Since I started climbing, my yearly new year’s resolution has been to do an unassisted pull-up. Sadly, it took me 3 years to make my resolution a reality. Here are 3 mistakes I made in my training which, when corrected, allowed me to complete my goal of doing a for-real unassisted pull-up!
Mistake #1: Non-Specific Training
For the first two years, I was using climbing as my main source of upper-body training. I reasoned that since I was making progress in my climbing by climbing harder, I was getting stronger. In fact, most of my gains during this time were probably coming from learning technique.
Moral #1: Climbing is only good training for climbing. If you have a specific fitness goal, add some training specific to that goal.
Mistake #2: All or Nothing
When I set the goal of doing a pull-up, I didn’t know about the fitness concept of progressions. It didn’t occur to me to research easier exercises which worked the same muscles I would need to be able to do a pull-up. I would try pull-ups sometimes, always with the same embarrassing failure to pull my body up even a little bit. This was disheartening, and it didn’t get me any closer to my goal.
My (successful) progression of intermediate exercises went like this:
Eccentric Only Lowering -> Flexed Arm Hangs -> Band-Assisted Pull-Ups -> Awesome!
Okay, maybe not that last one. For a really great description of technique and options for intermediate exercises and for a thorough debunking of all your excuses for not being able to do a pull-up, check out Tony Gentilcore’s 3 part opus on the subject of pull-up progressions.
Moral #2: Don’t expect to magically wake up and do a pull-up. Find a progression you like and start following it.
Mistake #3: Once-a-day Workouts
When I started eccentric only pull-ups, my max was about 3 in a set, and I could usually only do 2-3 sets. You can get in a lot more training volume if you train multiple times a day, while still allowing your body to recover. A friend of mine had an over-the-door frame pull-up bar, so I borrowed his for a while and started doing my intermediate exercises in the morning and at night. Tony explains this better than I can in his post, but I’ll give it a shot. Basically–since a pull-up is max effort when you can almost or barely do one, sometimes you can’t do enough in one training session to get better as fast as you want. Doubling up lets you recover to do more volume.
Moral #3: Train more than once a day for faster results .
And that’s it! Before you know it, you’ll be banging out more reps than I can. It won’t be too hard–I’ve been on the road all summer and haven’t been training, so my max is still stuck right at 1 rep.
Climber ladies–can you do a pull-up? How many? Spray about your buff biceps in the comments!