Posts Tagged ‘Pull ups’

Hey man, how much do you bench?

If I was paid a pound every time I was asked this question, I’d be pretty rich by now.  For whatever reason, how much you can lift on the traditional barbell bench press seems to be the exercise that people use to measure how strong anyone that lifts weights is. It goes without saying that the bench press is an excellent compound exercise to build a strong and thick chest as well as develop the triceps and shoulders. However, to use it as the sole bench mark for how strong you are is a bit misleading. There is no point in being able to bench press 150kg for 20 reps but not be able to squat or deadlift even half that much. To be truly strong, you need to develop a good strength foundation in all the big lifts.  A strong bench press is only one part of the equation.

Yeah I agree, but I still want to bench press heavy weight!

Most guys, including me, want to be able to bench press heavy weights. I’ve always lagged behind in pressing movements such as the bench press and shoulder press despite making good gains in deadlifts and squats. So I set myself the goal of improving both my bench press and shoulder press. I’m not looking to be able to bench press 140kg for 10 reps over night, but have opted to make small increments over the next year in the hope that these small increments will accumulate into some impressive pressing this time next year. As well as making small increments to the weight, I’ve started to include some assistance exercises into my routine to help strengthen the supporting muscles such as the triceps and lats. By adding in some assistance work I’ve definitely noticed an improvement to my pressing exercises over the last four weeks, especially the standing overhead barbell press.

Blast your bench press with these assistance movements

1)      Advance range of motion push ups

2)      Pull ups

3)      Plyometric Push ups

4)      Recline Rows

5)      Dips

6)      Bodyweight tricep extension

7)      Partner handwalking

Some of the exercises above are a bit difficult to describe and are best illustrated with a video. The link below is actually the video where I first came across the body weight tricep extensions. These are tough but really great for building tricep strength which, in turn, has helped me improved my bench press and shoulder press.

In addition to the video above, it’s also worth checking out the Diesel Strength and Conditioning website as there is comprehensive guide on bench press technique as well tips on how to improve overall strength.

http://www.dieselsc.com/how-to-bench-press/

As always, make sure you warm up properly before attempting any of these exercises and don’t attempt them if you carrying any injuries!

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Whenever I get asked about a good exercise for the back, the first one I always suggest is the pull up. This is one of my favourite ‘go to’ exercises. Pull ups are great because, not only do they help you develop a muscular, strong and V-shaped back but they also hit your rear deltoids, blast your biceps and help your forearm and grip strength. They’re also brilliant because, providing you have a decent pull up bar, you don’t even need to go to the gym.

However, despite how awesome pull ups are for building upper body muscle and strength, I very rarely see people include them in their workouts. Now, if you are seriously heavy you’d be forgiven for using the excuse that your body weight is too much for you to lift. But even then, I don’t think body weight is really an excuse that most people should use. I’ve seen Olympic hammer throwers crank out 10 plus pull ups with added weights hanging around their waist. These are guys whose bodyweight alone is around 120kgs!

A lot of people obsess about how much they can bench press or bicep curl but many neglect the need to develop a strong back. A lot of guys will just do a few sets of half baked lat pull downs with a weight that is a fraction of their body weight. This isn’t going to help to build a strong back and arms.

But I can’t do pull ups, you say?

More often than not, when I suggest doing pull ups to build the back, the responses I get are “but pull ups are hard” or “I can’t do any pull ups” or “I can only do 3 pull ups”. Well, so what if they are hard or you can’t currently do any. That’s all the more reason to do them! Think about it, if you can’t do any now, but in a few weeks or even months have worked up to being able to do 10 or even more bodyweight or weighted pull ups, you’ll be much stronger and will have a strong muscular back and arms to show for it!

How to increase the number of pull ups you can

I’m pretty sure most of you know what a pull up is but just for clarity, I’m talking about the kind where you hang off a bar and pull your self up so that your chin is above the bar and your chest almost touches the bar. Use complete range of motion i.e. a complete rep is one where you start with your arms straight at the bottom postion and pull your self up so that your chin is above the bar and then back down again. The best way to increase the amount of pull ups you can do, and the technique I used is to do the following:

1)      Set your self a target such as 20 reps

2)      Start your first set and do as many pull ups as you can

3)      Rest for a minute

4)      Let’s say you performed 3 reps on the first set. You have 17 reps to go

5)      Continue to do more sets of pull ups until you have completed a total of 20 reps. Note down how many sets it took you to do 20 reps and how many reps in each set. For example you may do 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1 which is 10 sets.

6)      The next time you perform pull ups, your target is to do the 20 reps in less sets than last time. You also want try and do more reps in the first few sets. So you might do 7, 3, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1. As you can see, while the sets have remained the same, you managed 7 reps in the first set so it’s still an improvement

7)      Keep doing this at least twice a week until you can 20 reps in 2 sets of 10 reps or even better. Once you get to that point you can start thinking about using a belt to add weight for increased difficulty.

Band assisted pull ups

If you currently can’t do any pull ups and have really tried to do one, I mean really tried, then you can start by doing band assisted pull ups. These are a bit difficult to describe and are best illustrated by the video below. That isn’t me in the video by the way, its just one that I found on YouTube and demonstrates assisted pull ups well.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TindOf7zyXM

No more excuses

So now you have no excuse not to do pull ups. Include them in your workout and say hello to a bigger and stronger back coupled with bigger biceps, forearms and improved grip strength.

Opposing muscle Supersets to supercharge muscle gains

One of my favourite muscle and strength building tactics is to use supersets in my training.  Super sets are a great way to boost your muscle gains, build endurance and also get more done in the gym in less time!  On some days, if I’m pressed for time due to other commitments I will base my entire workout around supersets using opposing muscle groups

What is a superset?

A superset is one where you perform two exercises one after the other without resting in between. It is effectively combining two sets into one.  Generally people tend use supersets towards the end of their routine and combine exercises targeting a particular muscle group. For example, many people will perform a superset for triceps using close grip bench press immediately followed with an isolation movement such as cable tricep extensions.

Opposing Muscle supersets

Now, same muscle group supersets are great, but if you really want to turn up the intensity of your workouts and build some serious overall muscle, try incorporating supersets using only compound movements that utilise opposing muscle groups.

Not only will opposing muscle supersets allow you to get more done in less time, they can improve the circulation meaning that muscles can work more efficiently with more oxygen. You’ll also get an awesome pump and even find you can lift more and do more reps on the second exercise. Many a bench press personal bests have been set even when it has been performed immediately after a set of rows! I personally find that I often feel stronger on the second exercise than if I had started with it.

My favourite superset at the moment is weighted Pull ups + weighted dips. This is an awesome superset that hits the back and biceps and the chest and triceps. Sometimes I do the pull ups first and other times I’ll start with the dips. But whichever order I start with, it really leaves the muscles pumped. Seriously, try super setting with opposing muscle groups. You will really feel it working!

Another favourite superset of mine is barbell row followed immediately by bench press or vice versa.  Here are just a few examples of great opposing muscle supersets.  Remember, as with all exercises, only use a weight that you can do perfect form with to avoid injuries and get the most out the workout.

Opposing muscle superset examples

1)      Bench Press + Bent over barbell rows

2)      Bench press + Pull ups

3)      Barbell rows + Dips

4)      Pull ups + Dips

5)      Standing barbell shoulder press + pull ups

6)      Bicep curls + tricep extension

The possibilities are limitless so why not include supersets into your workout and see yourself pile on the lean muscle, get stronger and burn fat.