How’s your backside? Hunched over a computer or desk all day often leads to weak, overstretched back muscles and tight, shortened pectoral muscles. Synergy is in order here as nothing beats the power of the pull.
Without a doubt the very best exercise is the pull up/chin up and the best way to develop pulling and climbing abilites. They require you to manipulate your entire bodyweight and nothing matches their strength-building capacity.
Not everyone is capable of pulling up their bodyweight; however that is not a reason to abstain as there are a few different modifications and progressions. A pull up bar is necessary, can be purchased at a sporting goods store and easily installed in a doorway. Many years ago before I had a fitness facility I had one in my guest room. It made for a novel conversation piece when tall guests had to duck their heads before entering.
Basic Pull up/Chin up
Begin from a dead hang position with the arms fully extended, hands about shoulder width apart. Grip is overhand for pull ups and underhand for chin ups,* your chest is up, shoulder blades retracted and pull yourself toward the bar leading with the chest and pulling your elbows down and back. Continue pulling until your chin clears the bar. Lower under control and repeat for desired reps.
*Pull ups work mostly back while chin ups work more biceps and are usually a little easier.
Modifications or Progressions:
There are 2 ways to modify these, one using the assistance of a band and one without. I have found that while both will work quicker and better results have been obtained using the bands. It sometimes proves difficult to go from “jump” pull ups directly to a regular pull up.
Assisting with both legs: Stand with both legs bent either on the floor or a bench and pull yourself up as above using as little assistance from the legs as possible until your chin is above the bar and lower under control. When you are able to do about 10 to 12 reps move to the next level
Assisting with one leg: Same as above using only one leg and as little assistance as possible. When you can perform 10 to 12 move to the jump pull up.
Jump pull up: Jump from the floor or bench until your chin is above the bar, lower yourself under control using no assistance from the legs or feet. When you can perform 10 to 12 jump pull ups, it is time to move to the regular or basic pull up
Bands: These look like a large rubber band and “assist” you in your pull up by reducing the actual amount of bodyweight that you are lifting. They come in various thicknesses and as you get stronger you simply progress to a thinner band. To use you tie the band onto the pull up bar, place one foot in the band, extend the leg and wrap the other foot around the ankle to minimize any swinging. You then pull yourself above the bar using the instructions for the Basic Pull Up. It allows you to perform the movement through the full range of motion. The bands can be purchased at and are well worth the nominal investment.
Lay face down and place your fingertips only behind your ears with your elbows pulled back. Ground lightly with the feet and contract the glutes and back muscles to lift or extend the spine off the ground. Keep the head in neutral alignment with the spine lengthened.
A variation in which the arms are reaching overhead with the elbows as straight as possible, the legs are straight, toes pointed and using the glutes and lower back muscles you lift both the arms and legs off the ground, lower but do not touch the ground and repeat.
How to incorporate
Beginners: Determine where you are at and the progression you are going to start with. Start with 1-2 sets of 5 to 10 reps of the pull up, 10 to 20 reps of the back extension and perform 1 to 3 times per week, allowing at least 1 day of recovery. Listen to the body, more is not always better.
Intermediates: If you have a good basic pull up, work on getting up to 3-4 sets of 10 to 12 reps, resting 60 to 90 second between sets. You can super set with the back extensins
Advanced: Combine the moves into a circuit such as 10 dead hang pull ups//20 back extensions and 20 kipping pull ups. Rest 60 to 90 seconds and repeat 2 to 4 times to put the pulling muscles to the test. If you really want to test your limits, try pulling a tractor tire for a full back blast combined with sledgehammer slams. Fun!
Perform 10-15 pull ups (at whatever progression you can), jog, run or sprint 100 m, perform 10-20 push ups, jog, run or sprint 100 m, perform 10 lunges per leg. Repeat 2-4 times with as little rest as possible.
Full Body Tabata: Perform 20 s of pull ups, 10 s rest for a total of 8 rounds or 4 mins; do the same sequence with squats, and then push ups. The whole workout should take 12 mins.
“Cindy” or “Chelsea”: CrossFit workouts named after girls. “Cindy” is 5 pull ups, 10 pushups and 15 squats AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) in 20 mins. “Chelsea” is 5 pull ups, 10 push ups, 15 squats every minute on the minute for 30 mins. If you fail to complete a round within the minute, sit the next round (minute) out for rest.
The combinations are endless, get creative, enjoy yourself and adjust times, distances and intervals to meet your starting fitness level. Pull out all the stops and take your fitness to the next level!
Paula Jager CSCS and Level 1 CrossFit and CF Nutrition Certified is the owner of CrossFit Jaguar. Her exercise and nutrition programs yield life changing results.