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Exercises Movements, technique & proper execution

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Old 02-11-2005, 12:28 AM   #1
John McCracken
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Does anyone have a copy of the original article by Ed Thompson that they could post? The original link no longer works. Thanks.
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Old 02-11-2005, 09:15 AM   #2
Christopher Sommer
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Pull Your Own Weight by Ed Thompson

In my experience and through observation and reading it is clear to me that the
most neglected area of the serious strength trainer is his ability to do pulling
movements, which are devoid of lower body assistance, such as chin-ups.

How many times have you seen someone in the gym with a big bench press and a
non-existent squat? I have literally seen 400 lb benchers struggle to do a set
of full squats with 185 lbs. Conversely, although much more seldom, I have seen
"squat monsters" doing darn close to 600 lbs on the squat who couldn't do
"squat" relatively speaking, on the bench press. My point is that we all have
proclivities to work some movements harder than others and over time that is
what we determine what our strengths are.

While a bench press isolates the pushing prowess of the upper body, and squats
develop the ability of the legs, hips, glutes, and lower back, popular pulling
movements of even the most dedicated strength trainer tend to fall short because
of the tremendous level of lower body influence on their execution.

Think about the following pulls: deadlifts, cleans, power cleans, snatches and
high pulls all derive a tremendous amount of their impetus from the lower body.

Better than sixty-five percent of our musculature resides below our waistlines.
Then, there is our upper body of which the overwhelming majority of muscle mass
is in our backs. For many of us this is a virtually untapped and under
recognized treasure of strength. While it is true that the aforementioned
pulling movements do work the back, it is also true that to a great extent they
lack isolation and intensity because of the heavy emphasis on the lower bodies
contribution to pulling (which does not take place on pressing movements such as
military presses, bench presses and dips which, while being compound movements,
are isolated from the lower body.)

The question then, is how do we increase pure upper body pulling ability, which
will in turn influence the strength and power of our body as a total unit?
Exercises such as bent-over row and T-bar rows, when looked at critically
(especially when the trainee uses lots of weight) tend to become momentum
driven, utilizing the legs to gain advantage and thus robbing the back, and our
pure upper body pulling apparatus of its full potential.

The answer is simple, yet brutal. Chin ups (underhand grip) and pull ups
(overhand grip), rope climbing (without using the legs) and pegboards all allow
for concentration on pure pulling strength devoid of lower body influence.

Many otherwise strong individuals have missed the mark on these critical
movements. Over the years I have seen countless individuals capable of
deadlifting in excess of 500 lbs, struggle to do ten dead hang pull ups. Excuses
abound. Pull ups (I use this term interchangeably with chin ups) are claimed to
be the province of gymnasts, acrobats, people weighing under 165 lbs. and
individuals with "no real lower bodies, so it is easy for them to do pull ups."

"I'm not good at pull ups because I am heavy."

"I'm not good at pull ups because I have big legs."

"I have a big deadlift, who needs to do pull-ups?"

Pull-ups are a gut check. They are unglamorous and not often an "ego lift" for
strength trainers. In a lot of cases the ability to handle ones weight on
pull-ups is a good indication of one’s state of body composition. It's harder to
do pull-ups if you are lugging a lot of extra fat around. Of course even that is
not definitive, as we shall see in a moment. The biggest reason people are bad
at pull-ups is that they don't do them.


I have personally seen more than a few female athletes and strength trainers
perform 10 to 15 pull ups at a time, routinely, from a dead hang. Who said women
don't have the potential for strong upper bodies.

Undefeated heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano was credited in his
biography of routinely doing over 30 pull-ups at a time as part of his training
regimen (body weight in the 185 lbs. region.)

The July 1972 edition of "Sports Illustrated Magazine" did a pre Olympic profile
of weightlifting icon Vasily Alexeyev. The super-heavyweight weightlifter from
the former Soviet Union, often referred to as Uncle Vasily. He was reputed by
the magazine to be able to do more than 32 pull ups at a bodyweight in the mid
300 lbs. range. Talk about pure pulling strength.

Strength and Health magazine at the end of the 70’s beginning of the 80’s did an
article on a father and son team who specialized in pull-ups. I am sketchy on
the details but if memory serves they could do over 60 pull-ups apiece, and get
this, the father was over sixty himself!!!

Jack Lalanne, on a TV show in the 1950's, did 1000 chins along with 1000 push
ups in 1 hour 22 minutes. They weren't done consecutively.

Former WSM Jon Paul Sigmarssson did 25 consecutive pull-ups at 300 lbs

Former bodybuilding great, Marvin Eder did 80 consecutive chins at 190 lbs.

Former WSM competitor and bodybuilder, Mike Dayton did 85 pull-ups at 198 lbs.

The most pull-ups ever done is 370 reps, by Lee Chin-Yong of Hong Kong at age 62
in 1988. Lee Chin-Yong was 5'3" tall and 130 lbs.

Stop rationalizing and start pulling. Think of deadlifts, cleans, etc...As what
they truly are, full body movements. Don't rob yourself of pure upper body
pulling power, which will aid you in everything you do.

Here are some tips:

1. Before you run out and start buying all kinds of equipment for your home gym,
erect a pull up bar (in a doorway). Make sure it is sturdy. This tiny investment
takes up virtually no space and can provide you with the workout of your life.

2. Don't use wraps or any grip aids other than chalk for pull-ups.

3. Do all sorts of variations. Overhand, underhand, close grip etc... Be careful
not to do overly wide grip pull-ups or pull ups behind the neck as these can
affect shoulder stability.

4. Make a goal of being able to do at least 20 dead hang pull ups, and meet that
goal. You can do it.

5. Eventually work up to doing weighted pull-ups.

6. As with all strength achievements do not look for overnight success. You want
to do thirty-five dead hang pull-ups? Make a five-year plan. You want to be able
to do some one-arm pull-ups? Make a five-year plan. The key...STICK TO IT!!!

7. Seek out a YMCA, high school gym or community center and learn how to climb a
thick rope. Get supervision for this (we don't want you falling) and learn both
hand over hand climbing as well as reach-and-grab climbing (rope climbing for
speed-takes a lot of pulling strength.)

8. Once you become proficient at pull-ups and rope climbing, get a weight vest
and wear it when you do your workouts. After a time you will be using a
thirty-pound vest (they usually have variable weights) and you will have
forgotten it is there. Imagine what un-weighted pull-ups will feel like

9. Erect a sturdy 2" x 4" in your home, not too long and well supported and do
pull-ups by grabbing the beam at its greatest width.

10. Practice two arm and one arm static holds for time and with weight to
increase your grip strength.

11. Hang by one hand and pinch grip a couple of weight plates in another. Who
knows? Maybe one day you will be able to do a one-arm pull-up while pinch
gripping weights in your other hand. What a feat that will be.

13. Quit rationalizing. Pull-ups are essential to the well-rounded strength
athlete. Start your pulling strength plan today.
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Old 02-11-2005, 10:06 AM   #3
John Walsh
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Great article.

"I have a big deadlift, who needs to do pull-ups?" That was me. I could deadlift 600 but couldn’t do more than 5 pullups. I had other excuses as well. I’m up to 21 dead hangs now.
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Old 02-11-2005, 10:44 AM   #4
Ron Nelson
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Awesome article.
Thanks for asking John and thanks for posting it Coach Sommer! With a bw of 215, I'm up to 7 consecutive with a goal of 10 by summer. I like the 5 year plan for increasing numbers. Going too hard, too fast can lead to damage. Slow and steady wins the race!
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Old 02-11-2005, 01:00 PM   #5
Laura Rucker
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Location: San Diego  CA
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The biggest reason people are bad
at pull-ups is that they don't do them.


I have personally seen more than a few female athletes and strength trainers
perform 10 to 15 pull ups at a time, routinely, from a dead hang. Who said women
don't have the potential for strong upper bodies.

Right on. I have gotten the most stares from people when talking about doing pullups and pushups. Definitely not traditionally practiced by women, and by all accounts so far, they are harder for us. But not impossible!
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Old 02-12-2005, 07:43 AM   #6
John McCracken
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Location: Canton  Michigan
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Coach Sommer,

Thanks again for posting this really good article and preventing it from disappearing into the ether.

Thanks also for sharing your thoughts and insights over the past year in support of the CrossFit community. You have helped and inspired many. Good luck and much success with your many current endeavors.
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Old 02-12-2005, 06:56 PM   #7
Steven Stackpole
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After todays WOD, I checked the scales, and am officially 260. I'm hardly in "Uncle Vasily's" league, but at 260 I can do 10 dead hang pull-ups.
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Old 02-13-2005, 05:16 AM   #8
Peter Galloway
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Great work Steve! You've got a good 40lbs on me and I can manage a grand total of three dead-hangs!

Very inspiring article, I must admit I used to be one of the "I'm too heavy and my legs are too big" brigade. The way I see it now, if I do the same number of reps as a lighter guy, I'm getting a better workout.
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