Go from dead weight to pull-up machine (variations)

When I herniated a disc in my back four years ago I was limited with the lower body exercises (which were my favorite!) so pull-ups became my go-to strength exercise. I quickly learned that in order to increase my pull-up strength I needed to increase volume and variety in pulling exercises. Here are three ways to step up your pull-up game fast: 

#1 Constant Practice-  In order to increase your strength with pull-ups you need to be practicing all the time. I'm talking 3-4 times per week. I know this seems like a lot but I didn’t just walk in and start hanging from the bar.  Even it is just one or two in our backyard on a tree it counts! 

#2: Focus on variety:

  • Switch up your grip. Grip is really important for pull-ups, often times your grip will fail on your before your back strength. Try neutral-grip, chin-ups and wide grip. I also recommend doing additional grip exercises like farmers walks, towel pulls or using fat grips around a barbell of dumbells. 
  • Do negative pull-ups. Negative pull-ups are a variation of pull-ups where you focus just on the eccentric phase (the way down). I recommend starting with 5 seconds and working up to 20 seconds negative.
  • Use assistance. Work in banded pull-ups or assisted pull-ups in order to increase the volume of reps. This is really good to get used to pumping out multiple pull-ups. 
  • Add weight. This may be more advanced if you have not gotten a body weight pull-up yet but you can combine weighted and negatives to build up your strength. I recommend starting with light weight (2.5 to 5lbs and going up from there). 

#3 Do the small things-  Make sure to supplement pull ups with tons of other accessory rowing exercises plus a variety of muscle activation drills. Here are some of my favorite activation/ mobility exercises:

  • Lower trap raise
  • Scapular retraction 
  • Band pull-aparts,
  • Scapular push-ups
  • SA cable pull-downs 
  • Hanging scapular shrugs 
  • Y, T, W's 

The biggest takeaway here is that it takes consistent practice in order to get great at pull-ups. I’m not saying it is an easy journey but I can honestly say that no other single strength exercise has made me feel so strong, empowered and unstoppable.