The Steve Curtis Training guide to becoming a pullup bad ass!
Updated: Apr 19
The pullup is a bad ass exercise! Not only are pullups one of the most effective movements for increasing size and strength in the muscles of the upper back, they’re also a fantastic core exercise. Forget about kipping pullups as seen here...
These have been popularized by the Crossfit community. This exercise, not unlike the lat pulldown, will not equate very well to increased pull up performance. They're fine for conditioning, but what we're talking about today are full, chest to bar/chin over the bar pullups or chinups as seen here...
Pullups are a savage exercise that will build tremendous upper body vertical pulling power like nothing else. There are 3 primary grips that can be utilized for the exercise. Pronated (palms facing away), neutral grip (palms facing each other) and supinated (palms facing towards you). Most people are typically stronger using the neutral grip. This is also the most shoulder, elbow and wrist friendly version of the exercise. When training the pullup it is a good idea to vary your grip periodically.
Proper form when performing a pullup involves the tightening of the belly and butt. When you pull there should not be much deviation of the spine, it should be locked down. From a side view you should not see any over-extension of the spine, otherwise you are leaking strength. Excessive leg movement is also counterproductive. Overall body weight will also play a huge role in how many pull ups you can complete. Simply dropping a few pounds will equate to better performance and increased relative strength.
Whether you are trying to complete your first full pullup or you are a seasoned pro, one of the best exercises to increase your pulling power is the eccentric pullup. Using a step or bench, start at the top position of a pullup. From there, isometrically hold yourself in position for a 2-3 count and then slowly (2-10 seconds) lower yourself back down to the start. 3 Sets x 6-10 Reps
If you aren't quite strong enough to perform eccentric pullups then build up your pulling power first using an inverted row variation with a bar, rings or suspension trainer. Here's what they look like...
Once you get your first full body weight pullup you'll want to increase the number of reps you can do. A fantastic way to accomplish this is the band assisted pullup...
Start off using a thicker band with heavy resistance and as you progress, use lighter and lighter bands until you do not require a band at all. 3-5 Sets x 8-12 Reps
You will at some point gain enough power and strength to complete quite a few body-weight pullups. As soon as you can complete 10 reps or so without any assistance, it's time to add some weighted pullups to your program. Here is an extreme example...
Obviously this is an extreme example and very few of us will ever be able to complete such a feat. But adding 5-50lbs of added resistance will take your pull ups to another level. A weight vest is the best option, but you can also use a dip belt, chains or hold a DB between your knees. 5 Sets x 3-5 Reps
Practice, practice, practice. The common denominator among men and woman who are proficient with pullups is.....practicing pull ups!
Don't train to failure. As soon as your form deteriorates, stop the set. You'll fry your CNS and will actually get weaker training to failure.
Clean up your diet.
Initiate your pull with the Lats. Be sure that your Lats are firing first before your Biceps.
Perform Scap Pulls
Increase your strength endurance and neurological efficiency. To do this you will want to practice the exercise as frequently as possible without crushing your system. Work with 50% of your max reps and do this frequently.
I've been advised from Olympic level strength coaches to always be sure to prescribe more horizontal pulling than vertical pulling. This will help the individual in maintaining optimal shoulder health and will ensure that proper joint centration occurs with the humeral head. Adhering to a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio with these will yield a substantial impact on any negative symptoms experienced in the region.
Pullups are only one component of building your dream body. If you would like to build yours, I've got you covered. This is just a brief outline of some of the programming and progressions that I use with my clients. If you would like a more personalized plan that will turn you into a pullup bad ass, then visit the contact page and feel free to contact me anytime. #stronglife