So you want to get stronger but can’t seem to crank out more than one or two pull-ups?
Don’t worry, we all start somewhere, and it’s important to remember that pull-ups are hard!
If you look over at the general equipment section of your climbing gym, you’re likely always to find someone cranking out some pull-ups. The reason why is because pull-ups are one of the best exercises you can do to improve your strength.
Since they’re a compound exercise, they use the vast majority of your big and small muscles such as your lats and your biceps. Pull-ups are also a multi-joint movement, which is typically viewed more favorably than say for example bicep curls.
Here are three tips on how to start cranking out more pull-ups at the climbing gym:
1. Use an elastic band or chair to assist you as you go up.
I can credit this to none other than Tony Horton when I went through a couple of rounds of P90X in high school. One of the best ways to begin working on improving your pull-ups is to take half your body weight off in the exercise.
You can do this by pulling a chair over so that you can rest one leg on that chair as you are going up. Then swap the sides that the chair rests on. Alternatively, you can take an elastic band or TRX system and rest one of your feet on that as you move upwards. Both of these options accomplish the same thing in that it significantly reduces the load that you have to account for with the upwards motion.
Do this for two to three weeks if you can’t get more than one or two pull-ups right now. You’ll notice if you’re hitting the gym at least three times a week that by the end of week two, you should begin to feel like you’re getting better at it.
Your gym may also have one of those pull-up machines that has a little seat you can put down to rest your knees on. That works perfectly fine as well.
2. Dead hang on the pull-up bar.
Your muscles have to become comfortable with dead hanging. For this, all you need to do is assume the typical start position of a pull-up. Then, hang for as long as you can, up to a minute, before resting for a minute. Do this six to ten times in a workout session. Do not swing!
Dead hanging helps build your grip strength and overload your forearms with your bodyweight. It helps to familiarize yourself with what it feels like to have your upper body under tension.
3. Incorporate pull-ups into every one of your workouts if you really want to get better at them.
Much like climbing, the best way to get better at pull-ups is to do or try to do them more. You will not be able to magically start cranking out twenty pull-ups if you are not getting your body comfortable with the body movement regularly.
When I first started exercising eight years ago, I was only able to do two or three pull-ups, and it was mainly just because I was incredibly light then (~115 pounds). I had no forearm or upper back strength, but I found that regularly incorporating a few sets of assisted or standalone pull-ups allowed me to improve quickly.
Make a game out of it if you like to motivate yourself that way. Think about setting a goal for yourself to complete 100 pull-ups in the month and then chip away at that with each session.
Of all the regular exercises you can do in the gym, I think pull-ups are one of the top three for climbing. There have been countless occasions where I have saved a send (perhaps at the cost of form or technique) because I’m able to support my body weight for a sustained period without much help from my legs–this comes from pull-ups.
Nowadays, I aim to have a set of ten to fifteen pull-ups to start every climbing session; and I’ll often do another ten to fifteen to close out my session among other exercises.
Building your core strength is more important than building for muscle mass in climbing so if you aren’t already doing so, start getting those pull-ups in.
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