Over the past few months, we've experimented with pushup-only and burpee-only workouts. Pushups have always been a go-to movement for general strength and conditioning, and while burpees are hated they're also popular. Pullups, on the other hand, receive minimal love. Let's change that.
I suck at pullups, where do I start?
Smith Machine Pullup
If you're new to pullups, this is the best way to start. Set a smith machine bar to about chest height. Walk your feet forward until you're in something that resembles an inverted row position. For the first few tries, keep a straight body so you're at a pretty big angle. As you become more comfortable, lower the bar closer to the ground and start to create an L with your body - torso vertical, legs horizontal. This is the pullup position without your legs hanging straight down.
Smith MachinePullup V2
The next step begins where you left off with the first version of the smith machine pullup. You should be comfortable performing baby pullups from the floor in a solid L position. The video actually shows this done with a TRX, but the smith machine works just as well. Now, use a small box or stack of weight plates to raise your feet off the ground. The higher you go, the harder these become. And the higher you go, the closer to real pullups they become.
This is a big step up from the previous two variations, as you're now in a completely vertical starting position. At first, you may only manage one or two reps. Don't worry - keep working at the hardest form of the smith machine pullups and you'll eventually start to see your ability move in the right direction. It can be a slow process for some, but it's all about consistency. If you're having a really tough time with these, try flipping your grip to the underhand position, as it's often easier for beginners.
I'm getting better, what's next?
At this point, we'll assume you can do at least a few chinups or pullups. You have two options here: add a pause at the top of the movement, or add a pause at the bottom of the movement. Eventually, you'll want to do both, but it's probably easier to start atthe top. Work your way up from one to three seconds with a single pause, them add a similar bottom pause.
Now it's time to add some extra movement. Instead of pulling yourself straight up to the bar, you're going to pull at an angle. As you move upwards, try to follow a diagonal line to the left side of the bar. Repeat the process to the right and continue to alternate sides. This variation, along with the pause pullup, will prepare you for the full version in the next circuit.
Maintaining a straight line during the pullup already does great favors for your core, but adding an L-sit to the movement is even better. From the start position, perform a leg raise and hold it. Now, pull yourself up to the bar without allowing your legs to drop towards the ground. Keep your back nice and flat throughout the movement. If you find holding the L position more difficult than the pullup, you might want to focus more of your efforts on improving your core strength.
I'm a rock star at pullups...wait, what are these?
As the explosive pushup features a release of your hands from the ground, the explosive pullup features a release from the bar. As you reach the top of the pull, quickly release your grip on the bar, and then quickly grip it again. There's no reason to get fancy here, so don't let yourself go crashing to the floor. Focus on a strong, explosive pull that gives you the time necessary to make this happen.
The clap pullup is a natural extension of the explosive pullup. By now, you should be comfortable with a quick release of the bar during the movement. This time, instead of simply releasing the bar, brings your hands together for a quick clap. As with the pushup version of this movement, make sure to build enough momentum during the pull to make this happen. If you're having a hard time with the full clap, start by simply trying to touch one or to fingers together from each hand.
This final variation uses the pause and directional pullups to form one monster of a pullup. Start by performing a directional pullup to the left side of the bar. From here, allow your body to slide across the length of the bar, until you're on the right side. Drop down along a diagonal line to the center. Reverse the order, pulling up to the right, sliding to the left, and back to the start. As you slide, try to maintain a straight line with your body - don't let it bend or sway.
What You Need To Know:
Use these progressive pullup variations to build strength and conditioning. Pullups are well known for the intense fatigue they can cause, so use these movements as part of your warmup if you're just starting out. Work your way down the line, moving to the next set of variations when you're ready. Completing 8-10 reps of each variation is a good guideline for moving on.