For a functional and balanced physique, it is vitally important to strengthen the upper back musculature.
There are a myriad of options to do this, but the option that gives the most return on the least investment on kit, is the Pull Up. You need only look at the back development of any reasonable level gymnast to see how this well this exercise adds mass and balance to the upper back.
Forget fancy cable machines, isokinetic resistance stations and even the requirement for something heavy. All you need is something to grab onto, and gravity. You can be your own resistance to begin with.
Let us delve into some of the basic Pull Up types.
There are numerous ways to classify variations of the exercise, but the most intuitive is based on the type of grip used.
If pulling up to parallel bars, with a grip that means your thumbs are facing you, you have a Neutral Grip Pull Up.
With the palms of the hands facing away from you as you grasp the bar (pronated) you have a Pronated Grip Pull Up.
With the hands facing palm towards you (supinated) when grasping the bar, you have a Supinated Grip Pull Up, or the good old fashioned ‘Chin Up’.
Pull ups are very effective at developing the Latissimus Dorsi, the peri-scapula musculature such as the middle fibres of Trapezius and Rhomboids, and also the arm flexors, namely the Biceps brachii and the Brachioradialis.
Being able to stimulate these muscles with suitable resistance, using very little equipment, is one of the major benefits of a Pull Up. It lends itself perfectly to the home gym set up.
Form is super important as with all exercises. ‘Kipping’, or generating a wave of momentum to pop you up to the bar, is an excellent way of injuring yourself and simultaneously preventing proper muscular development. Avoid it at all costs and use a steady smooth motion.
For those not yet strong enough to do a single full range Pull Up, get assessed by a professional to check your shoulders and upper quadrant are functional enough to start some serious work. Then begin by doing an Eccentric Pull Up. Use a step to get to the top position at the bar, and slowly lower yourself, then repeat this for as many reps allow for good form. The Supinated Grip Pull Up is probably best to start with in this circumstance.
There are several cost savvy options available to facilitate Pull Ups in the home setting.
1. A bar that fits into a door frame. This is probably the cheapest option available, and it is a good starting point. Do take care however, there are plenty of you tube videos showing what happens when you use it without taking care to fix it properly!
2. A pull up bar attached to the wall. This is a better option in that you can attach it at a more suitable height, and if you purchase a decent model, you’ll have a variety of grip positions to use.
3. A pull up stand. Whilst more costly, this saves the hassle of screwing into a wall, and may also have other exercise components, such as a dip station incorporated into it.
4. Olympic rings. A more advanced concept, but if you have somewhere to hang a set of rings, then some of the most challenging upper body exercises imaginable become a possibility. They also lack inherent stability so make your shoulder work extra hard to accommodate this.
5. Lastly, the handy tree. Yes, finding a decent tree branch to pull up on is great fun and free. For a trial of grip strength, try draping an old towel over a branch (the thicker the better) and use that to pull up from.
In conclusion, the Pull Up stimulates of several sets of muscles very effectively with minimal equipment. The combination of a Lunge variation, a Push Up variation and the Pull Up variations we have covered is ideal for most Men to improve their physique without the need for a costly gym membership or a large investment of time.
Even for more advanced trainers, a pull up specialisation routine can fast track their back development.
Here is what an example weeks workout might look like for a Man starting out:
Complete each exercise in a giant set, one after the other, without rest.
A1 - Reverse Lunge
A2 - Max Tension Push Up
A3 – Supinated Grip Pull Up
Rest 90 seconds, repeat x 4, aim for a rep range between 10-20 for each exercise
Session 2 (48 hours later)
A1 - Loaded Walking Lunge
A2 - Pronated grip Pull Up
A3 - Close grip Max Tension Push Up
Rest 90 seconds, repeat x 4
Session 3 (48 hours later)
A1 - Static Lunge
A2 - Neutral Grip Pull Up
A3 – Max Tension Push Up
Rest 90 seconds, repeat x 4
This would use only around an hour of work out time per week, with zero travel time to a gym (assuming you are already at home!).
If combined with a quality diet (see Paleo diet and The T Protocol: Testosterone and your Macro's) at a correct Macronutrient level and calorie content, alongside some low intensity fasted cardio such as brisk walking or cycling, Men who haven’t been consistently exercising, or who conversely have been doing excess cardiovascular work, will see great results within a few weeks of starting, despite the simplicity of this program.
For more advanced trainers, using the differences in difficulty between Pull Up variations is a useful way of increasing the intensity. For example, you could rep out on Pronated Grip Pull Ups, then immediately rep out on a set of Neutral Grip Pull Ups, then without rest finish up with a set of Supinated Grip Pull Ups. Trust me, it burns!
Train hard, and leave comment to let us know your thoughts