For the Love of...Pullups And Chinups

17 Sep 2009 15:39

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Well, it goes a bit deeper than that, I actually love weighted vertical pulling (that's my fancy term for chinups and pullups with a weight belt strapped to my waist).

So many people, myself included, started out with lat pulldowns and didn't give a seconds thought to doing pullups. Having been converted from a lat blaster on the pulldowns to a weighted pullup junkie, I can honestly tell you that I will never go back to the pulldown machine even if one day I can only do a single pullup. (At which point I will be revisiting this article)

But why do I have so much love for vertical pulls? Let me count (or maybe list) the reasons:

They're hard!

Vertical pulling can be a big challenge even without the added external resistance. It took me quite a while before I could pull off any bigger sets and with the added weight it makes it even more of a physical challenge! Plus who doesn't like strapping an unholy amount of weight onto themselves?

They encourage good form

Take a look at the guys doing lat pulldowns, maybe even yourself. The handle is attached to a cable or belt and you can change the angle to whatever you like. A vertical pull is just that, vertical. Pretty soon people are pulling on most of the stack but the angle of the pull is not 90 degrees, to the horizontal, (or close to 90) its 110, 120, maybe even 130 degrees and that, my friends, is not proper technique. Changing that angle changes the muscles you're using, in this case it allows you to recruit more of those bigger muscles we use for horizontal pulls (i.e. Rows). In many cases these muscles are stronger and at the very least it takes some pressure off the muscles that are supposed to be working. And of course there is always the ever popular technique of back extension/leveraging.

I've seen some pretty crazy attempts at making pullups 'easier'. These include torso inclines (same idea as changing the cable angle, except your doing it with your body), swinging (like on a swing set) and kicking (call them extreme butterfly pullups if you like but I call them something else that starts with 'bu' :) ), to name a few. While these still allow you to change the difficulty of the pullup, they're extremely difficult to do with any sort of weight strapped to you. The weight encourages a vertical position and swinging the weight (by either kicking or swinging your legs) seems to make the exercise harder. Its also a good way to injure yourself, especially the abdomen and groin.

But all of this stuff about cheating is overshadowed by the benefits a proper pullup provides in terms of the scapula and lower trapezius. Benefits which carry over to essentially everything involving the upper back and a stable shoulder girdle.

They're good for you

As I just mentioned they're good for a lot of muscles which aren't visible on the beach.

If you spend countless hours shrugging things on 'back day' then chances are your lower traps need some loving. Getting a nice full pullup with plenty of retraction encourages the lower traps to function correctly and offsets the overworked upper traps.

We're all familiar with problems that can occur when the antagonist-protagonist relationship is severely unbalanced. Good routines will balance pushing and pulling or antagonist and protagonist. If you bench (we all do) you need to balance that with horizontal pulling (rows). Something that is often overlooked is vertical push/pull. Just about everyone does military presses or some form of it but what do you do to balance that? The answer is, obviously, to do vertical pulling.

Nobody wants unstable shoulders or an unstable back. Stable shoulders require the scapula to be abducted and depressed. If you're upper trap dominant it may be difficult to obtain or maintain that depression. Likewise with abduction. If your shoulders are rounded forward and you have poor scapula function, well…horizontal pressing relies on scapula function, horizontal pulling (done correctly) relies on scapula function, deadlifts and squats (especially overheads) rely on it as well. And your lats are more than just for doing lat spreads. They stabilize the thoracic region of your back. We can all appreciate the ability to have a stable thoracic spine when doing any sort of heavy row, horizontal press, squats (especially front) or deadlift.

Most of us are familiar with open vs closed chain exercises but, because I like to beat dead horses, pullups and chinups are CLOSED, pulldowns are OPEN. If you conquer pullups, you conquer the pulldown. The converse, however, is not true.


Many exercises involve elbow extension and those seem to be the most popular among beginners. To balance it with more than just bicep curls, vertical pulling will do the trick. Chinups are very good for bicep development and pullups are right behind it. Ever remember hearing people talk about not doing direct arm work. This is part of that. Heavy pulls do the trick and I've found that they're better than doing bicep curls. In a recent discussion with Eric Troy, he mentioned how doing bicep curls AFTER pullups or chinups actually increased the amount of weight he was able to curl, I've noticed this in my training as well. One thing that Eric also noticed was that performing curls BEFORE doing pullups DID NOT help his pullups. We all know raising your curling weight is good for bicep growth. If that hasn't sold you, you must be out of my price range.

To finish this post off I pose a question. Would you rather pulldown a stack that is twice your bodyweight (which we know isn't REALLY twice, damned pullies) or would you rather strap on a belt loaded with your bodyweight (or perhaps a friend of a similar bodyweight) and do a single pullup? I won't give you my answer….I'm biased.

This page created 17 Sep 2009 15:39
Last updated 24 Feb 2015 21:25

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