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Pull Up Training, The Evaluation

Friday, June 29, 2012

I did more research on pull ups and found that the most important muscle are the front, side, and back deltoids (shoulders), and biceps. Pushups are excellent for training the front delts, pecs, and biceps, but I need to add more training for the side and rear delts.

Last night was Day 0. It was just an evaluation of where I'm at in order to get to my ultimate goal of doing a "Sarah Connor pullup".

I basically just did a light circuit of various strength training exercises to find out where I'm at. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I do resistance training using mostly my body weight on the elliptical machine, treadmill, and stretch bands. My lower body is very strong - squats are no problem - I love them! But my upper body, well, it's kinda mixed.

I tested my core strength with planking. I usually plank on my forearms because I can't put extended pressure on my wrists, but with the contour bars I bought for pushups, I found I could modify my plank straight arm. That is a lot tougher, and revealed my upper body weakness. I held the plank at 1 minute, and my arms gave out before my core.

Next, the pushup. I haven't done pushups in a long time because of my wrist. With the contour bars, I gave it a try. I was able to do 2 sets of 5. 5 was the most I could do before fatigue. So 10 pushups total. Not great. However, I don't think my arms were the problem here. I can definitely feel the burn in my front delts this morning, so this is obviously my weak spot, and why I can't do a pull up.

I also tested my arm strength with 2 pound weights. I did sets of 20. Arm curls (bicep) was too easy - I didn't feel the burn at all. Next was lateral fly (shoulder - side delts) - terrible. I reached fatigue at 20.

Apparently my biceps are strong from carrying 20lb bags of groceries up 3 flights of stairs, but my shoulders are wimpy.

My plan of action is to continue dropping my overall bodyfat. Lower weight means less mass I have to pull. Now I need to put together a workout routine to strengthen up my shoulder muscles, which seems to be grossly out of balance with my arms.
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    There is a park that does have adult sized exercise equipment. it's kinda like the stuff they have at muscle beach except without the free weights. Unfortunately, that park is a hike away. It would take me 45 minutes to walk there. the kids park is closer and the bars are manageable.

    Oh and try a table instead of the bed to do your modified push ups. the bed just isn't stable enough for your wrists. You could try a chair instead of the table. that would be stable enough if you're short on space.

    3125 days ago
    Pushups are difficult for me to do, so I am experimenting with variations. So far I am doing wall pushups, an elevated/inclined pushup using my bed for the lift, and floor pushups with the contour bars.

    Do you have a park near you that has a series of exercise bars? Might be less awkward than the children's park!
    3126 days ago
    Have you tried table push ups ? If your wrist is still bothering you, you might try doing push ups on a table or a weight bench. You may find being on that slight incline helps to reduce some of the stress on your wrist. So you might consider one set with the bars and one set of table push ups for variation.

    Are you doing plank ? Keep doing a modified plank too. Doing plank will also help increase your core and upper body strength. Shoulder presses and rows. Add those too. And don't neglect your lower back. superman, bird dogs and dead lifts.

    I found a local playground that has a set of monkey bars. I didn't try them this morning. Some dad was sitting on the slide talking on his cell phone. sheesh.... didn't want to work on the bars with someone staring at me.

    3126 days ago
    EATNBOOGERS: Great work! I think lower bodyfat/weight is helpful because it means less mass to pull. But I agree that one should be able to do a pull up at varying levels of bodyfat. I'm understanding now that a pull up is an intense full body exercise, not just arms. If all of the series of muscles - back, shoulders, arms, core - are strong enough, you should theoretically be able to pull your mass. Less mass just makes it easier.
    3126 days ago
    I'll hang with you too.... I do sets of arm exercises a few times a week. I do chair dips (straight leg), pushups, side pushups, and the hanging thing/lowering thing. I can do about half a pullup now, which again, is proof you don't have to have super low body fat.
    3126 days ago
    THELILEA: Let's all try and figure this out together!
    3127 days ago
    You are totally my perfect Spark Hero right now: Where I picked the goal to be able to do a pull up eons ago you are attacking it with the precision of a scientist. I love it! I wish I could hit the gym with you!!
    Can't wait to see your progress. :)
    3127 days ago
    Yes, I have more than 2lb weights. I was just using that as an evaluation. At the moment, I'm trying to use most of the resistance with my bodyweight, as I get stronger, I may add more free weights. Still working out details - more updates soon!

    Wide grip requires stronger lats, narrow grip is more arms. From my current evaluation, it seems my best chance is a narrow underhand grip. I definitely have to hit all of those muscle groups - back, shoulder, arms - thanks for the insight!
    3127 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/30/2012 1:26:39 PM
    I'm not sure you really need to be 15% body fat (if you read Leigh Peele's stuff on that you know BF% is all a guess anyway....) to do a pull-up, since I was able to do them and was never anywhere near that low, probably around 22%, and I'm bottom heavy too...that said, your plan sounds good, do you have access to more than 2lb weights though? I think that would help especially for the back muscles, you will still want to work your lats even if the grip you're shooting for is more arm-centric. I think the movement to start the pull-up comes from the lats (or at least they must be engaged and firing to get up there!)
    3127 days ago
    Interesting inforation!
    3127 days ago
    NINJALINDA: I've always been an upperbody weakling so this is setting a goal skyhigh!

    WOUBBIE: I honestly have no idea? I'm getting the message that dropping bodyfat is a prerequisite, so that is going to be my "Stage 1" goal. This is going to require cleaner eating. I'll write more about this later.

    GETSTRONGRRR: Thanks for the encouragement!

    BOB240: Great points about the stress on the joints. I'll keep that in mind so that I don't work too hard, too fast.

    Also good points about looking better being relative. I'm doing this because I need a fitness goal. I don't know if it's realistic, or if I'll be able to commit to what it takes, but the worst case scenario is that I become stronger. Muscle tone will make me healthier overall.

    REDSHOES2011: Thanks for the tips! I'm not starting from ground zero, so I hope that will be helpful. My lower body strength is very good from being overweight for so long. My personal trainer a while back was surprised that I could press 2x my bodyweight on the leg press machine. On the other hand, I disappointed on the assisted pull up machine. That was a little more than half my bodyweight.

    I agree with focusing on the weak areas.
    3127 days ago
  • no profile photo CD9136158
    I built up power doing front pull downs and using a assisted pull up machine.. As I got stronger I increase the weight with pull downs and decreased the assistance with the assistance plate. When training if I feel a weakness I train that area until it doesn't feel a problem.. I had to improve my wrists by adding a wrist exercise into my workout that improved my grip while doing pull ups..
    I also had to improve my shoulder power so do several shoulder exercises.. I also warm up my rotators with a physiotherapy series of rotator exercises so my muscles know they will be working hard.. This can avoid injuries..
    Just keep working on them, it took me a whole year to get my backside off the ground. The full pushups came as a extra bonus.. emoticon
    3127 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/30/2012 2:55:00 AM
  • BOB240
    First.. you look very good- in many mens eyes much better than the "fitness model" you pictured on your last blog.

    Pull ups are a very severe exercise and you're right. You will need to hit around 15% bodyfat to do them. It's up to you but I think you'll just look different .. you won't look better..

    The first thing is to drop about 15 pounds of fat. :(. It is vital to maintain muscle as you do this so up your protein to 1g/pound bodyweight a day. Combine this with real strength training. Pull ups are all about core so you need to do
    3] rows
    4] bench press
    5] Lats pull down

    increasing weight each week..

    Go here:

    you should be at intermediate level on these exercises (as judged by weight) before the pullups start.

    Do not try to do pullus too quickly. Your elbow joints will complain.

    It is a very very tough challenge.. :)

    3127 days ago
    I think you're right about the pushups helping you out. In the end, just hanging from the bar for longer periods of time, then after a few weeks, doing 4 to 5 sets of 1 or so pullup and adding to it over time is the way to get there

    The toughest part is the beginning....don't get discouraged!
    3128 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/29/2012 11:11:40 PM
    Any timeline on how long it might take you to train for this?

    (By the way, I decided to join you in this quest, though I still have a lot of weight to lose before I can realistically hope to do one. Maybe by Christmas for me.)
    3128 days ago
    I'm interested to follow your journey. There was a time when my upper body strength was pretty good (could do 10+ military pushups in good form), but pullups? could never do even one!
    3128 days ago
    According to bodybuilder.com, these are the muscles engaged in a pull up:

    For some reason, Spark isn't letting me paste the muscle groups. The link is here: www.bodybuilding.com/fun/ridgely9.h

    Yes, bicep and triceps are stabilizers for the shoulder joints.

    Wide grip emphasizes more of the lat (back) muscles. I'm trying for a narrow underhand chin-up, which should be more arm emphasis.
    3128 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/29/2012 6:08:37 PM
    I think everyone has stronger biceps than shoulders. Don't be hard on yourself. If you can do 10 pushups you're doing great. I've been strength training for years and still can't manage one real toe pushup in good form.
    3128 days ago
    What about triceps? Do they figure in at all? I know that is one of my weakest muscles.
    3128 days ago
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