Almost...got it... I've been doing that pull-up program we posted two weeks ago, and guess what? It works. At the beginning, I could do about half a pull-up, and now I can get my nose up to the bar. I also more than doubled the amount of time I can hang from the bar with my arms flexed. Here's how I did it.
The plan asks you to do a certain workout two to three times per week. I went with three, so I did the whole thing six times. The full details on the workout are in the link above, but here's a summary of the moves:
- Wall slides, just to practice activating your shoulder muscles correctly
- Scap pull-ups, to work on the bottom of the pull-up motion
- Plank saws with your feet on sliders
- Chair-assisted pull-ups: the real thing, except with your foot on a chair. You can support as much of your weight that way as you need to
- Kroc rows, where you bend over and yank a heavy dumbbell up to ribcage level
- Band pulldowns, done with a resistance band looped around your pull-up bar
I did these workouts at home, because I already had the key piece of equipment: a pull-up bar mounted in a door frame. If you don't have one, this type of bar can hang on a door frame without any special equipment; you can also look for a suitable bar at a playground or just head to the gym.
The workout also calls for a few other pieces of equipment: a resistance band, a pair of sliders to put under your feet, and a nice heavy dumbbell or kettlebell (I used a 30-pounder). If you're used to working out at home, you probably already have these things. If not, you're in for a shopping trip. Each item is fairly cheap, but expect to pay $US50 ($66) or more, not counting the bar.
After the first week, I started to worry that these exercises were aggravating an old shoulder injury. So I did the wall slides in the air rather than against the wall, and that seemed to help. I paid even more careful attention to my form on the plank saws, and I replaced the Kroc rows, where you yank the weight explosively, with an ordinary steady-paced dumbbell row.
The only annoying thing about this workout was that it took so long. To fully rest between sets of rows or assisted pull-ups, I needed a good three to five minutes. All told, this simple workout took about half an hour.
Don't expect to get from "dangle like a sack of meat" to a perfect pull-up in two weeks. Since you can't count reps if you can't do a pull-up, the workout's creators give you three ways to test your strength. You'll do the same test again at the end of the program. Have someone time you, or better yet take a video of yourself doing whichever of these you can manage:
- Dead hang: Just hang onto the bar as long as you can.
- Hollow-body hang: Hang onto the bar with your "shoulder blades pulled down in your back pockets" and your abs engaged.
- Flexed-arm hang: Start in a pull-up position (jump up to it, or climb there with the help of a chair) and stay there for as long as you can.
Before I started the workout, I tried the flexed-arm hang, and lasted 8.4 seconds. For comparison, I was able to do about half of a pull-up, getting my arms to about 90 degrees, and I could almost get my forehead up to bar height on a chin-up. (The difference is that your palms face away from you in a pull-up, but toward you in a chin-up. Chin-ups are easier.)
After two weeks of workouts, I gave myself a rest day, and then re-tested. My flexed-arm hang more than doubled, from 8.4 seconds to 20.7. (My form looked better, too.) I tried a pull-up, and while I couldn't quite do a full rep, I was almost there -- got my nose up to the bar. But the big winner here was my chin-up:
Yep, that's a complete, chest-to-bar chin-up. This workout pays the bills, people.