My recent experience at the 2012 Austin Fit Magazine Fittest was filled with quite a few events outside my comfort zone. One of the most intimidating of all was the pull up test that required us girls to perform this classic upper-body strength move just like the guys. No easier chin-ups (where fingertips are oriented on the bar to your face), no swinging, jumping, kipping, butt-wiggling or knee-pumping. These pull-ups had to be strict, military-style pull-ups where the body must fully-extend back downward into a “dead hang.” How could I ever make this happen? Never had I EVER even passed the flexed-arm hang test for the Presidential Fitness Test in elementary school. Ugh!
In January at CrossFit Endurance Camp, I could only do one strict pull-up and a couple with a kip. It was embarrassing to be around so many strong women, but a least I had them on the run! Not fully committed to the idea, I started practicing pull-ups chin-up style with a kip (maybe) once a week working my way up to four or five using major swinging motion to get my chin over the bar. Not long later, I could do four or five without the kip. On competition day, an adrenaline rush helped me squeak out six military dead-hang pull-ups and the judge noted I had “good form.” Whoo-hoo! Inspired by the winner in my age-group who completed 15, I started working a little harder on the dead hang pull-up. Now less than a month later I can do 9!
If I can do “proper” pull-ups (palms facing away from you, no extraneous body movement), so can you! Here are some tips to get you started.
Practice: Do a pull-up progression 3x per week. Start with 5 sets of 1 or 2 and then work your way up to 3 sets of a few less than your maximum effort.
Negatives: If you are unable to complete a strict pull-up, work on “negatives” first. Negatives are done by jumping up to the bar from the ground, box or half stability ball or with a spotter boost. Once your chin clears the bar, slowly move into the fully-extended dead hang position. Repeat!
Machine-Assisted Pull-Ups: This piece of gym equipment isn’t as intimidating as it looks. Set the counter-weight an amount that offers you an attainable challenge. Kneel on the platform, grasp the overhead bar and pull up!
Supplemental Exercises: Lat Pull-Downs, Ring Rows, Ring Dips, Bicep Curls, Dumbbell Rows