Did you know that the advent of pull-ups and pull-up bars came during WW2 when U.S. troops were discovered to have difficult climbing obstacles? Pull-ups are great for building strength for climbing, surmounting and traversing obstacles.
Adding Weights to Increase Bodyweight Pull-Up Reps
If you can already perform 10+ pull-ups then you can add a light weight. The key is that you don’t want to train with a weight so heavy so that when you perform an all-out set without it, you’ll blast through the first few reps and then lose steam right after. Neither do you want the weight so heavy that it’ll weigh you down to low reps (unless your aim is low-rep maximal strength).
The sweet spot is: to add between 10 – 25 pounds and alternate bodyweight and weighted pull-up sessions to bring about the best increase in your all-out set efforts. (Sessions: you can use the Greasing the Groove or Ladder Method mentioned in part one). For example, if you can perform 15 unweighted pull-ups then add 25 pounds to bring you down to 6 – 10 pull-ups, but no lower than 5 reps. Take a day or two off and then test yourself once a month with an all-out set.
Weighted Pull-Up Ladders for Maximal Strength
Pull-up ladders are great if you have access to a bar only once a day/not have much time to workout. If you want to train purely for low reps/maximal strength, chain a barbell plate to yourself, wear a backpack with weights or simply hook a kettlebell with your feet to bring your total pull-up numbers down to a 5 – 6 rep maximum. Experiment to find that poundage. Now simply ladder (1, 2, 3) reps at time followed by a one-minute break and continue until nearly fatigued. If you don’t have any weights, vary the leverage with your bodyweight with these different variations:
- Tactical Pull-Up [Standard pull-up with a thumbless grip] – Easiest
- Hanging Leg Raise [Make an L-Seat with your legs]
- Front Lever [Your body is parallel to the floor] – Hardest
3-to-5 Method for Special Weapons and Tactics Teams Program
Perform this method if you are aiming for maximal strength and have time, other strength exercises that you want to do within the same workout.
- 3 – 5 exercises (whole body compound exercises; no isolation exercises or machines)
- 3 – 5 sets
- 3 – 5 reps
- 3 – 5 minutes of rest between sets
- 3 – 5 days of rest for each exercise (stagger exercises throughout the week)
Perform the program for 3 weeks and reduce the set or rep volume in half in the 4th week, e.g. 4 sets x 4 reps becomes 2 sets x 4 reps for sustainability (cycling/periodization) purposes.
Exercise combination example:
- Tactical Pull-Up
- Pistol or One-Legged Squat
- Double Kettlebell Snatch
Triangle of Tension Technique for Pull-Up Strength
Tension=strength. The more your muscles contract, the heavier you can lift. You can practice high tension techniques by first hanging on a high pull-up bar, crossing your ankles and hanging a kettlebell on one foot while keeping your legs straight. Tense everything, starting from your feet to your lat muscles to your hands while hanging on the bar. Don’t bend your knees.
You should feel ‘solid’ lines of tension from your feet, up through your lats and into your hands. This is the triangle of tension. Relax a bit and tense up again. Now go re-create this sensation in your muscles and tense up when you perform weighted or even bodyweight pull-ups. Tension makes everything feel lighter because you’re a solid piece of muscle. It also protects your joints more in my experience.
One can combine the Simple & Sinister workout with pull-ups; alternate days, e.g. Monday S&S Swings & Turkish Get-Ups, Tuesday Pull-Up Ladders, as both are grip-intensive. Weighted pull-ups, swings, Turkish get-ups are essentially what is taught at Pavel Tsatsouline’s Tactical Kettlebell classes to U.S. Secret Service, LEO and military. Currently, I’m just sticking to S&S as I don’t have a bar in my home anymore. For rock climbers, do pull-ups, swings and get-ups, as well, as hack squats.
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