I guess the only thing that made me hesitate about committing to the list above is the fact that all of them are sagittal plane movements and I really do believe it is important to move in every direction. I guess for that reason the only thing I might at some point do is switch out squats for lunges…but at this place and time, that just isn’t happening.
So if you every wanted to know what I think the five best foundational moves are:
Every workout progression should include some variation of these moves, if not these moves in their purest form.
Now the only other comment I would make about this list, is that BEGINNERS may have VARIATIONS of these moves to start. BUT the intent and purpose of those moves would be to get them to these five.
Last night while we were doing a glute workout, I got asked, “If you could only do one move for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I didn’t even have to think…Actually it was easier than picking five moves…
Why do I think the deadlift is the queen/king of exercise moves?
Because it hits everything down the entire back side of your body, which honestly is generally highly underactive in a society that sits all day hunched over a computer.
It works a ton of big muscle groups. It strengthens areas that are weak on post people, their back, their core, their glutes…
And it is functional. Think about how many times a day you have to freaking pick things up off the ground.
People tell you, “You need to squat down to pick stuff up!”
But actually you DON’T need to squat down!
You need to DEADLIFT!
The deadlift is not a squat. Your chest does not stay back. You HINGE forward. And when you pick something up, you generally ned to lean forward to get it.
And on top of all that, DEADLIFTS ARE EMPOWERING.
I’m sorry, but there is nothing like picking something super heavy off the ground to make you feel strong and confident.
For me conquering any other task, even the 300ft on the Versa Climber which made me want to throw up 12 hours later and made me want to cry for my mommy, didn’t feel near as empowering. It didn’t make me feel near as strong. (Actually it just made me feel sick and like I never wanted to step on the Versa Climber again….)
To me deadlift is queen…or king….end of story. I could list a bazillion more reasons, but those should give you the gist of why I think that.
So my question to you is, “What do you think are the five foundational exercises?” And if you could only pick one, “What do you consider to be the best of the best?”
There are no right or wrong answers. Every list has great points and every list has flaws. I even showed you what I thought were a couple of the flaws in mine. (The great part/bad part about fitness is that there really are no right and wrong answers…Ok…maybe there are a few wrong answers…But those are generally when people do stupid things with bad form….)
Anyway, looking forward to reading some other lists! Hope you share yours!
So over the last year, I’ve thought a lot about what Man Bicep stood for in my life and the life of my clients.
It wasn’t about powerlifting. It most definitely wasn’t about running. And it wasn’t even about a specific diet.
It was about doing something….anything…that made you feel healthy and strong. It was about working out to feel empowered.
It was about taking on new challenges and feeling like you COULD do anything.
It was about redefining what strong really means.
And so I started considering what could really make us feel more empowered. And I began developing workout programs based around this principle.
I believe that working out can be an outlet, a release. I believe it can help us build confidence in a way few other things can. Overcoming physical challenges – lifting more or running further than we thought possible – is just about the most empowering thing you can do.
So I created “Redefining Strength.”
Right now the site has a few products that I’m giving away. I spent a lot of time considering what would be most helpful and supplement everything that I post here, on Man Bicep.
If you go over and subscribe, you will get 4 different reports. One is bodyweight exercises that can be done by beginners and advanced a like. They are basically exercises you can do anywhere and get a full body workout.
You will also get a list of 10 Simple Diet Changes. Be you vegetarian or Atkins dieter, there are tips on there that EVERYONE needs to follow.
I also spent a lot of time creating a foam rolling video library and cheat sheet. I believe that foam rolling is one of the most important things when it comes to moving well and feeling great. I even included some foam rolling videos that show you how to roll out even if you don’t have any of the fancy trigger point equipment.
And last, but not least, you will get a goal setting sheet. I debated about putting this one in since many of you will skip it. But honestly, goal setting is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
I know it’s cheesy. I know it’s boring and seems stupid. But trust me it’s worth the time if you really set goals that MATTER.
Goals that MATTER are what keep you committed even through the roughest of times. Goals CAN be motivating and keep us on course.
You just have to set goals in a way that don’t allow them to fall by the wayside like most people’s New Years resolutions!
So head over to Redefining Strength and check out those four guides and the video library. I hope it gets you as excited as I am for the programs launching in August!
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to email me at email@example.com.
So I’m definitely a bit perverse because when I thought of calling this post “Does size matter” I made myself giggle.
Yesterday Ryan and I moved…again…
I’ve literally moved at least every year for the past seven years and I must say, I’m pretty sick of it! (Although I must admit that every time I move I am inspired to write a post about something that happened, like IKEA last year…and this time is no different.)
Every time I move, I think about how grateful I am that I lift heavy on a regular basis because carrying awkward and heavy pieces of furniture up and down flights of stairs is by no means easy or fun.
Like yesterday carrying our gigantic TV stand, which takes up a whole wall and looks amazing, but is a pain in the butt to move.
The stand is taller than I am and most definitely weighs more. It is also extremely long so that it doesn’t easily maneuver through doorways or around corners. Ryan and I were even afraid that it wouldn’t fit through the front door of the place because of the stairs and a very tight turn at the top.
But we also didn’t really want to take it apart before we moved because then we would have to put the bazillion Ikea pieces back together.
So we risked it.
We managed to get it out of our first place and into the truck fine. We also didn’t even struggle with a few other big (and cumbersome) pieces that we feared might not make it down the stairs.
So of course we were super worried that the stand would be impossible to move at the next place since the walk from the truck to the apartment was double the length and up two long flights of stairs (and we’d had such great luck already that something had to go wrong….right?)
When we get to the new place, we first remove all of the boxes and lighter furniture…up and down the stairs.
There is no workout that exactly compares to carrying awkward and heavy things up and down stairs…
And then we got to the TV stand.
Ryan and I had debated on who should walk backwards up the stairs and who should push from the bottom.
I’ve heard before that the stronger person should go in the back and push up the stairs…So of course, I went to the back to push…
But I actually DID end up on the back-end after we experimented with the desk, but not because I was stronger.
I found that being a bit weaker and shorter than Ryan, I struggled to lift as well in the very awkward position of walking backwards up the stairs.
My strength and height served me much better when I was in the less awkward position pushing up on the heavy furniture from the back.
Which got me to thinking about SIZE when it comes to lifting.
People often try to say that they CAN’T do something because of their size – They are too tall or too short. Their arms are too long. Or they are too heavy.
And while I usually get annoyed by those comments because really they are just simply excuses, there is something to SIZE.
How you are built can positively or negatively affect certain lifts and exercises.
That doesn’t mean you have an excuse not to be able to do a pull up just because you have long arms. Or that I have an excuse to not lift heavy awkward furniture just because I’m shorter.
But it does mean that I can’t compare myself to someone else more easily lifting the small box that I just struggled and dripped sweat over the minute before.
And that right there is exactly my point.
We can’t compare ourselves to anyone else because everyone truly is different. We are all different shapes and sizes and that does factor in to our workouts.
So stop comparing yourself to the woman next to you lifting. Stop comparing yourself to how fast she is running.
Start focusing on your own goals and what you CAN DO.
So we did testing the other day at the gym and one of the tests was a pull up test.
You probably aren’t surprised to hear the following statement, but we only had a couple of women who could do legitimate pull ups (by legitimate I mean no kipping…I have nothing against kipping, but it isn’t a TRUE pull up even if it does have its own benefits).
When I then asked all the women that didn’t do a pull up if they would like to be able to do one, most did say YES. Actually all said YES.
So then…why weren’t more women able to do one!?!
My theory is that most of the time, it isn’t that we don’t want to be able to do something, it is just that we don’t know where to begin so we don’t even start. Or we are intimidated by the move and don’t believe we can do it (again because we don’t know how to get there). Or we jump into something we think might help with no way to track our progress and then we fall off when we aren’t able to do a pull up within a few short workouts.
So below are some great tips to help you be able to do a full pull up!
Three great activation moves I like to use to warm up for a pull up workouts are:
- Scapular Wall holds – You’ve probably guessed by now that I LOVE these. They are great to improve posture and activate your upper back muscles. If you want to be able to do a proper pull up, you need to make sure that your lats activate and that you use the big muscles in your back. This move will help you do that.
- Scapular Push ups – This move does the same sort of thing that the wall holds do – It helps you get that scapular retraction that is necessary to do pull ups.
- Dead hangs – So at the beginning, I want you to just hang from the bar and get a feel for holding your body weight. Focus on tightening your core and even maybe tighten your back as if you are going to pull up. Then once you’ve done a few straight hangs, you will progress to a hang with a scapular retraction. You then want to press your chest out and pulling your shoulder blades down and together while you hang from the bar. If you can’t hold for long at the beginning, start with reps of retracting and then relaxing.
All three of these moves make you activate the muscles used to do a pull up and help you warm up your core!
Many people who can’t do pull ups will then turn to the lat pulldown machine and even simulate pull ups with bands for their “pull up” workouts. And while these moves are great to strengthen many of the muscles used by pull ups, they still aren’t the same as actually doing pull ups. They can be great supplementary moves, but if you want to be able to do pull ups…You’ve got to actually do variations of the pull up!
So once you’ve done the activation moves, try one of these assisted pull up variations and progress toward harder and harder variations until you can do one unassisted! If you have an assisted pull up machine, you can use that as well, but I personally like these better because they give you more control over the exact amount of assistance!
With both of the assisted variations below you can do three different things to progress or regress the move. You can do holds, negatives and full range of motion pull ups/chin ups.
- Holds – You can hold at the top, middle and/or bottom of the move. Each will work on strengthening the muscles at each piece of the motion. You can jump or push yourself into position and then hold once there for as long as possible.
- Negatives – With negatives, you work the eccentric part of the motion. To perform a negative, you will set yourself at the top of the pull up and then lower yourself down as slowly as possible.
- Full pull up – You will use assistance to perform a FULL pull up, which means chin above the bar to arms straight at the bottom.
The two different ways you can get assistance to do these three variations are:
- Foot assisted pull up – Hang from a bar or use TRX/Jungle Gym straps. Place your feet on the ground underneath you. The more firmly planted your feet are, the easier the move will be. Your goal is to use your feet as little as possible. Your feet will assist only as much as you so that you can perform a hold, negative or full pull up.
- Band assisted pull up – Hang from a bar with a band around your knee or knees (putting the band under both knees makes the move easier). The band will add assistance as you perform the move. The skinner the band, the harder the move. The more you control the move and don’t swing, the less the band will propel you up.
If you don’t need assistance to hold a pull up or chin up or to perform a slow negative, then you may move to the bar without assistance. Don’t use assistance if you can perform 10 3-5 count negatives (and not a fast count) or 30 second holds without assistance. Make sure you can perform the move correctly before advancing. But also make sure that you are always checking your progress to see if you can perform the moves without assistance.
Remember, your goal is to lower assistance as you master each move. Don’t just waste time on the lat pulldown machine trying to get stronger or by doing assisted pull ups on the machine. Work on each piece of the pull up and ween yourself off of the assistance!
So do you want to be able to do a pull up? What are you doing to get better at them?
NOTE: In this post I didn’t really go into grip variations. The easiest grips to do are usually the neutral or chin up (palms facing you) grips. The pull up grip and wide grip variations are generally more difficult.
So there are all sorts of “pain” related discussions that really get on my nerves.
One is when clients who are working hard for the first time in their life tell you that an exercise “hurts” when, upon further investigation, you find out that it is merely making their muscles fatigued and that they aren’t used to the burning sensation of a muscle working.
While I don’t like the phrase “no pain, no gain,” being sore and working hard isn’t always “comfortable.”
But at the same time having the attitude “no pain, no gain” and never recognizing when something hurts isn’t good either.
While I can get annoyed when someone can’t recognize the difference between “injury pain” and “discomfort from muscles working hard,” I get way more annoyed by the client who thinks they are cool because they push through the pain.
And honestly this “no pain, no gain” client WAY worse than the client that mistakes muscles working for pain.
You may be shaking your head and going, “Heck no! They aren’t near the same! You have to work through the pain sometimes! You are TOUGH if you just push through!”
Uhm no…I’m sorry….You don’t…and you aren’t.
You are stupid.
Yep that’s right…STUPID.
I can say this as someone who has been stupid one too many times in her past. I have the torn muscles and scar tissue to prove it.
And guess what I have now?
Improperly rehabbed injuries that years later I’m now having to deal with.
Trust me…injuries aren’t cool.
You aren’t “bad-ass” if you push through.
Honestly, unless you are a highly paid athlete, there is never a reason to push through true pain and injury. And even if you are a highly paid athlete, there is a very fine line between stupid and something you push through because it is your job.
When you work through the pain, generally all you do is make the injury worse. And then you are either eventually going to have to take time off, and probably MORE time than if you had rested and rehabbed it immediately, OR you are going to have something that restricts your movement and causes pain for the rest of your life.
Doesn’t sound like great options if you don’t just DEAL with the pain immediately.
But rehab and pre-hab aren’t “cool.”
It is way cooler to be like, “I can’t do push ups because of my shoulder.”…Right!?!
I can’t tell you how many people recently I’ve encountered coming from other gyms who say they “can’t do” something because of an injury they’ve never dealt with and just “worked through.”
And every time I say to them the same thing, “Well what have you been doing for rehab?”
And I always get the same answer…NOTHING.
Can someone please explain this to me?
Why is pain cool and rehab not cool?
Don’t we workout to feel BETTER!?! Don’t we go to look BETTER? Perform BETTER?
If we want exercise to make us BETTER, how do we expect to do that if we are restricted and in PAIN?!
If you have an ankle injury, even one from decades ago, and you never rehabbed it, it may be causing problems up your leg. It may be why you have low back and hip pain. It may be why you have balance issues. It may be why you can’t lift as much as you want to. It may be why your butt isn’t as strong and perky as you would like!
It may be causing a whole load of problems that aren’t even related to the initial injury!
But it is better to just push through…huh?
Ok here is your chance to stop being an idiot and stop accepting pain.
Take five minutes at the beginning of your workout and add in an exercise or two to rehab or better yet “pre-hab” any weak points or areas of past injury. (Just because at one point in your life you did some rehab for an injury doesn’t mean you are just now done with it now. That area may always need some extra TLC.)
Here are a couple quick things you can do for four common areas of injuries…
- ANKLE/FOOT PAIN/INJURY (Heck these are even good for some knee and hip problems) – Roll out the bottom of your foot, your shin and your calf with a roller or small ball. Then work on your balance. My favorite balancing drill is when you either stand on one foot on the ground or on a foam pad and then you swing the other leg. Do swings forwards and backwards, side to side and even rotational (like you are lifting your foot to step back over a fence and then bringing it back forward over the fence without touching down). Then do glute activation drills. Pick one or two from this list and do 1-2 rounds of 10-20 reps.
- LOW BACK/HIP PAIN/INJURY – Low back pain is a super common problem. While rolling out the whole leg is ideal to find all trigger points, you can start with your hips, glutes and low back. A great way to roll out your hips, can be to take a bigger, foam ball and lay over it. The ball will actually be pressing into your abs right above your hip and beside your belly button. Relax over the ball as much as you can. You will also want to stretch your glutes and hips. Here are some more great trigger point release tips for your hip area. You will also probably want to do some stretches and trigger point release for your thoracic spine and lats. We can sometimes compensate and use our low back because our thoracic mobility is bad. A great thoracic stretch is one you do when kneeling. Kneel on the ground with one hand planted on the ground under the shoulder. Then reach your other hand back over your head with your finger tips pointing down your spine. Then rotate your elbow of the hand down your spine, under your arm that is down. Then rotate open, reaching the elbow up toward the ceiling. Again, glute activation exercises are key. If our glutes aren’t firing, we are going to use our low back and hamstrings more than we should!
- WRIST/ELBOW PAIN/INJURY – Yup…you can even roll out your forearms. If you have wrist or elbow pain, rolling our your forearms, triceps and biceps can help, especially if you target the areas of insertion. Wrist/forearms stretches are also important. We sit at computers all day with our wrists flexed and never really think to do anything to extend and release the muscles. One of my favorite wrist stretches is, when I kneel down and place my hands on the ground under my shoulders. I then turn my finger tips to face my knees with my palms flat on the ground. I then rock back and sit on my heels, keeping my palms flat on the ground, and then return back to kneeling and release. To also help activate the extensors of my wrist and forearm, I use a trick I was taught by Corey…The rubber band extension. Take a rubber band and place it around the outside of your fingers when they are all together. Then spread your fingers out as wide apart as you can before bringing them back together. This really helps with a lot of elbow pain!
- SHOULDER/UPPER BACK/NECK PAIN/INJURY – Roll out your traps, chest and lats. You will also want to stretch your chest and neck. You can easily stretch your chest using a wall or doorway. Place your hand and even your forearm on the wall or door frame and then step forward till you feel a stretch. To stretch your neck, lean your head to one side and gentle pull your head down toward your shoulder, making sure you keep your shoulders relaxed. To change exactly which muscles you hit, look up, down and straight ahead. Then you will want to do a scapular wall hold. If you do it correctly, you will activate your lower traps which will help you relax your upper traps and usually helps with neck pain. YTWLs are great too to activate the muscles in your upper back and strengthen your rotator cuff. Check out this video by Nick Tumminello on how to do them.
Here is another article with some essential mobility drills that can help you move better!
You don’t have to do these every day, but you do want to make sure that spots that need improvement get attention! So stop accepting pain and start doing something about it. It really doesn’t take that much time.
Be smart…It’s way more “bad-ass!”
NOTE: If you are suffering from an injury, it is best to get checked out by a doctor. Most of these drills are meant for already diagnosed injuries or minor recurring injuries/pains. Also, this list is by no means comprehensive. It is just to give you an idea that there are some quick things you can do before your workouts, to correct problems!
So I love the current basic fitness recommendation – lift heavy things, sprint occasionally and move often.
But is it really that simple?
Let me state my favorite answer ever…”Yes…But….No….” (You could substitute this with my other favorite answers “It depends” or “Maybe.”)
The reason it isn’t that simple is because many people’s bodies are so de-conditioned from years and years of doing NOTHING.
So while yes…everyone should lift heavy things and sprint, many people need to start out a lot slower than they do.
I’ve said this before, but just because you CAN lift a weight or run really fast doesn’t mean your body is really ready to handle the strain!
Doing too much to quickly will result in injury. Remember…Everything is relative. If your body is de-conditioned, heavy and sprint are very RELATIVE terms.
At the beginning, especially if you haven’t been doing much of anything, MOVE OFTEN is your main priority.
But not only moving often…MOVING WELL.
I know it’s probably getting boring and I’ve been harping on it a lot, but every good program needs to start with MOBILITY and STABILIZATION.
And from there, you must EARN tougher exercises.
You don’t just get to do harder variations and more weight…You have to EARN IT.
There is no better way to motivate yourself than to make yourself want to EARN something more.
So today I want to talk about earning SPRINTING.
More recently I’ve talked more about sprinting because it is one of the few cardiovascular activities that I actually enjoy. And while I think sprinting is great, just like lifting heavy, it isn’t something you just go out and do super intensely your first time.
For one, like lifting, there is actually proper form for running…And let me tell you…there are a lot of people who actually run incorrectly.
Many people don’t run correctly because they stopped doing it when they stopped having gym class in like middle or high school and then didn’t start up again till their mid-twenties.
Many people also don’t run correctly because their body is more used to sitting in a chair hunched over a desk than it is to running or moving around.
When you sit at a desk, your hips are flexed. Your hip flexors can become shortened and tight. Tight hip flexors don’t allow for proper running mechanics. They also don’t allow for proper power generation. If your hip flexors are tight, most likely your glutes won’t be firing on all cylinders.
If you glutes are firing properly, then guess what?
Another muscle will have to compensate to help you run quickly…And that other muscle won’t really be able to handle the load, which means….INJURY!
(Random factoid: Guess what one of the most common running injuries is? HAMSTRING STRAIN! Guess what is tight because you sit all day? YOUR HAMSTRING! Guess what muscle often helps the hip flexors when the glutes don’t fire? YOUR HAMSTRING. Guess what muscle being tight, and even overused because it is compensating, can also lead to knee pain? YOUR HAMSTRING!)
I could go on about the other ways in which your everyday posture hinder you from potentially running properly, but you get the point.
Sitting to sprinting with no preparation means injury.
So the first step if you want to sprint is foam rolling, mobility exercises and activation exercises. Open up those hips and loosen up those adductors. Start activating and strengthening the core. Work on ankle mobility. And get those glutes firing!
Then you need to work on building your aerobic base. Your heart is a muscle too and it also needs to be ready for sprinting! Start with walking. Don’t go 50 miles on the first day. WORK YOUR WAY UP and SLOWLY increase your mileage.
Then if you have done the proper mobility and activation work, start jogging.
JOGGING will be your first step toward sprinting. You can use jogging at a comfortable pace to increase your aerobic capacity and your first “sprints” will be done at a pace that is more like jogging than 100% effort. You must slowly increase your pace as your body adapts!
Also, “sprinting” uphill to start is a great way to prevent common injuries as you work on becoming more mobile. Sprinting uphill prevents you from overstriding, which is a common cause of hamstring strains. Ground reaction forces are also much lower, which means less risk of injury!
As you gain strength, mobility and speed sprinting uphill (and shoot sprinting uphill is freaking super tough!), you may then want to bring your sprints down to a flat surface. Although I must say while sprinting uphill can be a good starting spot, it is freaking super tough even when you don’t sprint all out and should be included even after you have “progressed” to a flat surface.
Make sure that, no matter what you sprint on (flat or hill), you increase your speed slowly and make sure you are warm when you do finally go all out on sprints.
At the beginning, make sure to give yourself adequate rest. You don’t want to push too hard through fatigue at the beginning. Pushing fatigued muscles too hard can result in injury – actually fatigue drives injury rates way way way up in the athletic world.
As you PROGRESS, you can start decreasing rest and upping the volume. While you don’t need to do a million sprints to get the benefit (actually if you are doing a million sprints or feel the need to do that many you are doing something wrong and hindering your progress), you should be able to add on more sprints as you progress.
And last but not least when it comes to sprinting, don’t do it too often. Just like with lifting, you need to give muscles ample time to recover!
Remember even once you’ve EARNED IT, the rule says “sprint occasionally.”
As much as it pains me to say this, “There is such a thing as too much of a good thing!”
Do you sprint? Have you EARNED it?