5 Quick Ways to Challenge Your Pull-Up
By JAMES CERBIE
Do you remember the first time you did a pull-up? It was like the stars lined up, the clouds parted and the sun shined down upon you in a magnificent ray of light.
No? Well, that's how I felt. Granted, I was in first-grade when this took place, so maybe take that with a grain of salt.
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Either way, pull-ups have been a staple in the gym for a long time, and most people are already doing them (or at least want to be able to do them). But once you conquer the elusive first pull-up, where do you go from there?
Obviously, you practice and keep working on the original because you want to get better, but there comes a time and place when you would like a little variety -- a way to do pull-ups that keeps you engaged and excited about going to the gym.
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Here are five ways to add variety to your pull-ups and keep the challenge fresh:
1. Add Weight. Hopefully, this doesn't come as a surprise, but the easiest way to change or challenge the traditional pull-up is to simply hang some weight on yourself.
You can do this by holding a dumbbell between your feet, wearing a weight vest, or -- my preferred version -- using a belt you can attach weight to. The increased load won't allow you to do as many reps, but it will help improve your max pulling strength.
Try this: Six sets of three weighted reps -- and make sure to go heavy.
2. Change the Tempo. A pull-up doesn't have to be one second up and one second down. It can be two seconds up, hold for three seconds and then four seconds down. The options for this one are endless, but you'll spend a lot of time under tension and should find them very challenging.
Try this: Pull up as fast as you can, hold at the top for three seconds and lower yourself for three seconds. That's one rep. Keep going until you can no longer complete a rep. Once you tap out, that's one set. Try doing that for four sets and see how you feel the next day.
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3. Hold an "L." This version is especially brutal on your abs. Once you grab hold of the bar, lift your legs up and hold them straight out in front of you at a 90-degree angle. Then maintain that position throughout the movement. Here's a quick video demo:
Try this: Three sets of max reps. If you're getting more than 10 reps a set, then refer back to variation 1 and add a little weight!
4. Stop and Go. This is similar to variation 2, but still its own challenge. For this one, you're going to pull up halfway, pause for two seconds, pull up the rest of the way and pause for two seconds. Then let yourself down halfway, pause for two seconds and return to the starting position in two seconds before going again.
Try this: Go for five sets of five reps. If five reps is too easy, then you know what to do: Add some weight.
5. Two Arms Up, One Arm Down. This is definitely a more advanced option, but if you want to blast your grip and arms, then this is it. As the name entails, you'll pull yourself up with both arms, then take one hand off the bar and lower yourself with one arm. (Think "slow and under control" on the way down).
At the bottom, put the "off hand" back on the bar, pull yourself back up and then repeat with the opposite hand.
Try this: See if you can do six total reps -- three times with each arm.
Your imagination is really the only thing holding you back from pull-up glory, so think big and have some fun with it.
Readers -- Have you mastered pull-ups? What are some pull-up variations that you do that weren't included here? Have you done any of the pull-ups described above? Leave a comment below and let us know.
James Cerbie is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Precision Nutrition, USA Weightlifting and CrossFit. He's worked with athletes from middle school to professional level, is the owner of Rebel Performance and specializes in helping people be more than fit.