The Art Of Pull Ups: After The First Rep

Last week's post had thoughts on conquering the first pull up. It's always the hardest, but the subsequent reps are much easier to accumulate. As an avid pull-upper, below are tips I've used to increase my max pull up number.

1. Do more pull ups.

The best way to get better at pull ups is to do more pull ups. Halt! Before you leap onto a bar, I don't mean rep out as many as possible until the pull up resembles a raw, wriggling fish.

Practice makes permanent, not perfect. 

I really like doing reps throughout my training session. It's a sound way to accomplish a higher volume without sacrificing form because each set only has a few reps. Two years ago, I set a goal to be able to perform 10 pull ups at the drop of a hat (or an off-hand challenge). Note: I could already do about 5 pull ups at this point, but the idea remains the same. This meant that 10 pull ups had to be easy and my max needed to be in the teens. I needed to build up both strength and endurance. Once per week I would perform pull ups throughout my workout until I hit my total rep goal, for example on week 1 I started with 7 sets of 3 working with a goal of 21 total reps. Week 2, 27 total, Week 3, 30 total. Once I hit 50 total, I upped the reps to 4. And I started back with 7 sets of 4, then 8, etc. Each time I hit my top-end total reps, I'd increase the rep count.

Fast forward a year, and I could comfortably hit 10 reps any time I wanted. Huzzah!

1.5 Grease the Groove.

This is how one should implement "do more pull ups," and whynot maxing out works. (Thank you Pavel Tsatsouline) Instead of providing a long-winded explanation, click HERE for a much better one. The bottom line of Grease the Groove training is neurological training to create a more efficient movement pattern. I'll say it again, practice makes permanent, not perfect (so practice perfectly)!

2. Do more pull ups. And be patient.

Seriously, there isn't a magic trick to this. I planned on having a couple different tips, but really, it just comes down to practicing and performing more pull ups over time (and doing them well!). Over the past year, I incorporated them into ladders, wove them throughout my regular training sessions, and did a pull up every time I went to the bathroom (that only lasted a week, though, because I drink a lot of water).

Essentially, the grease the groove article explains it well. Start small and work your way up.

It takes a while to get "good" at pull ups, especially for us ladies, and so patience is key. Remember, it took me a whole year to have a solid 10 pull ups in my back pocket. Be patient and do more pull ups.

Here's my post-workout let's-see-how-many-I-can-do

Refs, Umpires, and Judges, Oh My! Performance Training is Not Just for Athletes

If you could discern from the somewhat cryptic title, this month's theme will be athletic performance training for referees, umpires, and judges of sporting events. These brave men and women, dashing and dodging players, balls, and sticks, also require performance training that is equal to that of the players that watch. For example, did you know that a study of English Premier League soccer (football, really for everyone else in the world besides Americans) refs ran an average of 9.5 km (that's 5.9 miles) in one game?!

Not to mention the facts that refs are typically 10-15 years older than the players and they're running that distance while looking sideways.

And let's not forget the hazards of being a ref:

And this:

It's a tough job being on the authoratative side of sports. SAPT is here to help out! Stay tuned this month as we explore various aspects of training for referees, umpires, and judges.

Post-Holiday Physique Quick Fixes

I apologize. I have no intention of giving you a "quick fix." Why? Because they don't exist.  Yup, the media and fitness "experts" have lied to you. There is no such thing as "10 Minutes to Abz" or ,"Cleanse Food of the month" or any other such nonsense as that. Want to know the secret? 1. Consistency- eating well 90% of the time (you can have treats. But remember they're once-in-a-while occasions. That's why they're "treats.") and exercising regularly (not just in January).

2. Consistency

3. Consistency

Notice a trend here? This month we're going to be dispelling some of the proliferous myths of the fitness world as well as offer solutions to maintaing a healthy lifestyle, and your sanity, that actually work.

Below is a post I wrote a couple months ago in a fit of anger but drives the point home that a healthy, strong body takes time, effort, and consistency.


While enjoying some quiet time, an advertisement blared over my classical music station (I was peacefully enjoying some Rachmaninov):

"No time for exercise? Tony Horton's 10 Minute Training makes blasting fat and building muscle easier than ever!"

The 10 Minute Trainer DVDs employ:

-"Super Stacking Technique" to combine cardio and strength training (Is that new? Uh, you mean like super-setting and circuit training?)

-Resistance bands and the "most effective moves" (Riiight because 5lbs of resistance is going to build muscle...SAPT-ers, is this correct?)

-A "10 minute" meal plan, not sure what that includes but somehow it helps.

-You're supposed to do 3 workouts/day (so really 30 minute trainer would be more appropriate) selecting from: cardio, total body and lower body workouts. (and the bonus of the Abs DVD...cause that's really what working out is all about... the ABZ)

Ahem, shall I?

Training methodology, professional opinion on the safety of these "moves" for untrained individuals, and lack of feedback on proper exercise technique aside, what angers me the MOST about these kinds of products is the "magic bullet" mentality. They make it sound like it's so easy, so fast and utterly mindless to develop a head-turning physique and/or jaw-dropping strength.

Here's a picture of me from my old bodybuilding days:


Any guesses on  how long it took to look like that? (hint: more than 10 minutes)


Read that again and let it sink in.

4 years of HARD work, busting my butt in the gym 5-7 days/week, picking up heavy things (many, many times for a lot longer than 30 minutes), following a strict diet year-round (not to mention the restrictive competitive diet I stuck to for 12 weeks prior to a competition. Helloooo broccoli and chicken...every...meal...) Each work out and meal was meticulously planned and well thought-out; I tried my hardest every workout to focus all my thoughts on my training. Anything else, was put inside the "Not Work Out Box" in my head and every rep, every set had my undivided attention.

Did I mention that it took 4 years?

Things like this disgust me. I ABHOR how many products out there preaching the the "'body you want" is only "minutes away,"preying upon our society's collective impatience. Training for strength and or physique goals should require a lot of thinking (not necessarily in the sense that you write your own program, but you should be focused during your session); training sessions shouldn't be executed casually if you expect to reap any benefits. Remember my Iron Brethren, many things in life are fast an easy, strength and a healthy body are not one of them.

At SAPT, we "cook 'em slow" because we know that strength gains and physique changes take time and hard work. Check out two of our champs, Ron Reed and Ryan Dickt.  Both have been training with us for years and working their tails off in the gym 3-4/week and gettin' AFTER it!

Heard of the workout "Insanity?" How 'bout try some INTENSITY?

THAT is what training looks like, even with the "little" stuff. Or this:

3 years of consistent training = 425 deadlift... and he's only a junior in high school.

And this:

Yup... guess what? Another consistent SAPT trainee. 300 lbs!

Don't fall for the short cut and train like you mean it.

Strength as a Foundation

On March 15, 2013 I became a regular person - well my perception of regular anyway - and I love it!

Why did I have to relinquish my super-hero status? I’ll leave it at this: I saw my dreams not just faltering, but failing. So, to get back on track, I stopped working two full-time jobs... which I had been doing for years for "fun" versus necessity. I took a break from my love-affair with iron. I also sit more than I have in about 15 years... that's a mega regular person activity!

Well, if we fast forward to today, my big dreams in life are properly realigned and effectively back within reach. But, I want to talk about what has happened to my physical foundation over that time.

SAPT’s methodology is based on the approach of Strength as a Foundation. We use various examples to explain why this is the best approach for building speed and explosiveness, but my favorite is “imagine shooting a cannon out of a canoe” sounds silly, right? Well that’s because it is. Never having operated an actual cannon myself, I can still easily imagine how ineffective and potentially dangerous it would be to try to shoot the thing out of a canoe.

The same concept holds true for performance training. If Strength as a Foundation is ignored, you’ve effectively set yourself or your child up for ineffective and potentially dangerous training.

Okay, so getting back to my little story: since becoming proudly “regular,” I’ve been working out at home and put a huge emphasis on improving my overall fitness. “Fitness” in this case meant I wanted to put a big focus on improving my cardiovascular system's functioning and efficiency. My exercise of choice? Running. And because of time limits I have only been lifting an average of 20-minutes, twice a week... but my running workouts stick around 60-90 minutes, 4-5 days a week.

Do you see where this is heading...?

I've let my foundation crack. My strength foundation. It sort of sucks. But, I planned for this to happen... I guess I just didn't know what it would feel like once I arrived. I've been lifting consistently since I was 19 years old. The longest break I’ve ever taken (up until this year) would have been a MAXIMUM of one week off from lifting. Crazy, but this 20-min/2x per week lifting has been going on for almost 4-months. With several weeks in there taken completely off from lifting.

I’ve been trying to shoot a cannon out of an ever destabilizing canoe. Attempting to keep up such a high volume, frequency, and intensity of running without maintaining my strength foundation is trouble. I’m feeling it now.

My goals have been accomplished in terms of “fitness” but I’ve been surprised what a slippery slope running that much and lifting that little has been. It’s like the losses are compounded. My knees often ache and the muscle mass in my legs (read: glutes and hamstrings) has dropped significantly.

What’s the plan and what’s the lesson?

I need to build muscle and lift weights more frequently. That’s the plan. And the lesson? As advertised, running really is detrimental to strength levels. I’m undecided about how I feel about this. Where I am in my life, running really lines up well with my mentality and goals. I can’t even begin to tell you how many excellent ideas I’ve had while running... SAPT was actually conceived during a run 6-years ago(!). But, I need to prioritize more prehab exercises to keep myself on the trails. In terms of the biggie compound lifts, eh, I’ll probably continue to take a break. 13 years straight of weight training means I’m certain the lure of the iron will pull me back when the time is right. In the meantime, I’ll continue setting a laser focus on building an amazing business and embracing my “regular” side.

Last week I attended a workshop on marketing for the small business owner. It was amazing and led by John Jantsch who is *tha guy* when it comes to this topic. As much as I believe the experience has already had a permanent and positive change on SAPT, I will try to exercise some self-control and stay on-topic. I do mention the experience for good reason: the first - and most tangible - impact from this workshop for our readers is in how we deliver content on the blog. Here are the changes you can look forward to:

  1. Each month will have a theme that each primary (MWF) post will address. This month's theme: Give Me Strength!
  2. We will be attempting to up our quality from an internal standpoint by actually editing posts ahead of time.
  3. All this requires *gasp* planning, so posts should be more reliable with few, if any, missed posts.

Please engage if you like or hate or even have no feeling about what you read here!


SAPT Virtual Sprint Seminar, Episode 1: The Falling Start

This begins a series of virtual sprint "seminars" that I'm sure many of you will enjoy. I - along with two of our Summer interns, Josh and Goose - have been working with a number of our college baseball guys to improve their sprinting speed. Given we meet with them 2x/week outside of their usual lifting program, and that they're making some sort of improvement each and every session, it makes for excellent blogging fodder that hopefully you human movement geeks out there will enjoy.   


Questions that will be answered in this episode:

  • What is the Falling Start? And why does it help with improving sprint speed and mechanics?
  • Why having or developing "quick feet" may NOT actually be the answer you're looking for when it comes to improving sprint speed.
  • Common errors that nearly everyone makes during the falling start, and how to correct them.
  • How to reduce your risk of injury when beginning a sprint training program.
  • What Street Fighter can teach you about ensuring a strong acceleration off the line.

Comments? Feedback? Was this helpful? Mind blown? Share any thoughts below!