Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Playing with Pullups

I love doing pullups. They're probably my favorite exercises. They hit the back, the biceps, the forearms and even the core muscles are required to stabilize the movement. You'd be hard-pressed to find an exercise that works so much in a single move. That's probably why they're staple of any training worth mentioning. Unfortunately I see a lot of sloppiness out there when doing pullups.

I see people who try to use lower body momentum in order to get themselves above the bar. Even worse, I see people letting themselves drop back down to starting position. The first one doesn't help train the target muscles and the latter could lead to an injury. Burn this into your memory: EXERCISING WITHOUT CONTROL OF THE MOVEMENT IS AN INVITATION FOR INJURY.

I've been craving some rings to do pullups on for a while. When I saw the price, I decided I was going to make my own. So, after some research and chat with a friend, I came up with some homemade pullup rings (I'll tell you how next post). While I was sinking some hooks in my ceiling studs to hang the rings, I peered over at my towels and though to myself, "I bet that pullups off those would be a lot of fun.". So I tried both variations and I made some interesting finds.

Pullups off either the towels or the rings really helped me clean up my form when doing them. The reason is very simple: You can't use momentum either upwards or downwards while doing the pullups. These are both unstable and the momentum will cause you to swing around like an idiot. Proper form without cheating is mandatory exercising like this.

I learned this on the towel variation above too. When I pullup, Iwill actually pull harder with my dominant side (In my case, my left side). The reason I know this is because when doing the towel pullup, I started twisting in mid-air. The only way to stop this was to force my right side to exert more pulling force. As a result, these are harder than the ring or bar pullups and it develops equal strength on both sides.

Both of these pullup variations are far more difficult than working out on a standard bar. They require more forearm strength as well as shoulder strength in order to keep your body steady while chinning. I can do 18 pullups on the bar. I can manage 15 on the rings and 13 on the towel. I started experimenting with two towels the other day. I'll keep you all posted. I'll also let you know when I am chinning on kite string.

One last thing that I'd like to comment on is the thumb issue. I've heard and seen people doing pullups with an open grip, no thumb involved. The rationale is that they require less grip strength and they allow more reps. I personally use my thumb whenever possible because I believe it is important to strengthen the grip and I don't think that reps are the most important point of exercising. If your grip is weak, strengthen it! That being said, if your grip is weak and you still want to do pullups, then go ahead. It's still a good exercise. Or, if you can't get your hands around the bar (or roof rafter or tree limb) then use an open grip. Just my two cents. Do what works for you.

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