The pullup is one of the foundational movements in any functional fitness program. Along with air squats, situps, and pushups, we can categorize pullups into the "prison workout" regiment....those movements that a convict can do in the comfort of a tiny ill-equipped jail cell. Together, these exercises make for an unbelievably complete routine.
Fortunately for those of you cannot do a pullup, there's still hope!! haha Seriously, there are a few drills to help get that first (or second, or third) repetition.
Pullups had always been my least favorite exercise during grade school gym class. There were always those guys who could jump up there and whip out about 20. Not me. I was the guy who kicked and twisted until I got ONE. Not anymore.
I first used a gravitron-type machine to assist me. The gravitron (or leverage, or counter-balance) machine allows a person to add weight to off-set the weight of the person. For example, by adding 30-lbs to the machine, a 200-lb person is only pulling up 170-lbs. Big help!! The problem is that these machines are VERY costly. Unless your local gym has one, you probably won't have access to one.
Rubber assist bands by manufacturers such as Iron Woody are becoming more popular. These huge oversized rubber bands are wrapped around any pullup bar. The person can either stand or kneel on the band during pullups. The stored energy in the stretched rubber "assists" the person up. These are great tools because the inexpensive bands can be carried in a gym bag anywhere. A set of three resistance bands can be purchased for about $70.
Jumping pullups are pretty much exactly what they sound like: grab the bar, then jump to assist your "up." These are WAY harder than they sound.
The hardest part about partner-assist pullups is finding the partner. Many of us like to workout alone. But for those who can grab a partner, s/he can help lift a person doing pullups. What's really nice about these is how the assisting partner only uses as much assist effort as the participant needs. I've seen assisting partners grabbing crossed ankles , or even a waistline (both from behind the participant).
Here is the basic rule for getting better at pullups: Do them often. That is simple enough. There is no shortcut or easy way around it. I used to do my pullup sessions with as many unassisted reps as possible, and then transition into an assisted option. I was able to do more unassisted reps, and then cut the amount of assist. Now I'm doing virtually all unassisted pullups...soon to add weight! Something I never imagined in 5th grade gym class.
Lastly, do not be concerned with your grip. Whether you use chinup grip (palms towards) or traditional grip (palms away), or even a hammer grip (palms facing each other) or gym rings....just do pullups! Change your grip as necessary. I remind myself to change my grip and width of grip each time I jump off the bar. The next time I jump up to do a set, I use a different hold...and slightly different muscles.
In a later post I'll discuss some routines for pullups that have worked for me. Until then, keep your chin up!