Just wanted to share 5 posts I’ve written over the last month that I feel are super helpful. Enjoy!
1. PULL UPS – Want to do one learn how to do a Pull Up? Try these pull up variations and supplemental exercises!
2. Travel Workouts – When we travel it can be hard to workout. The RipFit Trainer may be a tool you want to get if you are a frequent traveler. Here are 20 great exercises you can do when you travel for a full body workout. You can do them in your hotel room…or even at home!
3. To be healthier, you need to move more during the day. A great way to move more each day is with stretches and exercises you can do at your desk. Try these 10 Desk Exercises.
4. If you are a runner, cycler or simply sit at a desk all day, you may want to try these 10 Lower Body Foam Rolling Moves.
5. The Pelvic Tilt – If you have LOW BACK PAIN, or WANT STRONGER ABS, you need to do the PELVIC TILT! No if, ands or buts about it!
The other day I asked clients and my Facebook followers, “What move would you like to master in the New Year?”
It seems that the pull up is the tough move that everyone would love to master.
But it isn’t like bench press or squats or deadlifts where you just start with a lighter weight and work your way up.
Heck, even simply doing assisted pull ups doesn’t always even get you there.
But where there is a will, there is a way. Just like with any other fitness goal you have, you have to TRAIN to be able to do the pull up.
So here are some great strengthening moves to add into your training routine that will help you to master that elusive pull up in this coming year!
HOWEVER, you must be consistent in your training for these moves to work. You can’t simply do them a couple of times one week and then expect to be there!
1. Work on your scapular retraction.
Here are three moves to help. You can add these into your warm up routines any time you do an upper body workout. They are also great rehab moves if you’ve suffered from any neck or shoulder injuries. These moves also help you activate the correct muscles so you can use all those strong back muscles to help you do the pull up!
Scapular Band Flyes – Hold the resistance band with your hands about shoulder-width apart. Arms should be straight out in front of you at about shoulder height or right below. Keeping your arms straight, open your arms out to the side. Pinch your shoulder blades together as you open. Do not let your shoulders shrug up. Then once you open the band to your chest with your arms straight, bring your arms back together so your arms are about shoulder-width apart again and there is no slack in the band. Repeat.
Scapular Wall Hold – Stand with your back to the wall. Step a couple of inches away and bend your arms to 90 degrees. Keep your elbows in by your sides and drive them back toward the wall. Lean onto your elbows on the wall. Do not let your upper arms or back touch the wall. Relax your head back. Pinch your shoulder blades down and back while keeping your core tight as you lean into the wall. You should feel this move low between your shoulder blades. To advance the move, move your feet a bit further from the wall.
Scapular Push Ups – This move has only a very small range of motion. Set up in a push up position from your knees or toes. Create a nice straight line with your body. Then pinch your shoulder blades back and together and press your chest out. Then relax. It is really only a few inches of motion. DO NOT ALLOW YOUR CORE TO MOVE. Do not bend your elbows or allow your hips to sag. All you are doing is pinching your shoulder blades back and together. Also, do not let your shoulders shrug up by your ears.
2. Use isometric holds to strengthen your pull up.
Isometrics are a great way to strengthen the muscles used during pull ups without you having to be able to do a pull up. Here are three isometric holds that I love to use to work on each part of the pull up. The dead hang is an isometric at the bottom of a pull up and the pull up hold is at the top. The mid-pull up hold is exactly what it sounds like – a hold in the middle of a pull up.
Dead Hang – Hold on to a pull up bar or suspension trainer and hang from the bar. Your hands can be facing toward you or away from you. As you hang, do not let your shoulders shrug up. Keep your chest pressed out and your core tight. Your legs should hang down toward the ground. Do not tuck your knees up toward your chest.
Pull Up Hold – You can do this as a chin up or pull up. You can do it off a bar, off a peg board and/or off of XT/TRX straps. Whichever you use pull to the top of a pull up or chin up and HOLD. The less stable the appliance, the harder this move will be. Keep your legs straight down toward the ground and your chin above the bar. Keep your chest should be pressed out and your shoulder blades should be down and back. Squeeze your belly button in toward your spine and keep your glutes tight. Hold there until time is up.
Mid-Pull Up Hold – Hold on to a pull up bar or suspension trainer. Your hands can be facing toward you or away from you. You can either jump or pull yourself so that you are half way up a pull up. If the bar is low enough, you can simply set yourself a mid-pull up then hang from there. You arms won’t quite be bent to 90 degrees. As you hang, do not let your shoulders shrug up. Keep your chest pressed out and your core tight. Your legs should hang down toward the ground. Do not tuck your knees up toward your chest. Try to keep your arms bent as if you are halfway up or down the pull up and do not let them lengthen.
3. Strengthen the muscles of your back.
Once you’ve got everything activated (and before that even you will want to roll out your chest and traps to make sure no overactive muscles are trying to take over), you will want to work on making the big muscles even stronger.
Inverted rows are a great move to help you work toward the pull up because they also force you to work on grip strength and lifting your own bodyweight.
Inverted Rows – Hold a suspension trainer 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 between 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).If there is no bar or XT/TRX on which to do rows, do scapular push ups or corner rows.
One arm weighted rows and T-Bar Rows are also great options. When you do any weighted row, really focus on not rotating or using your legs to help you lift the weight. Focus on keeping a nice flat back and not rotating. You want your back to have to really work to row the weight up.
Doing pull ups are another great way to strengthen your back, but we will get into those with the next point….
4. Use different pull up variations to work on your weak points.
I’ve found that people get super stuck on one pull up variation and never mix it up.
Here are some ways to vary your pull ups to strengthen all the muscles needed to do an unassisted pull up:
- Mix up the grip you use. Don’t always hold with a pull up or chin up grip. Also try a neutral grip (palms facing each other and hands parallel). You can also place your hands wider or closer together. Each grip activates/uses the muscles in slightly different ways. For instance, a chin up engages a slight bit more bicep while a wide grip pull up uses a lot of lat!
- Do assisted variations. The key word there is VARIATIONS. Don’t just always hop on that assisted pull up machine. Try doing a pull up assisted by a jump. Or set up a bar so that your feet can help you push up by pushing off the ground. Or use a band. Vary the assistance you use to force your body to work in a few different ways. Also make sure you are always using as little assistance as possible. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean you can’t try using just a little less assistance. Find your point of failure and then move backward until you can just barely do one or two. Don’t just allow the move to be easy and depend on the assistance.
- Use tempo to strengthen your pull up. Slowing down the tempo of your pull up or down also helps strengthen your pull up. Do an assisted pull up, but pull up for a 3-5 count instead of pulling up as quickly as possible. OR jump to the top of the pull up, hold for a second then lower down as slowly as you can. All of these strengthen muscles in different ways to help you build toward the full pull up.
All of these moves and tips will help you master the pull up. While you need to be consistent in using them, you don’t have to use every single one every time you do an upper body workout. Mix a few in a couple of times a week.
Maybe during your metabolic use a pull up hold or even jumping pull ups. Or the next time you do a strength circuit do a weighted row and maybe some assisted pull ups.
Mix up the techniques you use, focusing on the moves that strengthen your weakest points. There is always a limiting factor to the weights or amount of reps we can do. Find that limiting factor, that weak link, and strengthen it.
And in case you aren’t sure what your weak link is, feel free to comment below and I can help you incorporate these tips into your training!
ALSO, while I didn’t discuss foam rolling above, make sure to roll out and do dynamic stretches before any strength training routine. A huge part of mastering these killer moves is getting the overactive muscles loosen and the correct muscles ready to work!
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!