My Ninjas-

Since the dawn of time, human beings have been obsessed with ascending to new heights, rising upward from the dust of this world and into the “higher” realms. Also, let’s climb that tree as fast as possible so we don’t get eaten alive by that saber tooth tiger, mmmkay?

And still today, most of us are focused on “movin’ on up”, whether that’s financially (mo money), socially (mo friends), spiritually (mo enlightenment)… but what if I told you that the best way to ascend in every aspect of your life is to climb stuff?

Yes, moving upward physically, as in having wings, as in LATS, as in PULL UPS! Living life is a skill, so is movement; how you move your body is a fractal of how you move through life, so changing one transforms the other. Using movement to shape your relationship to reality is what I call Exercise Alchemy.

Personally, I fantasize about pull ups; it taps into something so primal and powerful, I just love ‘em. But for many people, they’re more nightmare than wet dream. Thanks to Presidential Physical Fitness Test (hollar if you grew up in the 90’s!), for many of us our first experience of pull ups was straight up traumatic: failing to “measure up” in a very public and often hostile environment.

“Come on down to gym class, be tested on something you weren’t taught, and fail in front of the whole class!!”  ~ The Presidential Fitness Test

At least with the sit up test, everyone did the exercise at once, but with pullups (at least at my school) we each had to go one at a time while all eyes were on us!  It was like showing up to performance on a stage without any preparation: no memorized lines, no wardrobe, no dress rehearsal. Just “action!” And then, shame, self-judgement, and social ostracism – for many.

Talk about being set up to fail! No program design. No basic anatomy lesson. No foundation exercises taught. No skillful exercise progression manipulating acute training variables. Not even a real warm up, in some case. Just “hop on up and bang em out if you can, or struggle, writhe, and make faces of anguish for the rest of us to laugh at.”

You may think “So what, that was years ago”. True, but many people have never healed from that early trauma. In fact, (and this is some bat shit crazy stuff right here) many people have created an identity out of that traumatic experience! “I’ll never be able to do a pull up, I’m just not an athlete.” Bull fucking shit. Because…

You Are Designed To Do Pull Ups, You Beautiful Monkey You 🙂

It’s in your DNA, literally! If you had an electron microscope right now, you’d see a microscopic King Kong doing muscle ups on your double helixes. Truth.

You’re designed through 2 million years of evolution to survive in the wild, your ancestors had to climb up a tree every once in awhile to escape being eaten alive; if they hadn’t, you wouldn’t even exist, couldn’t even exist!

“I pull up, therefore I am.” Pretty sure Shakespeare said that shit.

That’s why being able to do that first pull up with strict form feels like such a sacred victory; you’re reclaiming an ancestral super power that just might save your ass one day. And if you haven’t experienced this feeling ever, or it’s been a long time, fret not. You’re in the right place.

The Shocking Truth; Working Out Is Emotional

This is a tremendous fact that has huge implications for the way you workout, your motivation, and the need to face trauma during exercise and movement.

For instance, emotional pain is real; studies have shown that emotional pain creates real physical pain in the body.

Trauma (physical and emotional) is stored in our bodies. So when we start to move our bodies, we have to inevitably work through our emotions and process our trauma as well.

Don’t dismiss your pull up shaming experience because it’s old. The older the trauma, the younger and more impressionable we were when it occurred, so the deeper it hits your core of your identity/psyche. This fact – that trauma is stored in the body and movement is inherently emotional – is totally ignored by the fitness industry (and is just beginning to get its due my the science world). Ignoring the truth never sets us up for success, so instead embrace it. Or as one of my favorite people on the planet Marie Forleo says, “Make isness your business.”

Ever notice how similar the word motion and emotion are? Our emotions move us, literally! That glorified part of the brain that deals with reason and logic (the neocortex) that we all fucking worship for some reason is sitting on top of the limbic system in the brain, which can easily override our reasoning skills. We’ve all experienced, every time we do something we logically know is bad for us but can’t resist because it feels so good (at least in the short term!)

Since that’s the reality, that we’re largely driven by our emotions, the next question a ninja asks themselves is, “How do I take advantage of this fact?” Hint: The answer isn’t “By ignoring my emotions and just focusing on reason and logic.”

Think about it. If you’ve ever worked out regularly, you know that it’s the emotions that drive you. If you can’t use your imagination and emotions, it’s very hard to do anything that is physically strenuous on a regular basis. Why not just rest, or do it later? “Because I’m tired of being bullied, I need to be strong in order to defend myself.” “Because I need to be fast to escape!” “Because I want to look hot and attract a mate.” “Because I don’t want to be humiliated on the soccer field again.” “Because I’m fed up with feeling weak and having no energy.” “Because I frickin’ love the way it feels when I work out!”

At their core, all the emotions that drive our efforts in the gym and beyond are PRIMAL: sex, safety, and survival – which is why primal nature is one of the core ninja principles for supreme self-mastery. Remember, you’re a monkey; there’s nothing wrong with being an animal, so you can let that shame go right now. We all piss, fart, and shit. Sex is messy too – deal with it.

You, Yes YOU, Can Do A Pull Up

Good news! Because despite the emotional baggage that it carries for many of us, you can do a pull up and in the process you’ll have the opportunity to heal some of that early childhood gym class trauma. And it’ going to feel so effin good when you do it for the first time, bleedat. It just might change your life 🙂

Benefits of Pull up Training:

  • You’ll get stronger, fast. It’s a high “bang for the buck” exercise, in fact it’s arguably the most important and effective upper body exercise. For this reason, I consider them a “benchmark exercise”, and teach them to all of my students.
  • Learning the process it takes to master pull ups can be applied to all other exercises, so by focusing on the pull up, you deepen your knowledge of exercise principles and then can apply those principles (plus the psychological and spiritual momentum you generate from doing your first pull up) to other goals. In other words, focusing on a single goals helps you achieve all your goals faster.
  • You’ll have more physical confidence – in your ability to escape, rise up, and even do the impossible! Physical confidence breeds total confidence.
  • They’re actually fun (once you overcome your trauma) and make other climbing activities – trees, rocks, mountains – way more fun.
  • Pull ups are essential for every ninja to master because so many other obstacles are built on top of a strong pull up foundation. You should even attempt a salmon ladder if you can’t do a pull up, because of risk of injury.

 

  • You will develop iron grip strength, which is crucial to developing upper body power. And also, exercise is a metaphor for your life; getting a physical grip helps you “get a grip”, period. 

For all these reasons, I consider the pull up one of the 7 most effective exercises you can do. So unless you like wasting your time in the gym, it’s time to learn how to dominate them. (The other 6 are Deadlift, Squat, Lunge, Pushups, Plank, Back Ext.).

Who is the Total Pull Up Domination Program For?

Great question. The program has 4 phases:

  • Phase 1: From Zero to 5 Pullups
  • Phase 2: From 5 Pull Ups to 10 Pull Ups
  • Phase 3: From 10 Pull Ups to 20 Pull Ups 
  • Phase 4: Advanced Pull Up Variations (like Single Arm Pull Ups!)

So it’s not about “if the program is for you”, but rather which phase you should start with. You need to be able to do the following:

  • a 2 arm dead hang for 10 seconds without joint pain (the only physical requirement). This program does have a lot of isometrics in it, so if you have high blood pressure you may want to skip it.
  • learn through trial and error.
  • listen to your body.
  • take 3 minutes after each workout to write out what you did in an exercise journal.
  • Practice the exercises for fifteen to thirty minutes three times per week. (That time is often spread throughout the day and doesn’t happen in one shot.)

*A note on body weight.* Yes, if you’re obese and have never worked out, you’re probably not going to be able to do 5 pull ups in 6 weeks. If this is the case, you’ll need to focus on your relationship to food and just moving the body gradually. Once you can do a regular two arm dead hang for 10 seconds with no pain, you’ll be ready to start this program.

dead hang, traindeep

2 arm dead hang (unsupported, wide grip)

Ladies, Your Vagina Doesn’t Prevent You From Doing a Pull Up

Sorry if that sounds crass but I really want to make the point clear (and memorable). Being a woman isn’t an excuse to not be able to do a pull up, you were designed to ascend just like men.

The big obstacle to doing a pull up as a woman is the social conditioning of your MIND: the expectations that you can’t do it, the traumatic memories of not being able to do them in public, the social construct that being skinny and weak is an attractive quality for women (which, interestingly enough, is the gravest sin for men), and on and on.

Remember that Presidential Shaming Fitness Test? Well, around 50% of little girls couldn’t do 1 pull up. I’m sure many came away from the experience thinking “that was embarrassing, I’ll never try that again.”

But failing to do a pull up the first time you try without training for it, and coming to the conclusion that you’ll never be able to do it (or it’s not worth the emotional risk) is like trying to hit the bulls eye from 50 feet away the very first time you shoot a bow and arrow, missing, and coming to the conclusion that you’ll always suck at archery.

This bullshit idea that athletes are born not made causes so much pain, suffering, and disease. Instead of blaming kids, why don’t we admit it: on a systemic level, we suck at very basic coaching and don’t know how to nurture our children’s ability to move. (Of course, there are plenty of amazing coaches we could point out, but they are the exception not the rule and they’d be the first to admit it.) What we’re good at system wide is actually telling kids to sit still and disconnect from their bodies.

Yes, women typically have less testosterone and upper body strength, so they’re not as built to do pull ups as men, but in my opinion those two facts are reasons TO do pull ups; they’ll boost your testosterone, upper body strength, and body confidence to normal healthy feminine levels.

Because honestly, maybe the reason women don’t have as strong upper bodies is because that idea has been fed to them constantly over the last 100 years and has become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just look at this 11 year old girl banging out one finger pull ups: 

Anatomy of a Pull Up

Did you know that the Latissimus Dorsi (aka “lats”) are the only muscle that DIRECTLY connects your upper arm bone (humerus) to your pelvis. In other words, training the pull up literally helps you lift your ass up! Lol.

These are your "wings" aka the "lats".

Hardcore Anatomy Nerd Porn Alert: These are your “wings” aka the “lats”.

Go ahead, feel the area underneath and just posterior (behind) your armpit, give it a few good taps. Those are your wings, and the more you use them, the stronger they get and the higher you can fly. It’s a massive, dynamic muscle that crosses many joints and serves many functions.

Of course, you’ll also use your biceps, forearms, and finger muscles, but those you can see and therefore easier to connect with. Touching and tapping your lats, and visualizing them contracting, will help you connect to them and feel them more easily, which will help you contract them.

As the brilliant physical therapist Gray Cook says “Movement is written in the language of feeling.” The more you can feel your muscles, they more you can engage them; it’s that simple. So yeah, go ahead and touch yourself… even in public 🙂

Step 0: Activate the Muscles You’ll Be Using

This is a great way to warm up your body and prepare your scapular muscles, and it can be done anywear:

 

Step 1: Find Your Anchor (Or Buy One)

This is THE crucial step, really. If you have something that is conveniently located to practice pull ups on, it makes it much easier to practice regularly. And as with all things, consistent practice is the essential ingredient.

lock off

I drilled supports so my anchor is totally secure once it slips in place, but in most cases you don’t have to (as long as you door frame sticks out at least 1/4 of an inch). Holding this position is called a “lock off”.

If you aren’t familiar with Russian strength coach Pavel Tstatouline’s idea of “greasing the groove”, you’re going to get well acquainted with it in your quest for pull up domination. The idea is basically that frequency trumps intensity.

In other words, instead of doing 3 sets of as many pull ups as you can (let’s say 4, 3, and 2 reps), do 10 sets of 2 reps spaced throughout the day. So your total volume is 20 reps instead of just 9 reps, but because of the extra rest and the fact that you don’t go to your limit each set, you never strain yourself too hard, never become fatigued, and therefore you can keep doing sets the same day. (The concept still applies if you can’t do a single pull up. Read on for how to apply it to other exercises.) Also, there is less risk of injury when you don’t try and “squeeze” out those final reps – fatigue invites poor form and the tweaks that come with it.

Buy or locate an “anchor”, something that is easy for you to grip and can safely support your weight. Put it somewhere you see it every day (or walk past it every day). Sure, you can use stuff down on the playground, street signs, and other outdoor structures, but in my opinion nothing works better than having an option you can do indoors and regularly practice on.  That way, every time you pass it, it trigger’s you to practice. Out of sight, outta mind. Frankly, even the busiest people have little moments in their day where they can practice movement, it’s just a question of do you think of it in that moment or not. Making your ancestors proud is worth the sacrifice, right? You bet your sweet gluten free ass it is.

It’s important that you choose an anchor with a normal size grip, try to avoid using thick grips, crimps, and other grip variations that will make it much harder to hold on to. Save that training for once you can already do 5+ pull ups, unless you care more about rock climbing than doing pull ups, in which case go right ahead. Also, it’s ideal to hang your anchor at a height where you can hang and not touch the ground with bent knees, but can touch the ground with straight legs. This way, you can work on supported hangs (again, see below).

I’ve tried two of the most popular Pull Up bars on Amazon, the Iron Gym Pullup Bar and Pro Source Heavy Duty Pullup Bar, both cost about $29 and work well enough, but I definitely prefer the Pro Source, mainly because it offers more grip variations, feels more solid/durable, and provides a better mounting bracket (which is optional but I like having one just to be extra safe.)

The Iron Gym is lighter and easier to take apart, so I travel with that one. But the grips on them seemed to deteriorate pretty quickly. You can use black electrical tape to create a nice grip once they fall off.

Pick your poison and go for it, your goal of doing the impossible is worth the small investment. (Note, I don’t make any money if you buy from these links.)

If you do use an outdoor structure, traffic sign, or play ground equipment, make sure it’s super convenient for you to get to and easy to grip, you’re going to be making frequent trips to your spot.

Step 2: Practice the 4 Horsemen of the Pull-Apocalypse

You want to destroy that feeling of wimpy helplessness and the stank of childhood humiliation that you smell every time you try and even think about doing a pull up?I’ve got just the thing for that. This is the secret you’ve been missing since childhood – just 4 simple but super powerful exercises that are game changers – that your grade school gym coach didn’t even know about, sadly.

Most people just do pull ups to get better at pull ups, which makes sense, but the problem is that if you can’t even do one, you either avoid doing them (so you don’t look weak) or you do them with assistance (which, generally speaking, is NOT the optimal way to get your first pull up because people use too much assistance).

You need to practice your Dead Hangs, Partial Reps, Lock Offs, and Negatives, in that order. These are the 4 Horsemen, and they might not be sexy, but they work like no joke – and nothing is sexier than results. Once you’re good at Dead Hangs (and can hang from 2 arms totally unsupported for 45 seconds) you can start working on partial reps. Once you can do 7 partial reps, you can work on Lock Offs and Negatives.

But truly, the simple plain Jane two arm dead hangs is THE key. They are not just a “stretch”, as most people say. Stretching is a fascinating and frankly misnamed topic (you’re muscles don’t actually stretch like a rubber band) but for now, you need to know that there are two main categories of stretching, active and passive, and dead hangs don’t really fit into either category. (Frankly, all exercises are a combination of contraction, lengthening, and relaxation, so there is no such thing as a movement that is purely a stretch, nor purely a contraction. It’s more helpful to think of movements on an activation  continuum.)

Dead Hangs are an exercise, and a vital one at that; you grip muscles, all of your shoulder muscles, and your lats are all contracting. The fact that they are in a position of length doesn’t make it “just a stretch.” Your grip muscles are contracting (and shortened) to keep you on the bar. All your shoulder muscles (including the rotator cuff) are contracting to compress the shoulder joint (so it doesn’t dislocate) and your lat muscle is contracting to prevent your shoulder blade from getting ripped off your rib cage.

Dead Hang Technique and Variations Video

You may feel the grip working like crazy at first, hands, forearms, and even fingers on fire. That’s good news; your grip is the weakest link in the chain and it’s getting stronger already. Do not skip the dead hangs, they are the foundation of the entire program and an amazing tool for developing a strong, balanced upper body, and also arguably the most underrated and misunderstood upper body exercise in the movement universe. Even after your perform your first strict pull up, and even your first set of ten strict form pull ups, dead hangs will continue to be a powerful tool to help you keep making progress and break through plateaus, so get super comfortable with them. Dare I say it, relax and enjoy them, you beautiful monkey you. HANG out.

You may want to start with a supported 2 hand dead hang by using your feet to take some of the weight off of your upper body. I usually start my workout with a warm up of supported dead hangs just to prepare the muscles for work. You can alter how much assistance you use just by pushing into your legs more or less. This exercise is the reason I suggest you set up your bar so that you can hang unsupported with your knees bent but can reach the ground if you straighten your legs. You can always use a stool or bench to bring the ground up to you if that’s not the case.

Other Dead Hang Variations: Fat grip, less fingers, wide grip, neutral grip (palms face each other), supported/assisted with legs or on a machine, with scapular depression, with scapular elevation.

Listen to the body, feel, breathe. It doesn’t have to hurt. Fit the exercise to your body, and not the other way around! Don’t hold your breath or squeeze your face, relax and feel the sensations in your body as much as you can. Start with the variation that feels best to you, you want to spend more and more time hanging on your anchor, don’t make things more difficult than they need to be.

Remember, you’re always going to try and stop before you burn out, so you can practice more frequently throughout the day. So if your maximum hold for a 2 arm Dead Hang is 35 seconds, stop at about 25 seconds.

Once you can do a full unsupported two arm Dead Hang for about 45 seconds, you can add working on partial pull ups to the mix (but still practice dead hangs. Remember, they’re the foundation of your Pull Up empire.) And honestly, everyone is different. You might be at a 60 seconds Dead Hang, and one day just get the feeling “oh, it feels like I could do a pull up”. Trust the feeling and follow it, you just might surprise yourself!

The range of motion for the partial rep can be quite small to start, just one to four inches perhaps. Stick with that range and keep adding partial reps (and if you can, also add an inch or two to the range of movement as well, gradually.)


When you can do about 7 partial reps, you are ready to practice lock offs and negatives (and might be able to already do 1 or 2 pull ups at this point).

For a lock off, you jump up to the very top position of a Pull Up and try and hold the position, this is called “locking off”. Even though you are holding the position, don’t hold the breath and don’t squeeze your face, it won’t help you stay elevated. Breathe, relax, and count how long you can stay up there (or use a stop watch or clock you can easily see.)

But you may not quite be there yet, and you’ll find that instead of holding the position, try as you might, all you do is very slowly lower down. Gravity wins, for now! But no worries, because you just did your first Negative, which is actually super positive because that means you are SUPER close to getting your first strict pull up! So jump up, hold if you can, otherwise lower down slowly with control, take a rest, and then hop up again and repeat. Once you can do 2 or 3 negatives with real good control, you’ll be able to do a pull up!


Remember to keep “greasing the groove”. Don’t push to your end limit, this not only adds unnecessary risk but tires you out quicker, so you can’t do more sets/reps later. Always feel like you can do at least 1 or two more reps and end your set there, instead of squeezing out the last two reps or the last 10 seconds of a Hang or Lock Off. That way, you can rest and do more sets/reps later that day instead of being burnt toast. Practice, practice, practice, my ninjas, because…

“Repetition is the mother of all skill!”

And yes, as I said before, working out is a skill.

Bruce-Lee

Step 3: Track Your Progress Daily Immediately

Honestly, if there is one secret to making relentless progress in your movement practice, it’s tracking the details of every single workout. This may seem obsessive, but it’s absolutely fundamental to sustainable success and achieving every single health and fitness goal out there.

Every goal relies on you showing up consistently and making progress, your exercise journal is like both a compass and a map. It shows you where you’ve been (the terrain) and where you want to go (the destination) – you wouldn’t head into the wild without a map and compass, right? Well, same goes for exercise.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, you can use the digital journal I created and either update it on your computer or smart phone, or print it out and take it with you to the gym (which, in my opinion, is the way to begin tracking your progress at least for the first few months.)

Pull Up Domination Journal

Why is journaling so powerful and essential? The details change everything. Documenting the details makes you more aware of the details; you know exactly how long you did your dead hang the last time you practiced it, so you have a clear goal, doing just 5 seconds more perhaps. Otherwise, without a clear goal or “finish line”, you’ll likely stop at the same spot over and over again and not make real  progress.

This is an essential principle that’s important to understand because it applies to all exercises. You’ve got to strategically overload the motion, in other words “build on top of your success” or use a progressively heavier load. If you don’t fight for that extra rep, or that extra 10 seconds, or extra set, then you can’t be sure that you’re making progress. And at the same time you have to strike a balance, so you leave a little gas in the tank and can “grease the groove”. This takes…. practice!

You track the dead hangs and lock offs in terms of how long you can hold them, and you count reps with the partial pull up and negatives. Track your progress and go for that extra rep or extra 5 – 10 seconds holding in the position when it feels right.

You are going to avoid doing high reps for this entire program, which is why we avoid doing pull ups with assistance. We want a heavy load to get the neurons firing, this increases your brain’s ability to communicate with your muscles, and that’s what Pull Ups are all about; maximal motor unit recruitment. Not big muscles, but muscles that are deeply connected to your brain. Sounds nerdy and sexy, right?  So once you get to partial reps, don’t do more than about 7. When you need to make them slightly harder, make each partial rep 1 inch higher so they are harder.

PullApocalypse Program ( Please Adapt To YOUR Body)

Pull Up Domination Phase 1

Pull Up Domination Phase 1. Adapt it to your schedule, body, and sensibilities.

In the beginning, total cumulative tension/day is more important than tension/set. Practice frequently but not to failure, “grease the groove”.

This 6 week program is just a guide to give you an example of how these exercises can be progressed. Depending on your body and abilities, you may need to start with only 3 or 4 sets, and gradually build up to 10. And some people will probably not get to negatives by the third week, it all depends on where you start out. But those of you that do get there will be well on your way to doing 5 pull ups in just 3 more weeks! More importantly, use the template as a guideline, listen to your body, and track your progress. If you do that, you’re golden and it’s only a matter of time before you blast off into Pull Up heaven.

Please note, a set is a series of reps. So for the negatives, you might start with one rep being your whole set, and then taking a 5 minute rest before the next rep, and as you get stronger you might do 2 negatives in each set (with just a couple seconds rest between reps) before taking a longer rest and starting your next set. For the isometrics (the Dead Hangs and Lock Offs), consider each hold a set.

Step 4: Lighten Up (Lose Fat)

Of course, if you have less to pull up, it makes it easier all around! Diving deep into your relationship to food is an essential practice for the fitness ninja, especially if you have a body composition goal. It’s beyond the scope of this article but I had to mention it. If you’re 60 pounds overweight, you might be able to do a pull up just by dropping the extra weight.

The fastest way to safely lose fat in a healthy way is by developing a deep, intuitive, and wholesome relationship to food. Second to that is making sure you’re getting enough rest and high quality sleep, with movement and exercise being the third most important aspect of a fat loss program.

So yes, it’s important to move your body to lose weight, but it’s not the most effective by itself. But your goal isn’t just to lose weight, right? You want to be strong and healthy and happy, right? So then using a variety of exercise modes is still vital to your goals. Strongly consider doing interval training to help rev up your fat burning metabolism (again, as long as you don’t compensate by overeating and are getting adequate sleep/rest, otherwise the “working out with intensity to lose weight” plan will TOTALLY backfire and slow down your metabolism instead of speeding it up.)

Dangers To Avoid

There are many paths to the top of Mt. Pull Up, I’m giving you the most direct one, but you still have plenty of sketchy terrain to traverse: rock slides, deep ravines, and steep cliffs litter the path. How you handle these challenges will determine your success. I’ve merely given you a map with a route on it; you still have to walk the path, step by step. NO ONE can do that for you.

Here are the most common traps, and some ideas about how you can avoid them and keep ascending to higher and higher elevations:

  • Avoid over training like the plague. If you’re experiencing weird pains and sensations, you need to stop, slow down, try something different, see a therapist or doctor, and/or all of the above. Don’t push through pain, listen to it. Use it as a guide. You’ll know if you’re over training because you’ll be keeping track of your workout details, so if you’re feeling pain and getting weaker or not getting stronger, you need to look at your sleep quality, stress levels, and joint health.
  • One way to avoid over training is to add difficulty very gradually, and to make sure that you are rest game is A+. Start slowly. Maybe just 3 sets of dead hangs 3 times per week is all you need your first week. But then build on top of your success, perhaps 4 or 5 sets the second week, etc.
  • Not enjoying the process and focusing too much on outcomes is a huge trap. Do you feel like a loser because it’s been 2 weeks of practice and you still can’t do a pull up? Well, it’s just a feeling. Persevere.
Adversity is a great teacher of perseverance.

Adversity is a great teacher of perseverance.

  • Another way to avoid over training and injuries is to feel the sensations in your body instead of distracting yourself with music, conversation, etc. This practice of listening to your body is crucial for being able to differentiate between good and bad pain. Don’t force things, that’s just practicing suffering, and only leads to more suffering, not success. If you can’t keep your face and breathing relaxed, you’re probably trying too hard. If that happens, you need to go back to the previous step and get stronger at that. So for instance, if you moved on to lock offs too quickly, you’ll be making crazy faces and unable to breathe well at the very beginning of your lock off, try negatives instead or go back to partial reps until you feel stronger, then go back to lock offs. This can, will, and should vary even day to day! Just because you did Lock Offs on Monday doesn’t mean you’re moving backwards if you “only” do Dead Hangs on Wednesday. Listen to your body.

And last but not least, there is nothing inherently wrong with kipping pull ups, they have disadvantage and advantages like every single other exercise in existence. They train your core and hip flexors more, but also require more skill and control to be done without adding risk of injury, since they are more explosive. In my opinion, they’re not nearly as bad ass as the “real” thing and make it easy to move sloppily, or avoid ever training to do strict form pull ups.

The goal of this program is to help you do your first strict pull up and kipping pullups are more helpful during phase 2 of the Total Pullup Domination program, so I’ll save it for the next blog post.

Total Pull Up Domination Secrets

  • Go rock climbing. Whether indoors at a gym or on some mountain, rock climbing is a deeply empowering, beautiful, physical and spiritual practice that will make you strong as shit at pull ups, plus you’ll have fun in the process. Going to the climbing gym even just 1x/week (in addition to the program above) will increase your chances of getting 5 pull ups in 6 weeks significantly. And being better at climbing fun shit is more intrinsically motivating than doing pull ups so that you can love yourself or impress others.
  • Practice hands stands to help balance out your soldier and strengthen your core. Plus, they’re fun. Stay tuned for the hand stand tutorial blog post.
  • If you have a gym membership, learn how to do Barbell Squats and Dead Lifts. Once you’ve got great form, add progressively heavier loads until you get down to the 2 – 6 rep range, then keep getting stronger by adding weight. This will have a powerful hormonal effect that will help your entire body get stronger, and the heavy Dead Lifts will help your grip strength and rotator cuff muscles tremendously, which will directly transfer to pull ups.
  • If you don’t have access to a gym, try horse stance, and eventually as you get stronger, mini-bounce squats then mini-jump squats, then full jump squats. I love coupling body weight squats with pull up training because it allows you get get more done in the same amount of time, since you shift emphasis from lower body to upper body (so half of you gets to rest while the other half works.)
  • Get clear about your “reason why”, the emotional reason why you want to be able to do a Pull up. Remember, this is primal not polite, so be honest with yourself: sex, safety, survival. So not “because doing a pull up would be cool” but rather “because then I’ll feel so sexy and confident I’ll have the courage to ask that beautiful babe out on a date” or “because maybe then I’ll feels strong enough to stand up to that asshole bully.” Etc.
  • Leverage the power of social accountability. Find a buddy who also wants to develop super human powers of flight, use the free program sheet I created to track your workouts, and update each other every day on your progress and the details of your workout.
  • And of course, the fastest way to guarantee you do a pull up in 6 weeks is to….

Join our Pull Up Club!

Pull Up Club is a group of people who are dedicated to getting their very first pull up, ever (or in a long time) and to supporting each other. The program is totally free, all you have to do is apply below (space is limited to 8 spots).

  • 6 Week Program, Totally Free (But you commit to practicing the exercises 3x/week and keeping a workout journal)
  • Includes 15 Minute “Pull Up Club” Google Hang Out (for coaching and accountability)
  • Also includes a group Online Tracking Sheet, so everyone can see each other’s progress daily.
  • Yes, it’s free. I just ask that you fill out an application, commit to practicing the movements 3x/week, and update the group about your progress.

 

For the next 6 weeks, we’ll meet online so you can get your pull up questions answered, and update the group on your progress, efforts, and challenges. You’ll get personal coaching from me – during our weekly 15 minute online meeting – plus the support and accountability of the other members in the club.

As an added bonus, I’ll create an Online Tracking Sheet in Google Sheets for the entire group, so each member can update the entire group every day on what exercises they practiced, for how long, and how they felt – it’s tracking the details that add up to big success and being able to do the impossible! All you have to do is apply right below.

Honesty, if grade school physical education teachers followed these simple 4 steps and actually prepared their kids for the test, instead of having half of girls be able to do a pull up, I bet the number would be closer to 95% (for a population of kids that aren’t already obese, which sadly is hard to find these days.)

The rocket is about to blast off into the stratosphere, are you ready to grow wings and learn how to fly? If so, fill out the application below by  January 3rd and you’ll be notified if you’re in (either way) by the 4th.

Onward and upward, we rise together.

Jonathan

__/|\__

P.S. Why do you have to apply? Because we want to keep it intimate so we have to limit the size of the group, but there are thousands of people reading this blog now, so I want to reward the ones that really want it! So don’t hold back on those answers.

 

Pull Up Virgins Application

A club for people dedicated to getting their first pull up i.e. losing their "pull up virginity", which is gonna feel oh so good. And we'll be safe, promise 🙂
  • Ninjas never share secrets, esp. emails.
  • Just trying to get a sense of your history with pull ups. Could you do one right now? How many?
  • If so, what happened?
  • Be honest! What will it mean to you? How will it feel?
  • Again, please be honest with yourself 🙂
  • Having an "anchor" to practice dead hangs regularly is key.
  • Not a deal breaker!
  • This one is a deal breaker, tracking the details is crucial to success. You'll need to either use Google Sheets on your computer or download the Sheets mobile application onto your Android or Iphone. It's simple!
  • It will only take a few minutes and it will help me make the program better AND inspire/teach others with you're success story.

Photo: Julieta Cervantes

 

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  • Ruth Henriquez

    This is great, and the video is really helpful. I am definitely going to follow the steps at my own pace.

    I would caution readers that the Iron Gym Pullup Bar has a couple of Amazon reviews saying that there is a plastic piece at the bolts that can break and send you crashing down. This happened to me with another brand of pullup bar, and I didn’t break any bones but there is a possibility for serious injury — so we all need to be really careful about our equipment.