Sunday, May 29, 2011

Towels and Pullups

Refreshers never hurt anyone, right? For anyone who has read my blog for any length of time knows that I'm a huge-BEYOND HUGE- fan of pull-ups. Since I'm also a fan of BW progressions beyond simplistic increases in repetitions, I don't regularly grab a normal pull-up bar. There's always a twist to make the pull-up harder.

Most often, that twist is a towel.

Regular readers also know that I use towels when doing pull-ups a lot too. In a way, using towels with pull-ups put my blog on a lot of people's radar. In the past 18 months, I've picked up a lot of new readers so I figured it wouldn't hurt to go over what to do with towels when executing pull-ups.

For most of the towel pull-up crew, the standard method of doing them looks something like what Ross Enemait's doing here:

Always a great way to get things started. I had a slightly different approach. Instead, I decided to use one towel and go with a close grip. I can't imagine why nobody ever thought to add a supination of the wrist into towel pull-ups but I had never heard of anyone doing it before me:

Three years fly by! I did this video around the time the Perfect Pull-up hit the market. By this point, I had been doing this pull-up regularly for a year and while I knew that the PP was a good idea, I thought it was madness to pay that much money to get that extra movement. A towel does the job well enough. These also lend themselves very well to added weight too!

The towel-pull-up relationship doesn't end there...

A while back, I started playing with what I ended up dubbing ladder pull ups. I saw the idea from Ross Enemait's book, "Never Gymless". It's presented as a progression towards the one arm pull up and it's bad-ass as hell!

Of course, you need to work both sides. A year ago, I used to do a ton of these, supersetting with one-arm push-ups. It's a brutal combination!

The fun doesn't stop there. There is the most basic way to take the towel and make the pull-up way harder: just wrap it around the bar. Simple, just not easy. This is my favorite pull up lately and I typically like to thicken my bar up to 3-3.5 inches thick.

Oh, if you're also looking at a way to make chin-ups harder than pull-ups, doing them on a 3+ inch-thick bar is actually harder than doing a pull-up!

That's the beauty of the pull-up: progressing with it is literally as simple as a modification of the grip. Just something that simple completely changes the level of difficulty, often times dropping the total reps by half! There are all kinds of ornate pull-up bars out there in McFitness centers, doing nothing more than pulling towel-hanger duty. Little does anyone realize that a whole other dimension of pulling and chinning up to a bar is waiting for them to try out. Don't make the same mistake.


codedxxx said...

Yes! Back to basics!!! I was beginning to get tired of your kettlebell posts. Let me tell you a little secret... I learned towel pullups from your site and ever since then I found out:
1. It balances and equalizes arm size.
2. It builds crazy pulling strength.
3. Shapes and tones arms.
4. Builds massive traps.
5. Builds back and lats that can block out the sun.
6. Transfers to other kinds of pullups.
7. Builds a grip of steel.

In conclusion, I have never found any other pulling workout to substitute towel pullups. Thank you for showing me and I always recommend it to both bodyweight and weightlifting practitioners alike.

douglis said...

Do you feel that towel pull ups work your back harder or the added tension goes to forearms only?

Matt said...

thankss to codedxxx's comment and this blog post I have added towel pull ups to my routine again. I often struggle with these due to grip strength issues. I am finally realizing instead of avoiding the movement I just need to do it more often!!

Justin_PS said...

I wasn't sure if Codedxxx's comments are supposed to be excitement or mockery but I'm glad that people are realizing how well such a simple change like pulling and chinning off from towels can work so well!

Douglis, I think that it really depends on how you configure the towel. A closer grip, or the ladder configuration, puts the tension on the forearms much more. Most likely, the extra tension will be on the forearms.

Paul said...


I love your methods, love your shit, and want to ask you a question.

Email me.


Anonymous said...

Good post. Towel Pull Ups are awesome. Just so you know though, it's "supination" not "suplination." No "L" in the word.

Justin_PS said...

Yes, I'm aware of that. I wasn't back then when I did the vid-blog.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Just one question: what kind of towel do you use? It might not matter too much, but I'm a pretty big guy and want to make sure it's as secure as possible.

Thanks in advance.

Justin_PS said...

A good towel! If the towel feels cheap and thin, then don't use it.

Hand towels can take quite a beating. I've hung myself plus a 40 lbs backpack from one with no issue (about 210-220 lbs). If you have concerns, then double up the towel.

Bath towels are obviously going to be much more durable as well as hard to grip because of the greater girth.

bodyfitnest said...

I like towel pull ups for the fact that they replicate rope climbing very well. Easy and inexpensive way to set up "rope climbs" in a small amount of space.

I believe the equivelant to climbing a 15 foot rope is 10 towel pull ups..?? i could be wrong.

Justin_PS said...

It takes more than towels to make pull-ups close in training effect to rope climbing.

IMO, the switch grip pull-up is as close as it gets. Look it up on my blog.

Goldgym said...

Pullups is very hard exercise to do. But still if somebody wants to do they make sure about the tools or methods must be secure and beneficial. Gym towel plays vital role in this pullup exercise. Make sure these towels must not be looking cheap and thin. Their Grip supposed to be perfect.

andrei said...

what's that under the towel? I am looking for something similar to permanently thicken my pull up bar.