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Old 06-19-2009, 03:04 AM   #1
Jason Leavy
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PULL-UPS: Breaking through a plateau

I've been doing Cross-fit for just over a month and as with so many others on here, am finding it the 'Holy Grail' of work-out routines.
One area of frustration I'm experiencing though, is that of pull-ups. Over the past six weeks my ability to do increased volumes is undoubtedly there - I could never have dreamt of managing a total of 50+ during one workout previously. However, I can only manage this volume by breaking up the pull-ups, and my actual max for one set/round is remaining pretty static between 10-12.
I currently do three sets of pull-ups as part of the official warm-up and average around 10 a set and when they are part of the WOD I'll always do the total volume but have to break it up along the lines of 10,7,4,3 etc. But what surprises me is that even though I'm now 'greasing the groove' on a regular basis and putting in those volumes, my one-set max has probably only gone from 9/10 up to 12, and I've been stuck on 12 for some time now. Any idea how I can break through this barrier - I really don't think it's a psychological one - what techniques I can employ, changes in approach etc? Or is it just a case of being patient in the knowledge that I'll 'break through' at some point and hopefully keep on increasing from there?\
NB. I use a palms facing away grip if this has any bearing.
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Old 06-19-2009, 03:42 AM   #2
Kent Levin
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Re: PULL-UPS: Breaking through a plateau

I am still struggling with pull ups but once I was able to get the kipping pull up it has helped everything else. I actually was able to do a kipping pull up before I could do a dead hang. I would recommend trying that if you aren't already, watch the demos and remember its all in the hips. Hope that helps
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Old 06-19-2009, 05:52 AM   #3
Jason Leavy
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Re: PULL-UPS: Breaking through a plateau

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Originally Posted by Kent Levin View Post
I am still struggling with pull ups but once I was able to get the kipping pull up it has helped everything else. I actually was able to do a kipping pull up before I could do a dead hang. I would recommend trying that if you aren't already, watch the demos and remember its all in the hips. Hope that helps
Thanks for the feedback Kent. Much appreciated.
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Old 06-19-2009, 06:04 AM   #4
Júlíus Magnússon
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Re: PULL-UPS: Breaking through a plateau

Work on your technique.

Also sounds like you're doing too many pull-ups. If your max set is 12 and you're doing three sets of 10 before all your workouts (assuming you workout 4-6 times a week) I would expect your max set to actually drop as time goes by, not increase.
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Old 06-19-2009, 06:40 AM   #5
Mat Frankel
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Re: PULL-UPS: Breaking through a plateau

You should have at least 5 solid dead hang pullups before starting with kipping. If you don't you should work on that strength and then form into kipping/butterfly with will help you with volume.
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Old 06-19-2009, 07:34 AM   #6
Brian Bedell
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Re: PULL-UPS: Breaking through a plateau

Right, I don't know if you are talking about dhang, or kipping. If you are talking dhang, then I think you are doing awesome and probably better then most, and better then me. I would not complain.

If kipping, the only reason you would be sticking at those numbers is b/c of technique.

Not everyone is great at pullups, or at everything. I am not great at pullups. I'm sure I can't do 12 dhangs. But I can do 23 kips, again not awesome, but I'm terrible at bw exercises. It has a lot to do with your weight too, IMO.

Also, I think CF has too many pllps to really get good at them. I mean in the cfwu theoretically you would be doing 30-45 per day 3/1. Yesterday you would have done 105, if you skipped the wu! But then again as I said I'm terrible at them, so I'm probably a lil' biased!
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Old 06-19-2009, 09:12 AM   #7
Ryan Lynch
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Re: PULL-UPS: Breaking through a plateau

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Originally Posted by Júlíus Magnússon View Post
Work on your technique.

Also sounds like you're doing too many pull-ups. If your max set is 12 and you're doing three sets of 10 before all your workouts (assuming you workout 4-6 times a week) I would expect your max set to actually drop as time goes by, not increase.
Why would it drop? I'm not understanding this...I would imagine it to increase.

Can you enlighten me?

-Ryan
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Old 06-19-2009, 09:56 AM   #8
Oliver Gould
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Re: PULL-UPS: Breaking through a plateau

You get stronger by recovering from lifting weights, not from lifting weights. The trick is to do enough to stimulate progress without overworking the body so much that you can't perform enough quality work to stimulate progress after a day or two. In any program, your performance on a given day is at least slightly limited by fatigue, if the fatigue is pervasive then you won't get better.

Lets say you need to get three sets of 12 pullups to stimulate progress (simplified I know, sets/rest/added weight plays a role here too), so you do them. The next day you do the CF warmup with pullups and do three more sets. You are fatigued from yesterday so you only manage 10 pullups in each set. That's not enough to improve (now you probably need 13 pullups per set), but its enough to add fatigue. This process repeats over and over, and since you only get 1 rest day in between 3 days of pullups, that fatigue stays with you, preventing you from expressing enough strength to get your 13 reps and induce progress. You are building up your ability to do pull ups in a state of systemic fatigue, but you aren't getting stronger overall.

You can build up your tolerance for volume over time to the point where the 30 pullups in the warmup isn't a real problem, but it has to be gradual. This is why strength programs don't start you on a 5RM. You need to develop more strength/endurance AND a tolerance for a progressively greater volume of work. One of the reasons CF works to the extent that it does is that it throws so much volume at a given lift/movement that adaptation is sure to occur IF you can handle the recovery. In your case, you can't handle the pull up recovery necessary to make progress, so you need to do LESS pull-ups overall and focus on doing them better when they do come up.
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Old 06-19-2009, 11:23 AM   #9
Ryan Lynch
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Re: PULL-UPS: Breaking through a plateau

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Originally Posted by Oliver Gould View Post
You get stronger by recovering from lifting weights, not from lifting weights. The trick is to do enough to stimulate progress without overworking the body so much that you can't perform enough quality work to stimulate progress after a day or two. In any program, your performance on a given day is at least slightly limited by fatigue, if the fatigue is pervasive then you won't get better.

Lets say you need to get three sets of 12 pullups to stimulate progress (simplified I know, sets/rest/added weight plays a role here too), so you do them. The next day you do the CF warmup with pullups and do three more sets. You are fatigued from yesterday so you only manage 10 pullups in each set. That's not enough to improve (now you probably need 13 pullups per set), but its enough to add fatigue. This process repeats over and over, and since you only get 1 rest day in between 3 days of pullups, that fatigue stays with you, preventing you from expressing enough strength to get your 13 reps and induce progress. You are building up your ability to do pull ups in a state of systemic fatigue, but you aren't getting stronger overall.

You can build up your tolerance for volume over time to the point where the 30 pullups in the warmup isn't a real problem, but it has to be gradual. This is why strength programs don't start you on a 5RM. You need to develop more strength/endurance AND a tolerance for a progressively greater volume of work. One of the reasons CF works to the extent that it does is that it throws so much volume at a given lift/movement that adaptation is sure to occur IF you can handle the recovery. In your case, you can't handle the pull up recovery necessary to make progress, so you need to do LESS pull-ups overall and focus on doing them better when they do come up.
Thanks Oliver, this makes sense. So to improve strength wise, we need to recover, but what about adaption? I know adaption will take place, we see this in the games where people are doing 3 WODs in a day, and many have incredible work capacities (thinking about Josh Everett doing King Kong after doing another WOD earlier). So that ability will come.

But if we are doing 30 pull-ups a day, I would think that the body would adapt and be expecting to do 30 pull-ups a day and it would be no more challenging than walking to and from the mail box or anything else one does every day. This is what I'm not understanding I guess. I got what you are saying about being stronger, that makes sense, but I'm not understanding why we would not adapt and 30 pull-ups get easier the more we do them.

I'd like to throw a bit more into the discussion, thinking about SEALs/BUDs. These guys do a tremendous amount of work, and are expected to improve each week. So why is a regular guy not improving but a guy getting beat to hell and working to maximum effort every day improving like mad?

Thanks for the discussion and knowledge.

-Ryan
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Old 06-19-2009, 11:38 AM   #10
Katherine Derbyshire
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Re: PULL-UPS: Breaking through a plateau

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Originally Posted by Ryan Lynch View Post
But if we are doing 30 pull-ups a day, I would think that the body would adapt and be expecting to do 30 pull-ups a day and it would be no more challenging than walking to and from the mail box or anything else one does every day. This is what I'm not understanding I guess. I got what you are saying about being stronger, that makes sense, but I'm not understanding why we would not adapt and 30 pull-ups get easier the more we do them.
Yes, but in what time frame? If you push the limits of your recovery, you won't adapt as fast.

Quote:
I'd like to throw a bit more into the discussion, thinking about SEALs/BUDs. These guys do a tremendous amount of work, and are expected to improve each week. So why is a regular guy not improving but a guy getting beat to hell and working to maximum effort every day improving like mad?
But is he, really? My (admittedly secondhand) understanding of programs like BUDs is that people DON'T improve their PT scores from the beginning to end of the course. In fact, part of the POINT of such a course is to beat people down and force them to draw on their mental reserves.

Also, BUDs participants are, by definition, young, healthy, and athletic to begin with. Such a group would naturally adapt more quickly than the average formerly sedentary "regular guy." And even so, BUDs has a very very high dropout rate, which tends to suggest that no, most people *can't* actually handle that workload.

Katherine
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