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STRICT PULL UPS - AND A PROPER PUSH UP TOO
Why does gravity seem to be so much less forgiving with strict pull ups and push ups?
Just do some push ups and pull ups they say…. What if we can’t even do one?
Or maybe you love the fancy stuff – butterfly pull ups, chest to bar, or Superman plyo push-ups.
My goal today is to make a case for why pushing and pulling your bodyweight through space is valuable for any level of athlete – and to get you stronger strict pull ups and a proper push up too – even if you can’t do one just yet. And even if you need to come back to this guide later, be sure to sign up for a free pdf that will get you stronger push ups and pull ups in no time.
NO MORE GYM CLASS NIGHTMARES
Strict pull ups and push up might as well be prerequisites to any fitness program. Why start picking up weights if you haven’t yet mastered the ability to move your own body against gravity? For the vast majority, these movements might be all you need to develop your upper body both functionally and aesthetically.
So why the preoccupation with weighted exercises and machines instead of more and more push ups and strict pull ups? Well, to properly execute a proper push up and a strict pull up with good form through a full range of motion, you need to be somewhat strong to begin with.
In fact, when I owned my gym for 6 years, only about 1 in 10 could walk through the door and be able to do both of these movements well. Many of my clients were gym enthusiasts, played recreational sports, and considered themselves in decent shape. Yet they still had a hard time doing quality push ups and in most cases had no shot at strict pull ups.
Let's Be Kids Again
Watching my kids play around on the exercise equipment we have at home, I can tell you that it is well within our genetic potential to develop this strength at an early age.
But most people grow up and go off to school or work where they sit most of the day and never PLAY on the monkey bars anymore. Goodbye pull ups, goodbye push ups.
MASTER BODYWEIGHT MOVEMENTS
We have to get these skills back. Just like a bodyweight squat, a simple lunge, a strong plank, the push up and pull up should be foundations to your fitness. The process of getting them dialed in when you have never, or haven’t performed them for many decades means we need to build a Regression/Progression system that is easy to follow and can be performed consistently week after week – just like in the Persist program or our Ebooks.
Let’s take a quick look at a basic standard that we aim to progress out clients to for each of these movements.
Proper Push Up Standard:
- 10 Quality Reps
- Chest touches the floor and thighs remain off the ground
- The body stays in a straight line from shoulder through hip to heel
- The shoulder at the bottom is in front of the fingertips and the forearm is perpendicular to the floor
- The shoulder at the top is directly in like with the fingertips
Strict Pull Ups Standard:
- 5 Quality Reps
- Begin from a dead hang with elbows locked and shoulders relaxed
- Contract the shoulder blades and arms simultaneously to pull yourself up
- The repetition range of motion is complete when the collar bone touches or comes within a centimeter of the pull up bar
- Return back to the bottom under control and repeat the repetition
HOW TO REACH THE STANDARD
How are we going to get to these standards? Enter Functional Bodybuilding. The concepts that we use to take athletes from simple to complex movements can and should be applied here. You will only need some simple tools that most facilities or home gyms can have and you will be on your way to getting better in these two areas.
Think you are already pretty darn good at push ups and strict pull ups? Then I encourage you to see if layering in some of these movements or concepts to your current training could help you get even better. How about having more control and strength with what you already feel confident in? I suppose if you can’t yet do 100 push ups or 50 pull ups without stopping then you still have room to grow. So don’t skip ahead.
Let’s cover a few concepts for both the Strict Pull Up and Push Up, and we will assign a movement for each that will illustrate how you can train this attribute.
As we lower our bodies from the top of a range of motion to the bottom, we don’t have to overcome gravity, but instead we oppose a certain percentage of it depending on how fast or slowly we lower ourselves. This is how we can turn bodyweight training into something that feels like variable resistance of a strength machine or free weight. As you get stronger, the negatives get SLOWER and more controlled.
The set up for this one is pretty important. Position a bench or a box underneath your pull up bar that is the correct height so you don’t have to strain at all to get over the pull up bar. Instead you should be entirely focused on holding a strong isometric over the bar to start and then lowering down slowly.
The second key to this movement is that you must lower to the full range of motion. Don’t let your feet touch the bench, floor, or anything else until you have reached a dead hang position.
You should be working towards 3 full range of motion repetitions in a row that you can control for 10sec each on the way down.
Similarly with the Push Up Negative, I don’t want you straining to push yourself back up to the top. The sole focus here is a perfect body position while you fight to lower yourself correctly all the way to the floor. The points of performance for the Push Up that I demonstrate in the video should be followed closely here as well.
A common fault we see on these is when the hips start to sag down. Think about making your sternum the first body part to touch the floor. Don’t let your hips or belly be first to tap the floor.
Before you develop the strength at the tough start of these movements, you can build some serious Eccentric Capacity. You will even be able to do these with ADDED WEIGHT. We call this eccentric overload and it is yet another way we can manipulate variables with FBB to help you hack the strength continuum.
With eccentric overload push ups, it is helpful to have a partner to lift the weights off you as you work your way back to the top of the push up. But as you can see in the video, it isn’t necessary, just a little awkward without help. Once you can control your bodyweight for 10sec through the full range of motion, then you start to add external weight. You will be surprised how quickly strength can be gained with this method week after week.
Extended Range of Motion
The late Charles Poliquin had a saying that “Strength is gained in the range that it is trained.” To fully master the Strict Pull Up and Push Up we can strengthen end range of motion in these two movement planes. Furthermore, we can manipulate the range of motion by changing the shape and path that we take through the Pull up and Push up. By doing so we will add more resilience to our upper extremity. We enhance our strength throughout the full range of motion. And possibly add strength to angles of the movement that might otherwise get missed with simply training the STANDARD range that was presented earlier.
Adjust a set of rings to about shoulder height when you are standing underneath them. This height will allow for your feet to fully support you at all times. You can then focus on the range of motion and directionality of this movement. Grip the rings in a standing position and pull some tension on them.
Lean your body backwards, fighting the negative so you control yourself down. Keep leaning back and lowering at the same time until you have reached a full hang in somewhat of a squat position with your legs. It is up to you how much leg drive you wish to use to pull yourself straight back up.
Your legs act as the assistance while you attempt to make the largest lean away arc on the way down that you can. Along with building a longer range of motion, this will bring parts of your rotator cuff into the strict pull up. These will support healthy strong shoulders for more training to come.
GO THROUGH THE FLOOR
A proper push up ends when the chest and body touch the floor. But what if we could go through the floor with our hands fixed? Get more range of motion? That means an entire portion of our shoulder, chest and triceps would get trained. This can be accomplished with a variety of different tools. Parallettes, Dumbbells that don’t roll, Kettlebells that don’t tip, and two benches or boxes next to each other.
The assumption is that you don’t have your full range of motion push up yet. So we need to start by making these easier with an incline body angle. Make them sufficiently easy that you can perform the full range of motion.
The goal is DEPTH. So ensure that your chest falls past the contact point of your hands. As we get stronger and build more range of motion in your shoulders, you can lower deeper. Or can move your deficit push up angle lower until you are flat and even at a slight decline for maximal loading.
Assisted Full Range of Motion - Positional Development
Proper movement development requires that you start to develop good motor control through the desired range of motion of the GOAL exercises. Therefore I suggest performing assisted FULL RANGE MOTION Push Ups and Pull Ups in the early weeks of your strength development.
One of the reasons this fails people early on is that they don’t assist these movements sufficiently. They work too hard to push or pull themselves to the top of the movement and as a result they break form. Poor form developed early on is hard to break and might leave you plateauing your strength gains.
Choose an assistance level that is sufficiently easy that you don’t have to worry so much about the strength development of these exercises. Instead, focus on the QUALITY of your POSITIONS and really learn the correct technique and form. We call these POSITIONAL PRIORITY accessory movements. Your STRENGTH is being developed by the NEGATIVES mostly so don’t sweat it here.
Pay attention to how in each of these video demonstrations of band assisted reps, you absolutely need to think about perfect form, not straining, stopping the moment you feel some fatigue, and hitting the full STANDARD range of motion and points of performance.
Use these reps to focus on keeping your CORE TIGHT.
- Flex your Quads
- Tighten your Tummy
- Squeeze your Legs Together
Elbow Flexion/Extensions Accessory
The primary movers in the strict pull up and push up are without question the shoulders, back, and chest. But there is also no denying the fact that the biceps and triceps play a significant role too and training those muscles can be beneficial in helping you get better at the strict pull up and proper push up.
So I’ve added two movements to your training list: the focus on Flexion (biceps) and Extension (Triceps) of the elbow. They are properly scalable for those of you working to get those first few pull ups and push ups and you don’t need any more equipment than what we have already used. Just a bench and your set of rings.
Ring Bicep Curls (adjust body angle for more or less tension):
Find a body angle that allows you to reach full extension of the elbow at the bottom and full flexion of the elbow at the top. Error on the side of too easy and accumulate more reps instead.
Bench Dips (Feet elevated or feet flat):
You will also feel your shoulders and even chest working here, but keep your focus on the extension of the elbow and pumping out reps with hard contractions of the back of your arms, otherwise known as your triceps.
FINALLY! STRICT PULL UPS & PUSH UPS
Can you make progress with things like Jumping Pull Ups or Knee Push Ups? Sure. Is what I outlined the only way to develop a push up? Absolutely not. But in my experience, those who dedicate themselves to a plan and method have great success and fewer setbacks. So if we want to progress our push ups and pull ups with great mechanics, avoid plateaus, and keep our shoulders and elbows healthy, then consider applying FBB principles as I have discussed:
- Use Negatives
- Use Extended Range of Motion
- Assist to Learn Great Motor Control
- Don’t forget Isolation Exercises to build up larger complex exercises patterns.
Sign up below to grab a free PDF guide on how to put these into two weekly mini workouts to add to your training. I’ve got these exercises listed in an easy to follow workout guide that you can progress week after week.
Thank you for joining me yet again. If you think this video will help someone you know out there then please share it with them. If more people could do pull ups and push ups without pain then the world would be a better place.