How to become a pullup powerhouse
Pullups/chin-ups are the most effective upper-body exercise you can do, in my opinion. Something about the feeling of pulling your entire body weight (+ extra weight if you're like me) up to a higher place gets me every time. Pullups are an amazing representation of life. We are often carrying so many heavy things (mental/emotional stress for example), it can be difficult to pull ourselves up (cheer ourselves up in this case), and very few people are good at doing so. But, with time and practice, we can become highly skilled at pulling ourselves up in life.
Maybe that's why I love this exercise so much. I remember attempting to do pullups when I was in 7th-grade gym class as a scrawny little 12 year old. I couldn't do a single rep. In 8th grade, nothing changed at first. But then, I began playing baseball, where I was regularly swinging a bat which felt pretty heavy at the time. After about 8 weeks of baseball, I gained the ability to complete ~5 reps of pullups. I was instantly hooked. I loved how I could feel it challenging my grip, my arms (biceps), and my back - muscles I didn't work too much at the time. I asked for a doorway pullup bar for my birthday and would do 4 sets of pullups to failure three times per week.
When I was 18, I learned about loading pullups through a chain belt, shown in the video. Once I started stacking on plates, I saw my muscles grow exponentially. I became obsessed with weighted pullups, to the point where I was completing sets of 3-5 reps with 100-150 extra pounds on my belt. I also became interested in supplements around this time, and was introduced to AdvoCare supplements by a teacher. I began fueling my workouts with a product called AdvoCare Spark, an incredible mental focus and energy supplement free of artificial coloring and low in sugar. I was amazed by what a little caffeine and the appropriate vitamins and minerals could do for me! If you'd like to give this product a try, head over to my link here, so you can take 10% off the products (and free shipping at $99!). My favorite flavors are fruit punch, blue raspberry, and grape!
Needless to say, this exercise had a profound impact on my life.
I'm often asked about how to get better at pullups, or how I became better at them.
My advice stems from the story I just shared.
1. Get (and stay) consistent
Nothing worth having comes easy. In one of my Physical Therapy classes, we learned how walking (yes, walking) takes thousands of hours to learn, and during this process, we fall thousands of times. For me, pullups are comparable to walking in this sense. The more you do the exercise, the better you will be at it, and the more efficient your body becomes. Make pullups a part of your plan, and stay consistent. Trust the process and focus in putting in work in the form of quality repetitions on a consistent basis.
2. Find your why
Before I do anything, I like to consider why I'm bothering to do it in the first place. This applies to much more than pullups: you can apply it to your entire fitness journey, specific exercises, or really, life in general. For me, I didn't like the feeling of being unable to do something others could. Although I wasn't bullied or picked on, I didn't like where I was at and wanted to make changes. If I was struggling or just having an overall bad day, I would mentally think back to that "day one" when I got started, and consider the progress I had made since then. After a few years, other people (classmates, parent's friends) began asking me how I was able to obtain the results I had, and I began to draw motivation from this as well - I was no longer the only one noticing the changes. For whatever you're doing, figure out why you're doing it. Are you trying to lose weight to be healthier for your family/children? Are you tired of being where you're at? Whatever it is for you, leverage that why feeling throughout your training.
3. Push yourself
You don't get stronger by playing it safe, doing the same thing repeatedly. In order to improve your ability to do an exercise, you have to overload it. This concept is referred to as the overload principle. Essentially, muscles adapt to the stresses you apply to them over time and require further stimulus (sets, reps, weight, time under tension) for continued growth and adaptation. Again, this can be applied to a variety of exercises and your life in general once again. As a college student, I know how nice it might feel to sleep in on the weekend or spend a Friday night watching TV shows and eating candy. But if you want to grow out of your current situation and push yourself into something bigger and better, you will have to increase the amount of work you're doing.
Who knew one exercise could teach you so much?!
I'm not going to send you off empty-handed. I've created a sample progression below, which will help you become a pullup powerhouse!
1. Lat-Pulldown & Seated Cable Row
Goal: perform 4-5 sets of 12-15 reps at a weight equal to your bodyweight
2. Bodyweight Pullup, Chinup, or Neutral-Grip Pullup
Goal: Perform as many reps as possible. If this number is 10 or greater, build a progression (i.e. 4 sets of 8 reps, 4 sets of 10 reps, 4 sets of 12 reps) for the next few weeks. If this number is less than 10, consider using a pullup assist machine or resistance bands and decreasing the amount of assistance used over time.
3. L-Sit Bodyweight Pullups/Chinups
Goal: Increase muscle growth by activating more muscles, in this case, the abdominals!
4. Weighted Pullups/Chinups
Goal: Loading the pullup will allow for increased growth and performance. Start with 10 pounds, and gradually increase the weight. If you do not have a belt for weight plates, try holding a dumbbell between your feet. You can make this movement extra hard by using fat gripz or a thicker bar, as shown below.