Improving pullup-ability

I’m still not sure why pullups and chinups are so awesome. But they are. I like to do them and so do my clients. Despite the high awesome factor (HAF), it’s actually quite hard to make progress with them.

So how can you improve on them? That depends on where you stand (hang?):
1. Can you do a full pullup (no shame if you can’t!)?
2. Can you do at least 1 but fewer than 5 consecutive full pullups (or chinups)?
3. Can you do at least 5 consecutive full pullups, but still want to be able to do more?

If you fall into category 1, then check out this article that I wrote about getting from zero to 1 pullups.

If you are in category 2, then, well, you’ll have to wait for my category 2 article. Sorry. It’ll be ready soon-ish.

If you are a category 3 pullup-er (I’m actively destroying the English language here – with no remorse) then read on! My approach to improving pullups beyond 5 is 3 fold:
1. Keep working at it. There is an element of practice that is important. Get your repetitions in.
2. Improve absolute pullup strength by doing resisted pulllups. Add weight. This will likely mean fewer reps, but it can be effective at getting you through a plateau
3. Do 1.5 partial pullups.

What are 1.5 partial pullups?

There are actually two versions of them: the TRX 1.5 partial pullup and the band 1.5 partial pullup. Both have two functions to help improve your pullups:
- They help strengthen part of the pullup (the top half for the band version; the bottom half for the TRX version). Most people are either stronger on the bottom (stronger back) or top (stronger arms). If you know which is your weaker link, then work on improving it.
- They help improve your pullup endurance. This is key when increasing your pullup numbers. If you’re in the 5 to 10 range, then a set of pullups is actually quite a long, especially if you have long arms. That means it’s not just about strength; it’s about endurance. The 1.5 partial pullups allow you to spend more time doing pullups with a little less effort, which can help improve your staying power.

Check out the following video to see both versions of the 1.5 partial pullups:

Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada.

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