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The Unassisted Pull-up Challenge

Posted by on Dec. 20, 2010 at 11:30 PM
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This is a challenge for all the moms out there who cannot perform an un-assisted, proper pull-up.  The Motivate! team is challenging you to finally do one! 
Un-assisted Pull-ups are one of the most difficult bodyweight exercises that a person can do outside of the realm of the planche, handstand push-up, and the various levers.  Unlike most other bodyweight exercises, with a pull-up you are asking your body to lift it's entire weight.  Still, a lot of people out there can do them, so they're certainly not impossible.  Unfortunately, a lot of people do them WRONG.  Once you know how to do a proper pull-up, you will find that the vast majority of gym-goers do their pull-ups wrong at least partially, if not entirely.
Use this thread to ask questions regarding the pull-up, and to post your experiences and progress with the various pull-up progressions outlined below.  All the moms who are able to achieve an unassisted proper pull-up will receive a very nice unassited pull-up challenge trophy to show off their athletic prowess!
So let's start!
What is a proper pull-up?
Put simply, a pull-up is a movement that begins in a hanging position, with arms fully extended.  Once your arms are entirely extended, with no bend in the arm, you pull yourself upwards until your chin is above the level of the object from which you are hanging (in most cases, a bar).  Once this is accomplished, lower yourself back to the fully-extended position.  A pull-up that does not begin from the fully extended position does not count.  Similarly, a pull-up in which the chin does not clear the bar also does not count.
Once you master the proper pull-up, you will begin to see that most people do one or the other, and sometimes both.  These people are not doing pull-ups!
Can I kick my feet?
So long as you begin in a fully-extended position, and your chin clears the bar, you may do whatever you need to do in order to complete the movement.  So long as you do not use any nearby objects (this includes whatever the bar is mounted on) to assist your ascent, you are fine.  Use common sense.  We should not be seeing anyone post in this thread asking if it is ok to brace themselves against the doorframe or anything of that nature.
But I can't do a pull-up!
Wrong.  You can't do an *unassisted* pull-up, which is probably why you are reading this challenge.  If you can...Get out of here and go do the burpee challenge!  In any case, I am going to list a variety of pull-up progressions which you can use to build the strength neccessary to complete an unassisted pull-up.  Be patient, it takes time to build the neccessary strength if you do not have it already.  Scroll down to begin your journey to an unassisted pull-up!
First, find somewhere to do them.
This can be anywhere really.  We use a door-mounted pull-up bar at home similar to the Iron Gym, or just go to the gym and use a regular bar (preferred).  If you go to the gym, watch out for the angled or bent "pull-up bars".  When you fully extend, these can place stress on your wrist.  It is best to find a nice, straight, regular bar.  Many parks that have "fitness trails" will have pull-up stations, and even your child's playground is likely to have something that you can hang from.  Thickness will vary, and thick objects may make things difficult if you have a weak grip.  If you are truely desperate, pull-ups can be done on many outdoor staircases where you can go under the staircase and hang from the stairs (Watch out for people walking down, as they won't see your fingers!).
Start with the grip.
We are going to assume you found something akin to a bar.  Ideally, your grip should be about shoulder-width apart.  Some door-model pull-up bars won't have the nice padding on this part of the bar.  Bear in mind, most of these products are marketed to a very wide audience, and as you will find out, that audience doesn't know how to do pull-ups properly.  Once you have an idea of where your hands should go, the next question is "which way should they face?".  Your hands should face whichever way is comfortable for you.  Most people find it easiest to grip the bar with the palms facing the body (underhand).  If you go with an underhand grip, resist the urge to move your grip closer together.  In the course of a workout, I will alternate between palms-away (overhand), underhand, and even mixed (one hand over, one hand under) grip.  Using a variety of grips will recruit a variety of muscles, and can help a lot when you begin to get fatigued.
Do a pull-up!
Oh yeah...Do one of these progressions!
1.  The Negative
Probably the easiest of the progressions.  In this one, you start with your chin above the bar (by whatever means possible), and lower yourself in a slow, controlled manner.  The entire movement, from the chin-over to full-extension at the bottom should be done at a count of 4 or 5 (so a gradual lowering movement throughout a 4-5 second span).  Do as many of these as you can until you can no longer lower yourself in a controlled manner.  For those who are able, add The Hold (detailed next) before beginning your descent.
2.  The Hold
In this progression, you are going to get your chin over the bar, and then you are going to hold your body up (with your chin over the bar) for as long as you possibly can.  That's all there is to it.  If you fall off, take a short break, and do it again.  Do these until you are unable to hold yourself in the up position for more than a second.
3.  Partner Assist

In this progression, you have a friend give you light (or sometimes heavy!) assistance to get your body from the fully-extended to chin-over position.  Simple as that.  If you want, add a Hold at the top (without assistance), and finish the rep with a Negative.
4.  Band Assist
No this does not mean to hire roadies.  If you have access to a set of exercise bands, simply throw the band over whatever you're using for pull-ups, and place your feet in the handles.  Some may have difficulty with this.  If possible, the preferred method is to hook the handles onto the bar, and step onto the band itself.  This may require actually tying the bands to the bar.  However you make it happen, the elasticity of the band will bear some of the load of your body, allowing you to perform the pull-up.  Be aware, you may need more than one band before you are able to do a pull-up.  Once you can, begin removing bands, or using lighter bands to increase the load as you get stronger.  Do pull-ups until you are unable to do any more.
5.  Object Assist
For this assist, place an object such as a chair in front of your body, and place your heels on the object as you perform pull-ups.  Lightly assist your upwards motion with your legs, performing a Hold (unassisted) at the top, followed by a Negative.  When ready, advance by placing only one heel on the object to increase the load.  Try to use your legs as little as possible.  Stop once you feel that your legs are doing the majority of the work for you.
These are just a few of the progressions you can use to build up your pull-up, and this list is by no means exhaustive.  Use your imagaination and practice diligently.  With patience, you will achieve the unassisted pull-up.
Good Luck

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by on Dec. 20, 2010 at 11:30 PM
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by on Dec. 28, 2010 at 9:58 PM

I do the band assist ones for P90X.  My husband bought this pull up bar that allows you to lower it so you can do them by leaning back keeping your feet on the floor.

by Corinne ~ Owner on Dec. 28, 2010 at 10:04 PM

 That is neat.  It has to make doing them a little easier.  I do the band assist at the gym too.

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