I have a rule when working with new athletes on pull-ups. I ask them to “just say no” to bands. Bands are much like drugs in that once a person gets hooked, it is difficult to get them off.
You may have inadvertently gotten yourself hooked on these little strips of rubber with the best of intentions. But I’m going to explain the three reasons you need to break this habit, and how doing so will help you and your pull-ups be stronger.
Bands Provide Inconsistent Assistance
The intent of banded pull-ups is a good one. It provides assistance to the athlete so he or she can get the chin or chest to the bar. It is a cheap alternative to the expensive machine that provides a counterweight applied to the person’s legs or knees to assist him or her (sometimes called a Gravitron machine). But as the cliché goes, you get what you pay for.
The banded pull-up is like a spotter that is sometimes overly attentive and at other times not paying attention at all. Imagine someone spotting you on a bench press and at the bottom position, he yanks on the bar for you. At the top position, he is off checking his phone. The banded pull-up is similar in how it assists people.
The Solution – Get a Spotter
If you want to perform assisted pull-ups, get a spotter. A spotter will be able to provide more optimal assistance by giving you enough assistance in your sticky spots so you can finish the movement and gain strength. In many group classes, it might be difficult to have spotters, but a team workout where one member is working and the other is spotting could be an alternative.
Bands Should Only Complement the Resistance Curve
In compensatory acceleration training of the squat, the athlete uses bands attached to the ground to provide greater resistance in the top part of the exercise where the movement is easier. With this technique, we learn to accelerate through our lifts, which helps us lift heavier things. In banded pull-ups, we are doing the opposite by giving assistance in all the wrong places.
The bottom of the pull-up is where we need to start from a dead stop. We have no momentum and our leverage is at its worst. Sounds like a perfect place to help, right? Well, yes – but only if you don’t want to build strength. The places we struggle are where we build the most strength. The bottom of a banded pull-up is like a jumping device for babies. It might be entertaining and fun, but it is not the optimal way to build strength.
Many people are as happy as infants when they start doing banded pull-ups. But you should treat them like a highly addictive drug and stay away.
The Solution – Do Jumping Pull Ups
You can break through strength plateaus by getting stuck in the toughest positions. We do box squats to practice being stuck in the bottom. Thus, I would suggest jumping pull-ups, which simply involve jumping up on the bar and slowly lowering yourself down. The key is in resisting on the way down.
“A more advanced person could do pauses at his or her sticky points. This controlled and slow descent will build pull up strength much faster than bands.”
In a workout, you can figure out how long each descent should be and shoot for time on the way down as the goal (e.g., each round will have five reps of two seconds on the way down). Don’t count reps where you don’t hold for the specified time. It will be much better for you in the long run if you don’t rush on the way down. A more advanced person could do pauses at his or her sticky points. This controlled and slow descent will build pull up strength much faster than bands.
Get Rid of the Bands
The third reason is a sub-reason of the last one. If you are not creating strength in the right part of the strength curve, then you will have a difficult time getting off bands. The idea is that a person will progress from heavier to lighter bands. However, this progression seems to move too slowly and see people doing banded push-ups for years. For the majority of people, we can often get their first pull-up within a month with the proper training.
The Solution – Grease the Groove
As a person attempting your first pull up, more volume can be helpful. A greasing-the-groove type of program might be perfect for some. Every hour or so, do a few jumping pull-ups with a slow descent. If you can’t do them throughout the day, do them every day. A low daily volume over frequent days adds up to impressive gains.
Ring Rows Are a Better Alternative for Beginners
Ring rows are great for a beginning athlete. The movement is easily scaled by moving the feet forward or backward and/or bending the knees.
In many aspects of CrossFit and other conditioning programs, we do a lot of pressing movements (overhead presses, bench press, push ups). The pull up winds up being one of our only pulling movements. The pull up is great, but it is also good to change the angle of the pull to build up the muscles of the back, the rotator cuff, and around the scapula. I recommend ring rows or some type of bent-over row for everyone in order to create balance in muscular development and to support shoulder health.
Another similar option is to place a bar in the rack. You can then do pull ups with your feet outstretched in front to provide assistance (i.e., a nice tight plank with the feet taking away some of the weight of the body).
“I recommend ring rows or some type of bent-over row for everyone in order to create balance in muscular development and to support shoulder health.”
As the saying goes (I may have it slightly wrong), friends don’t let friends do banded pull-ups. Bands are like drugs. Please don’t get hooked on them.
The only time a band would be appropriate is if the bands are attached to something on the floor and providing resistance. That is a great use of bands as it gives the most resistance at the top of the movement and teaches explosiveness on the way up.
But if your goal is to build strength for strict pull-ups, I recommend ring rows and jumping pull-ups with slow descents. These exercises will build strength much more quickly for the pull-up.
The kettlebell swing is a fundamental skill that is great for beginner to advanced athletes. It has almost magical properties, in that it increases strength in many domains. Part of this “what the hell effect” is related to reversing the momentum of the kettlebell. Athletes even note increases in pull-up strength as a proper swing engages back and shoulder muscles.
In this article, we will discuss the hard-style swing popularized by Pavel Tsatsouline. The Girevoy Sport style swing is a great exercise that relies on the efficiency of movement so that one can perform it for long durations. The hard-style swing relies on putting maximum effort into each rep. It emphasizes explosiveness over efficiency.
In the video below, you can see a proper, explosive kettlebell swing.
Key Kettlebell Swing Components
There are key points to remember in the kettlebell swing:
Hinge, don’t squat: The swing is a simple exercise that is done wrong in so many popular media sources. It is not a squat movement, but a hip-hinge movement. That means that the hips go back (hinge), and the knees only bend slightly (they bend fully in a squat). Think about this position as a jump. If you try to jump forward as far as possible, the bottom position is the same position that you use at the bottom of the kettlebell swing.
Be explosive with the hips, not the arms: The swing is a ballistic movement. If you think of a bullet fired out of a gun, it receives all of its power initially and then relies on momentum to get to its destination. The same goes for the swing. The hips provide the explosive power throwing the kettlebell up in the air and the arms are there just for the ride. Do not worry about how high the kettlebell goes. Your goal is to let it float up once the hips have used up their power.
Protect the back: Do not let the kettlebell pull the lower back into a bad position at the bottom of the swing. Pull your shoulders back and down to engage your lats. I like to approach the kettlebell like a gorilla with my arms out. By keeping my upper back tight, I provide more protection to my lower back.
Location on the downswing is important: Ensure the kettlebell passes between your legs on your upper thighs. As Dave Whitley says, it is like playing chicken with your man or lady parts. Wait until the last second to hinge back and let the kettlebell go between your upper thighs. If you find your forearms hitting your lower thighs, you are putting too much strain on the lower back.
Use the right weight: If you are proficient with your swing, a heavier weight will build more explosive power. A 24kg (53lb) kettlebell for men and 16kg (35lb) kettlebell for women will work fine for most people. Stronger men can use a 32kg bell (70lb), and stronger women can use a 20kg bell (44lb). Adjust the weight according to your experience and proficiency with the kettlebell. The key is to be explosive, so don’t jump too high in weight yet.
Troubleshooting the Swing
There are some common problems that we see in beginners. The first issue is that people tend to either squat too much or don’t bend their knees at all (like a bird drinking water). I often have people kneel and then sit back on their feet.
This will position the person for what they want to do with the swing. As mentioned above, it is like a jump. One does not start a jump from a full squat nor without bending the knees. It is mostly the hips going back with a slight knee bend.
A Tool for Every Athlete
The kettlebell swing is one of my go-to exercises for all athletes, beginner to advanced. It is simpler to teach than Olympic barbell movements and it provides overlapping benefits (strength, speed, and explosiveness). It also fits the middle ground of building strength and burning fat.
By adjusting the weight, we can train elite deadlifters or fitness models. One of the most underrated features is how it builds the glutes. Strong glutes have aesthetic properties, but also protect the low back from injury. By doing a proper kettlebell swing, we reduce the chance of low back injuries.
For an easy program using kettlebell swings, try this hybrid conditioning program. It utilizes the kettlebell swing to build power, strength, as well as burn fat. The kettlebell swing may not be the only tool, but it provides many benefits that it is one of my go-to tools.
“Everyone loves the Turkish getup. Except me. But they are so darn good for me I do them anyway. I do 20 per week usually with my snatch weight bell but sometimes just with a shoe… the Turkish get up is the cod liver oil of exercise lifts.” – Gary Music
He’s right. The get-up is good for you, but it also leads to frequent expressions of disgust. This article will outline the benefits for get-ups, provide progressive steps and tips for performance, and suggest basic programming in attempts to motivate you to incorporate this movement into your weekly training routine.
Benefits of the Get-Up
We need a reminder of why certain things are good for us, especially if they taste a little sharp. Some of the distaste associated with training the get-up may be that it seems too complicated and the investment to learn the exercise outweighs the obvious rewards. The get-up may not be as trendy as dynamic barbell movements, but I can assure you that its benefits are definitely worth your time.
Here is why you should care about the get-up:
Shoulder stability and mobility: The get-up is preventative medicine for your upper body. Holding a kettlebell overhead builds stability and mobility for your shoulders. Additionally, heavy get-ups will lead to pleasant surprises in your pressing strength.
Thoracic extension and rotation: We do a number of exercises in the horizontal and vertical planes, but not many that call for rotation. The get-up builds rotational strength and patterning that is helpful for athletes.
Linking motor patterns: The get-up builds bodily awareness and trains patterns that translate across athletic endeavors. This type of patterning is not available from bilateral exercises alone. Brandon Hetzler describes how the get-up mimics many of our developmental movement patterns such as rolling and crawling. Hetzler and other noted rehabilitation specialists, such as Gray Cook, use the get-up to rebuild proper movement patterns.
Functionality: Getting off the ground is arguably the most functional of exercises.
Step 1: One-arm Press
From the fetal position, roll onto your back and press the kettlebell up with your right arm.
Keep your free hand over the right hand for extra stability.
Your right knee is bent and your left leg is flat on the ground at a 45-degree angle from your body.
Your left arm is positioned on the ground at a 45-degree angle from your body. Note: The 45-degree angle is a starting point and will vary depending on your torso and arm length.
Lock your eyes on the kettlebell and keep them there for the next few steps.
Step 2: To the Elbow
This step is often the most difficult because many people mistakenly just try to do a sit up. Keeping your torso as stiff as possible and your shoulders back and down, exert force into your right leg and left elbow to extend your right arm to the ceiling and rotate yourself up. This step is like throwing a punch. When you throw a punch, you don’t move your shoulder first and then rotate your body. Rather, your whole body rotates to extend the arm.
Step 3: To the Palm
This step is relatively easy. Keep your shoulders down and back, and imagine a straight line from the kettlebell (right hand) to the ground (your left hand). You want that line to be as solid as possible.
Step 4: Low Sweep or High Bridge
Mark Cheng introduced the high bridge to the TGU as a tool to open up the hips so the left leg can sweep through. When you are in the high bridge position, your body will form a tripod with the sweep leg and left arm, and the right foot will be directly below the kettlebell.
Step 5: To the Knee
Next, sit your hips back to bring yourself into a kneeling position. Your left leg will be at a 90-degree angle to your right leg. Pivot your left leg around like a windshield wiper so it is aligned with your front leg. Your gaze will now shift to the horizon instead of the kettlebell.
Step 6: Lunge Up
The lunge seems like a simple step, but treat it just like a squat in that you don’t want your knee to travel past the toes or track inward.
The Way Down
So much effort is spent figuring out how to get up that understanding how to get back down is often an afterthought. Here are important tips to make getting down easier.
Control the descent. It’s not a race to the finish, so remain as tight and organized as you were on the way up.
People often forget which leg initiates the decent. Use your free hand as a guide to tap the leg that will go back.
From the knee, remember to “windshield wiper” the back leg 90-degrees. Rather than falling and finding the ground with your hand, this position allows you to hinge you hips back and use your hand to gently find the ground.
One of my favorite programs for the get is Pavel Tsatsouline’s Simple and Sinister program. When I have used the program in the past, my deadlift and press have gotten stronger.
Here is the protocol (add more rest to build up to this goal):
5 Minutes: 20 swings per minute
1 minute: Rest
10 Minutes: 1 get-up per minute (alternate sides each minute)
You Don’t Have to Like Get-Ups
Spend time watching the videos to build your proficiency at the get-up. You might still dislike the movement, but as with most things that are difficult, it’s worth the effort. You’ll be surprised at how much stronger and more durable your shoulders feel, even if you do the exercise without weights. Ten get-ups a day, four times a week is optimal, but your recommended dosage will vary on your needs. Make sure you get in your weekly dosage of get-ups and over time, your face might not scrunch up in disgust.