I’ve always been a bit of a grind. I like a challenge, and when it comes to exercise, it’s much more interesting to me if it’s difficult, or requires skill. Acting like I’m strong by always working out on a Smith machine? Pfffff. Cheating on every dumbbell raise so I can feel manly? Unacceptable!
All Chest and None of the Rest
Pullups are pretty tough to do. People ignore them for various reasons. The simplest is that average guys want to have a huge chest intending to impress the babes, so they do nothing but bench press. Another is that they wouldn’t want someone to see their pitiful pullup numbers compared to their big bench numbers. And although there are women who are great at pullups and chinups, most women don’t have the upper-body strength to do one. Little do they know that they can work up to that without necessarily being able to do a perfect one right away! If you’re interested in some ideas, comment below and I’ll share.
Previously I had haphazardly worked my way up to a best of 11 pullups. Recently I was looking for a challenge, though, and I found it in Brett Stewart’s book, 7 Weeks to 50 Pullups. No, that 50 is not a misprint. There are 3 programs in the book, one for complete beginners, one intermediate one, and one super hardcore one. I decided to shoot for twenty, and the intermediate program was just right for that.
The program was extremely well-organized, with rest and gradual increases figured in very adeptly. The key thing that I had not done in my informal training was to combine varieties of pullup styles. With varying blends of these, and frequent subtle shifting of work loads, the detailed scheme achieves periodization very well. To put it another way, by making small continuous changes in the routines to allow for different muscle emphasis, you can keep progressing without burning out. Kudos to Brett and his CSCS adviser.
Thank You Sir. May I Have Another?
I like any good tough routine, it gives me a feeling that I’m actually accomplishing something. Still, sometimes these workouts were very taxing, while other days seemed vigorous but not too hard. I followed the programs to the letter, and the only significant variation I made was to sometimes add an extra rest day or two. On some of the really tough days, I probably slightly blew the last rep on a total of 3 or 4 sets. Beyond that, I stuck to the program like glue, and Tweeted my results to Brett to keep on task. Somewhat braggadocious, but my personal favorite form of TMI.
Jump and Give Me Fifty! OK, How About Twenty?
The program lasts a couple months. I kept going steadily, and on the big test day I was going to shoot for over twenty. I got especially well warmed-up, and went for it. The first 10 reps felt very light, and then by about 15, they started to get tough. On the 20th, I was struggling, and I could feel that it was the last one I had left, so I pulled as hard as I could and slowly made it. Success! Here’s the video of me getting my 20 if you’re interested:
There was a comment on there complaining about my form. Despite the usual lack of courtesy one finds in YouTube trolls, I actually agree, to an extent. I don’t go all the way to rock bottom there in the video. Here’s the funny part – it actually feels a little easier to go all the way down. Why? Because when you bottom out, you get a short automatic stop – your joint stops you instead of fighting back using your other arm muscles to reverse direction. You get a split second of rest, roughly analogous to doing a squat, and near the bottom of the movement having your hamstring briefly meet your calf muscle.
Rightly or wrongly, during the long training process I had deliberately been stopping just short of rock bottom. In my personal training studies, there was a warning not to go slack at the bottom of pullups, because the joint capsule may get injured. By experimenting after the video was made, I found that I could do the brief stop at the bottom without letting my shoulders go completely slack, and this allowed a fuller range of motion without any issues. But if you experiment with this, be very careful! However, I didn’t go back and work up to 20 again. Maybe I will sometime, but in the meantime I’m concentrating on things that I find more fun than pullups.
The super hardcore pullup person will say, meh, I can do 30, 40, or more. But IMO, 20 is very nice for a guitarist. 🙂 I thought about trying to move on to program 3, but though I’m very happy with my accomplishment, I am tired of pullups for now. I will keep doing them, as they’re great exercise, but will definitely shift to emphasize other forms of training for now. It’s interesting that Brett enjoys triathlons, and is built that way – not a big bruiser at all. It’s encouraging to see that a more-or-less regular-sized guy can crank out scads of pullups. Here and there in Brett’s book he has sprinkled sidebars with world record holders’ totals. So cool, and even scary!
The Need for Speed
I have little interest in long distance stuff – I like to exercise fast, hard, and very briefly. I will resume my lower body training, and will most likely resume handstand pushups and other exotic moves. I really like the approach where you do cardio and strength all at once. Workouts are very intense, and very short. I haven’t been able to do that with the pullups program, because you really do need rest between sets. So now I get to give up rest again. 🙂
Can You Do A Pullup? Very Likely, Yes!
If you’re getting nauseous just thinking about these numbers of pullups, it may be helpful to know that I had very little soreness after the workouts except for the very first week, where I took extra rest days to recover. Also, if someone is really, really big, and they work up to one pullup, that’s probably a better accomplishment than mine, a la the Biggest Loser. There’s a program for that, too. A great book, definitely get yourself a copy!