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Posts Tagged ‘pull-ups’

Training the Curl for Increased Performance and Injury Prevention

Friday, September 14th, 2012


Bicep Curls for Increased Performance and Injury Prevention

The first part of the title of this post might sound like the biggest oxymoron ever stated.

After all, what in the world can Curls possibly do for your performance?

I am about to line all that up for you right now.

You see, for the last few weeks I have been working on a project that will come out soon about arm training, and during all of the preparation, I have been trying out new things with my arm training, new lifts, new variations, and new modifications, etc…

Because I have been “studying” arms so much, I have been putting in more time training the arms, and also as a result, they have gotten stronger, and I have also seen excellent results in other parts of my training, especially my Pull-up work.

What Have I Been Doing

Now, I am not down there hitting arms for 2 hours straight, multiple times a week, but it is safe to say I am doing arm training at least once a week every single week for the past month and a half, AND on some occasions I have hit them twice in the same week.

Also, I am not just down in the gym banging away on Bicep work. The Triceps makes up far more of the upper arm than the Biceps, so a lot of my arm work has been Triceps based, but I am also getting my fair share of Bicep work in.

In addition to all of this experimentation and manipulating my arm training, there has been one additional training factor that seems to have been very beneficial, and that is, surprisingly enough, testing myself in the 1 Rep Max Dumbbell Curl.

I first started doing this when Josh Dale introduced the Rob Vigeant Dumbbell Curl Challenge, which was to lift 100-lbs in strict fashion on the dumbbell curl. I thought this would be fun, so I tried it out and to my surprise I was able to get a 75-lb Curl. It is hard to believe that it was almost a year ago when this challenge came out.

When my long-time friend Kyle trained with me earlier this summer, we tried out the Max Dumbbell Curl just for fun, and I was happy to see that I had retained much of my strength, even after several months where I did not try a max curl.

Two weeks ago, I tested myself again for a max lift, this time using a dumbbell with extra weight stuck to it with a magnet. During that workout, I was able to get 84-lbs left handed.

This week, I was able to move my mark up even further, hitting 85.5-lbs.

Other Improvements I Have Seen

Again, the 1RM Dumbbell Curl is not some kind of major focus in my training. There just happens to be a fun challenge list going on right now, and it has served well as a tester for my current Bicep strength.

However, the most important thing about this is not the amount of weight I am putting up in the Bicep Curl – oooh, woopty-doo, right?

The biggest benefit I have seen, and this is where the “Performance” aspect comes in that is reference in the title, has been my Pull-up Performance.

Now, we all know, or at least we should, that the Pull-up is one of the best exercises for building the upper back. It is a great bench mark of strength for athletes, students (scholastic fitness tests) and even the Military incorporates Pull-ups into their testing and training protocols. The Pull-up is or should be a major part of your training.

I have stated before that I do all kinds of versions of the Pull-up, and most recently I have fallen in love with training on the Rogue Dog Bone <= See some of my recent training here. This thing is just a sick piece of training gear. When I started out, I could barely get 2 reps with this thing, but I have been seeing great increases here. Also, my regular Pull-ups are kicking ass as well (I do my conventional pull-ups on Perfect Pullup Handles).

I have been training my conventional Pull-ups with somewhat of a Ladder approach, especially when Kyle is here. He and I will start with one Pull-up apiece and follow one another, each time increasing our rep-count by one repetition, up to 5, and then back down. It looks like this:

Jedd – 1, Kyle – 1
Jedd – 2, Kyle – 2
Jedd – 3, Kyle – 3
Jedd – 4, Kyle – 4
Jedd – 5, Kyle – 5
Jedd – 5, Kyle – 5
Jedd – 4, Kyle – 4
Jedd – 3, Kyle – 3
Jedd – 2, Kyle – 2
Jedd – 1, Kyle – 1

Pretty basic, but also pretty demanding, given the fact that we only rest the amount of time that it takes for us to step away from the Pull-up Bar, and wait for the other guy to finish his reps.

The first time Kyle and I did this, which was in May, I believe, I needed serious spots from him to finish out many of my sets once I hit the 3-rep mark, and up until I got back to the 2-rep mark in the Ladder.

Kyle missed about 2 solid months of training due to a job change, but when he did return, I had only trained this ladder a couple of times on my own, but the day we did this together again, I only needed spots on my last rep during my 4-rep sets and my last two reps during my 5-rep sets.

I’d estimate that within 3 weeks I will be able to finish this ladder all by myself without any spots. This is a huge improvement and I think the increased arm work has played just as big of a role in this improvement as my recent concerted efforts toward improving my Pull-up abilities.

I will branch off a bit here and say this. If all the arm work has helped my Pull-ups so much, what could also be the effects if I focused a bit more on Log Cleans or Stones (I honestly haven’t been doing those as much as I want). It is possible I could see improvements in other Biceps-involved lifts as well. It’s also possible that you could too! Something to think about for sure.

If You Are Not Training Arms Seriously…

I know there are a handful of people out there who either do not train their Biceps or do so half-assed. I know this because I have heard it said many times, especially by Strongman competitors and those who perform a great deal of Rowing movements. The reasoning, so they say, is that since they are constantly lifting Stones, Logs, and doing all the Rows, that they are getting enough Bicep work in already.

After these last few weeks of increased arm training and seeing the results it has brought, I encourage you to re-think your approach to arm training, especially if you have been skipping Bicep Training or if when you do it you only hit a few token sets just to “get some work in.”

Another Reason Why Direct Bicep Work is Important

If bigger numbers and more reps in Pulling movements is not enough to make you consider adding arm training back into your routine, I have two more things that I feel must be discussed about the benefits of specific arm training.

First off, even though Rows, Log Cleans, and other similar lifts work the Biceps through elbow flexion, you still are not getting the same intensity as if you are truly aiming for growth and strength increases in the Biceps.

Secondly, with Rowing movements and Log Clean, the forearm does not supinate, which is another movement pattern that the Biceps are responsible for.

My fear is not that if you neglect Biceps training that you will hold back your performance on Pull-ups, Rows, Log Cleans, or any other movement where the Biceps are involved (although to a degree, that will happen). Rather, I’m more interested in keeping all of you safe and injury free.

It Happened Right Before My Eyes

In August, I watched a Bicep tear take place right before my eyes during a Grip Contest, of all things. Competitor, John Wojciechowski, tore his Biceps Tendon performing a normally straight-arm-style event called the Adjustable Thick Bar Lift. I actually thought he ripped the seat of his pants, and it was so loud the camera even picked up the noise.

In no way am I saying the reason John got hurt due to lack of training the Biceps. I don’t know much about John’s past training except that he has put up some very nice general strength training videos as well as impressive gripper and bolt bending videos.

I am only saying that lack of training parts of the body, like the Biceps, can lead to weaknesses and imbalances. Weknesses and Imbalances can lead to injuries, and after watching Wojo tear his Bicep tendon, that was enough for me. I don’t ever want to see it again or learn that one of you had it happen either.


So, major take-aways from this post:

1. The Biceps assist in many other training movements, not just Curls. Pull-ups, Rows, Logs, Stones are all examples.

2. Having Strong and well-conditioned Biceps can lead to improved performance in other lifts which are very beneficial toward over-all strength and performance, especially Pull-ups, which I have seen in my own training.

3. Make sure to train the Biceps intensely. No need to go overboard, but don’t neglect them either. Although some of you may be turned of by “Show Muscles” or “Beach Muscles” remember to strengthen all links in the chain.

4. It’s not always about Strength. Sometimes Injury Prevention is even more important. My friend, Wojo, is going to experience some down time due to his injury. Down time SUCKS.

Keep these things in mind as you train. All the best with your training and stay injury free.


Labor Day Q & A

Monday, September 3rd, 2012


Happy Labor Day. I hope you get the chance to enjoy some nice time with your friends or family. I made sure to get up early as usual and get some work done before enjoying the beautiful day.

I also got in a session with my only personal training client, Mark. He loves training, so I never have a problem working with him. He comes in, kicks his own ass, and loves every second of the training I put him through.

I thought I would take the time to answer some questions I have gotten recently. I figured I’d start with the hardest one to answer/admit.

Q: Jedd, what ever happened to your muscle-up goal? I remember something you posted a long time ago but haven’t seen anything since.

A: The truth is, I have not trained the muscle-up in quite some time. It just got to be too big of a pain in the neck to set everything up. My old squat rack was extremely light, so I had to load all this extra weight on the other side to keep it from tipping. In one workout, I buggered up my shoulder a bit, so I avoided the movement for a while. I was still hitting the same heights once it was feeling better though, so the time off didn’t really hurt me or hinder my progress.

Then, I came to realize that if I ever did complete the muscle-up, I’d probably either crack my head open or break my neck on the ceiling. It never registered how close I was coming to the structure above, so when I was training it, I was moving the cage over to the car-portion of the garage. One thing led to another and I began bagging the training. That was late 2010, so it’s been almost two years.

What I have been continuing to do is many versions of Pull-ups. I have used many different handles, added weight, changed tempos, etc. Below is a video of me working on the Rogue Fitness Dog Bone. This thing is sick. The only thing tougher to do Pull-ups on is the Globe.

I have used the Dog Bone for my Pull-ups several times over the last few weeks. This is unlike conventional Pull-ups or Chins in many ways:

1. Open Hand Grip: You can’t help but build hand strength with this device. You can’t get a wrap around the handles because they are so large.

2. Intense Chest Compression: Your upper arms end up adducted and it brings in the pectoralis muscles in much more than regular pull-ups/chin-ups.

3. Wrist Component: Having the hands on top of the globes like in the video lights the wrists and forearms up like a Christmas tree. If your wrists are a weakness in your sport, you should try this piece out.

I could only do two reps when I first started hitting these. Now my best is 6 reps with no weight added, and I have already moved up to adding a 25-lb plate, as you’ll see in the video.

I love doing Pull-ups and Chins, and I will eventually master the Muscle-up. But for right now, I am enjoying the Rogue Equipment too much. After trying them for about a month and a half, I am perfectly comfortable recommending them. Check out their catalog here.

Someone said they heard that Rogue’s equipment was of crappy quality. I don’t see how they can think that, judging by what I have used. While it isn’t covered in chrome and is more Johnny Cash style of equipment, I don’t see any flaws with the gear and I see no weak points. Every indicator is that this stuff will last for a long time.

This next question was not asked directly to me. It was on the Gripboard. But, I have been asked this question many times so I thought I’d post it here as well.

Q: [I want to get better at Double Overhand Bending.] But, for now, reverse bending with the bar at or above shoulder height seems to be considerably easier than any other style. Especially with the bar in close to my shoulder.

My question – is this considered a legit form for bending or is it considered sloppy or cheating? Am I wasting time continuing to kink in this manner? Is it smarter to transition to DO sooner rather than later?

A. First off, let’s just quickly define the major bending techniques.

Double Overhand Technique

There is Double Overhand where the hands are placed at the end of the bar/bolt/nail. The hands are positioned between a pronated and neutral position, then the ends of the bar are bent down into an inverted U-shape.

Double Underhand Technique

There is Double Underhand, where the hands are placed at the ends of the bar, but now they are oriented between supination and neutral, then the bar is bent into a U-shape.

Reverse Style Bending

Finally, there is also Reverse style, where the hands are oriented in neutral and then slightly deviated, with one hand “overhand” and the other “underhand.” A completed bend is when the angle of the bar reaches 40-degress and there is usually a time limit involved.

Each of these styles have their own benefits and shortcomings. Double Over and Double Under can be used to bring more upper body strength into the execution, which generally leads to bigger bends. Reverse, however, is one that is much more “pure grip strength,” testing the wrist and forearm more intently, although not entirely.

However, if you have mobility issues and are unable to get into the positions, then you will also be unable to benefit from the two power positions. Some people, like the person who asked the question, then must find other ways to start the first part of the bend, called the kink.

One of the main guys that got me inspired to try bending back in 2002/2003 was Pat Povilaitis. He said that he used to get bends started with Reverse until his shoulders and torso loosened up enough to get into a good position for the DO Kink. So, that is what I did as well for the first few years, eventually bending a Red Nail with a Reverse Kink and then a DO finish.

So, I was in the same boat as the person who asked this question.

Is a Reverse Kink cheating or sloppy technique? No way. Actually, for most people, Reverse is much harder that DO or DU, so getting the bend started with Reverse and then transitioning to a stronger style to finish is no problem whatsoever.

During the time where you need to use both techniques in order to fully bend a nail, it is a good idea to work on figuring out what is keeping you from getting into the DO Power Position. Are your arms so big that they don’t allow you to bring the bar up high? Are your shoulders so tight that you can pull them back? Are your pecs and biceps too tight? Is your upper back weak? Are your triceps tight? Is it a fascial issue?

All of these are possible explanations why someone would have trouble getting into the DO Power Position. Addressing these issues will help you get into the position.

However, my friend, Jason Steeves, pointed out that there are limitations in the height you can bend the bar in most cases. The writer mentions bending the bar at or above shoulder height. The cut-off for most bending lists are head height. This is something to watch.

The reason there is a cut-off, I believe, is to limit the engagement of the lats in the bend. This keeps the emphasis on wrist strength. By practicing the technique and focusing intently on the lats, you can still get them involved in the bend. However, the most important point here is that if you are bending for a certain list or certification, you should practice the way you will be required to bend for that list. Some lists require the use of very small pads, limiting the amount of force that can be exerted into the ends of the bar. Others require very thin wraps, reducing padding and heightening the factor of pain tolerance.

However, in my experience, if you perform a Reverse Bend and keep the bar above your head the entire time without arching your back, the bend seems much harder. That could just be me though. I know if I paint something with my arm straight up in the air for more than ten seconds, it feels like my arm is going to die. This has been ever since the late 90’s long before I ever tried bending, strongman or any other non-conventional training methods. I am left only to blame this issue on bad genetics and playing baseball…

For more detailed Bending Technique instruction, you should check out my Nail Bending eBook. It breaks every one of thee techniques down for you, plus it covers some other lesser common bending styles.

This last one comes from YouTube. I put up a video about a year ago where I talk about increasing deadlift grip, and I mentioned that Fat Bar Training is not always the best way to go about it. I got the following question:

Q: So are Fat Gripz a waste of money then?

A: Fat Gripz are absolutely NOT a waste of money. They allow you to turn dozens of exercises into thick bar exercises almost instantly without buying or building axles or thick handle loadable dumbbells. Plus, I think they will survive an atomic bomb blast, so they are a safe investment.

My point in that video was this. If your grip fails when doing Deadlifts, you need to train specifically for improving your Deadlift Grip.

The Deadlift Grip (for most people) is an alternated grip on a thin bar. In most cases, the time under tension requirement for the pull overwhelms your grip endurance. For most people, this means they need to train holding more weight for longer periods of time, or you need to finish your deadlift faster so that you don’t reach your grip strength endurance threshold.

In many cases, when people train with a thicker bar, the size difference is so substantial that it trains the hands in a slightly different way. Obviously, the same muscles are being worked, but the orientation of the hands and loading are different. Going from a one-inch bar to a 2-inch or even 2.5 or 3-inch bar could end up being too big of a size difference to get good carryover back to deadlifting on a regular bar.

Aside from working with a heavier barbell to load the hands specifically, I also suggest wearing some leather work gloves while deadlifting in that video. This increases the perceived size of the bar. The bar itself doesn’t change, but the fact that the glove material sits between your fingers and the bar keeps the fingers slightly more open so the bar seems slightly larger. The same effect can be gotten by wrapping a towel over the bar and gripping it, but it slipped my mind to mention this because I was driving. You can see the video I am talking about here.

Will thick bar training improve hand strength? Absolutely. It is a great way to train for general hand strength. However, I think the best way to bring your deadlifting support strength up is by doing work of a more specific nature.

That’s all for now. I was going to answer more questions, but this post got big in a hurry, so I will make sure to answer more down the line. Feel free to leave comments with any questions you might have.

Stay tuned for future posts. Sign up for my free newsletter below.

All the best in your training.


How to Train for a One Arm Pull-up

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Training for a One Arm Pull-up

This is a guest post by Al Kavadlo, author of Stretching Your Boundaries, Flexibility Training for Extreme Calisthenic Strength

Since my formative years, I have found the pull-up to be a fun and fascinating phenomenon. It’s one of the best and most basic tests of strength, plus it puts the little guys on a level playing field with the big boys.

The single arm variation takes the pull-up to a whole new stratosphere. Performing a one arm pull-up requires an elite level of strength and control; learning to do one takes patience and humility. If you are going to embark on this journey, be ready to work hard.

You’ve Gotta Believe

Several years ago, a client of mine asked me if I’d ever seen anyone do a pull-up with one arm. I held up my hand, grabbed my opposite wrist and asked him, “ya mean like this?”

“No,” he said, “without the other hand assisting at all.” I told him I hadn’t, then I said something I haven’t said again since, “I don’t think it’s even possible.”

A lot has changed since that conversation, both in my training, and more importantly, in my philosophy. I’m a believer now, having seen many seemingly impossible feats of strength performed right before my eyes. I’ll never forget the first time I saw someone do a one arm pull-up. It was a game-changer.

Getting Started

Before you even think about training to do a one arm pull-up, you should be able to do at least 15-20 standard pull-ups with strict form. Once you’ve got that foundation, there are several effective methods to use to work towards a one arm pull-up.

One Arm Flex Hang

The first step is doing a one arm flex hang. Pull yourself up with both arms, let one go and try to stay up. Start with an underhand grip before you worry about going overhand. Don’t feel bad if you drop right away in the beginning; hardly anyone can do this on their first try.

After you can hold a one arm flex hang for a couple of seconds, the next step is doing a one arm negative by slowly lowering yourself from having your chin over the bar to a dead hang at the bottom. Be prepared to drop quickly the first time you try to do a one arm negative. When starting out, don’t even think of it as a negative, just try to lower yourself an inch or two. Gravity will take care of the rest.

One-Arm Negative

The Self Assist

Archer Pull-up

Once you can do controlled negatives, start practicing self assisted one arm pull-ups. There are a few ways you can do this. My favorite is the archer pull-up, which involves assisting your primary arm by resting your secondary arm on the top of the bar. This will give you added stability but will still place most of the burden on your primary arm.

Gripping Nearby Object to Spot Yourself

You can also give yourself an assist by grabbing the poles (or door frame) that support your pull-up bar. If your setup doesn’t allow for this, you can spot yourself by draping a towel over the bar and holding it tightly while pulling yourself up with your other arm.

Other Considerations

L-Sit on Parallets

While you obviously need your arm to be strong, you also need tremendous core strength to do a one arm pull-up. When you are practicing your one arm flex hangs, negatives, and self-assists, remember to keep your abs engaged. Exercises like planks, side planks and L-sits are great to help build the core stability to perform a one arm pull-up.

Take Note of the Out-Stretched Left Arm

Due to the shape of your body, your legs will naturally sway to one side during a one arm pull-up and you’ll likely wind up rotating a bit on the way up. You might find it helpful to extend your free arm away from your body for balance.

Training Frequency

One great thing about lifting your body weight is that you tend to recover faster than with free weights. I’d heard about “greasing the groove” with bodyweight exercises, and since I worked in a gym, I started training one arm negatives and hangs throughout the day. Unfortunately, just when I started to get close, I began developing pain in my elbows. I took a break from training one arm pull-ups for several weeks – there are always bumps in the road. Finally after almost a year of practice, I got my first one arm pull-up in July of 2008. The one arm pull-up is a fickle mistress, however; It was almost three months before I repeated the feat.

I’ve been training for one arm pull-ups and chin-ups for over three years now and I’m still kept humble by it. On a good day, I can get a couple of reps, but some days I still struggle to even hold a flex hang for more than a few seconds. Thankfully, I haven’t had joint pain lately, due to a consistent stretching routine and knowing when to rest.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t practice one arm pull-ups throughout the day if you have a bar in your doorway (or work at a gym). I still advocate the idea of “greasing the groove” to build the proper neurological patterns, but I advise you to ease in slowly. Rest is also an important part of the process.

No matter where you are now in your fitness journey, if you proceed with diligence and dedication, the one arm pull-up is within your grasp. Stay hungry and focused, you might even exceed your expectations.

Al Kavadlo, CSCS, is a personal trainer, freelance writer and author of the book, We’re Working Out! A Zen Approach to Everyday Fitness. For more information visit

Want more Killer Info on Pull-ups from Al? Check out this post = > All Kinds of Pull-ups.

Power Combos for Big Muscle Fast

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

"I want more weight, I want to beat him"

Lou Ferrigno probably had one of the biggest, best backs in bodybuilding back in the 70’s.  He was just a massive dude all around.  Here is a pic of him doing some bent over rows.  One of the best mass builders for the upper back, along with pull-ups.


Ultimate Upper Body Strength and Power – MUSCLE UPS

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Would You Help Coach Me to a Muscle-Up???

Ever since I started seriously training for size and strength, I enjoyed trying new training methods. I just plain love training and learning new things.

I also like to take things to the extreme. I guess it’s the way I was brought up. You either do something for real, or you don’t do it.

My dad would say when I was a kid: “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.”

Well, I took that to mean work your ass off until you’re successful.