If I want to feel that way, ATG squats and heavy deadlifts are my lifts of choice. If I weren’t in my gym… alone… and in public… around people stronger than me… maybe I wouldn’t feel so inflated. I can guarantee the bigger guys out there will be impressed with my form, though.
If there’s always one exercise that impresses anyone, the biggest guys to the average layman, it’s pull-ups.
A pull-up means taking your body into your hands, literally, and moving it against the weight of the atmosphere.
You are so strong you have to leave the surface of our planet to get stronger.
When you effectively do a pull-up (not some nammy-pammy arm bend), you’ve reached above you and physically made gravity redundant.
Once you can do a pull-up, you’re not only at the top of the food-chain, you can pull yourself above the chain. If you had to run from a bear and pull yourself up into a tree, you would survive.
Let’s say you can’t do a pull-up. Would you be satisfied with your existence knowing you have opposable thumbs and couldn’t survive a bear attack? I know I wouldn’t be. So here I am assuming the only thing I know about you is that you have thumbs and arms. Here are some ways to progress into doing pull-ups:
- Strengthen your grip strength, biceps, and core.
You can’t do a pull-up if you can’t hold your weight in your hands. You also can’t do it if your biceps are weak. Nor can you do it if you can’t support your spine.
To build strength specifically for these muscle groups, focus on a mix of dumbbell curls (alternating and hammer) and barbell curls for your biceps. Also do dumbbell shrugs, barbell shrugs, and farmer’s walks. For core, you can get great at planks and Supermans.
- All row variations (mainly inverted rows).
Now that your forearms are huge, it’s time to practice pulling heavy things. Dumbbell row variations are a must; you’ll work each side of your body individually instead of relying on your dominant arm. In pull-ups, you will get lop-sided and notice a discrepancy in strength if you only train with compound movements.
Barbell rows are great for really taxing the whole system. It’s a compound movement that will make everything from your neck to your grip to your back and core strong as you wouldn’t believe. Beware of pulling too hard with your dominant side.
Inverted rows are your next stop before the “bread-and-butter” exercise. I love using a smith-machine for these. The very first thing you want to do is a “dead-hang.” If you can hold onto the bar with your body almost parallel to the floor, you have strong enough grip strength to progress.
Once you’ve established you’ve developed a Tarzan-like grip, start progressing through inverted rows. Remember, the higher the bar is locked in, the easier the pulling motion is. The lower the bar placement, the more gravity you’re fighting against. Work your way down the notches until you’re almost parallel to the floor.
- Negative Pull-ups.
Now I don’t usually advocate skipping all those previous steps, but if you’re in some kind of a rush to do one single pull-up, these are going to get you there in a hurry.
Most gyms have pull-up grips that are way too high. These work great for people who can already do a pull-up. So what’s a gym’s solution for those that can’t do a pull-up? Buying an expensive piece of equipment that assists you through the movement!
That’s nonsense. Most people will use that machine sparingly because they only kind-of want to do a pull-up. They’ll almost never be able to do a pullup practicing on that machine because either A. it’s an unnatural body placement that won’t help you train the small, finer muscles necessary to fight gravity while balancing, and B. with that option, people get the feeling of doing a pull-up without ever doing one.
*Do not use this machine.*
With that rant over, you can find a bar almost anywhere in the gym that is within arm’s-reach above your head; the smith machine, the squat rack, a barbell on a squat rack, whichever. Now, reach up to that bar, jump, and hold yourself as long as you can at the top. Keep holding as hard as possible as you slowly descend back to reality.
WARNING: Use logic and make sure that bar is in a fixed position. And if you have skipped all the above steps and gone straight to this one, you will attempt this with a false-sense of ego. You will get your chin above the bar and come crashing down on top. In that moment, you will realize the error of your ways. You may just bite your tongue off. Or chip a tooth. Or do any number of pretty terrible things. Do not do any exercise with an ego.
Once you can do that one single hold, you can jump and do it again. Do this until you’re almost to exhaustion. Do this for a number of workouts. Once you’re pretty good at holding yourself up for a long time, you can start jumping with less strength and using more arms, shoulders, and back to pull yourself up. When that gets a little easier, hang with your toes touching the floor and pull as hard as you can with your hands. If you must, ease upwards slightly with your toes. Eventually you will be able to do a pull-up. A great brain-cue for this is to push your elbows as hard as you can through the floor. You’ll be amazed, I promise.
Now, overhand grips and wide grips are exceedingly more difficult than a neutral “Chin-up.” A “Chin-up” is the initial pull-up variation you should strive for, as this puts the biceps in a stronger pulling position. So, grab the bar with your palms facing you, your hands placed shoulder width apart, and keep on pulling until gravity taps out. Let me know when you do your first real pull-up. You will be greeted with an extreme amount of excitement.
*Of course there are great and valid reasons to use this machine. I'm going on the assumption you're able-bodied and have done exactly what I've said in the order I've said it. Some reasons to use this machine are if you have lower-back support issues, cervical spine pain, joint problems in your knees or hips, etc.*