How to Be Awesome at the Bar…

How to Be Awesome at the Bar by Shawna Kaminski

Yes, you read that correctly. I’m all about ‘awesome-ness’ at the bar.

The pull up bar that is.

That changes things considerably.

Hmmm, pull ups.

Probably the single most difficult body weight movement there is.

Why would you want to do them in the first place?

Here are 5 cool reasons why you should challenge yourself to master the pull up:

1.    The pull up is the ultimate challenge that less than 5% of the general population can do. The pull up is powerful from that standpoint alone.

2.    With some imagination, you can do the pull up anywhere. Find a doorframe or playground outside, simply ‘look up’ to find any number of places to use as your pull up bar.

3.    Pull ups are a compound exercise. You’ll not only get a great back workout, but you’ll work the biceps and abs as well.

4.    When you do a compound exercise like the pull up, you’ll be burning more calories and fat. Turn up the intensity.

5.    How many people do you know that can knock off reps of pull ups? Pull ups are one of the most impressive exercises you can do.

The pull up can be pretty intimidating…

I’m Shawna Kaminski and I love pull ups. I’m the author of and my goal is to get everyone doing pull ups.

Honestly, I’m a disaster at any other type of ‘bar’ setting, so let’s talk ‘pull up bar’…

If you get up to the bar and find yourself hanging there with nowhere to go, take heart. Too many people give up and never return to the pull up bar when with some blood, sweat and tears (well not quite blood and tears, but definitely sweat!) you can improve and impress.

To master the pull up, you need to actually DO the movement. Here’s the catch though: it’s impossible if you don’t have the initial strength, so you don’t try. How will you ever rock the pull up bar if you don’t try?

Here are some tips for you in this video:

First off, you need to learn how to do ‘scapular retraction’.

This doesn’t look like much, but it really connects your brain to your muscles. Hang from a pull up bar. Without bending your arms, simply squeeze the upper back together as if you were trying to touch the shoulder blades together. You should notice that you’re able to lift yourself upwards towards the bar. Not much, but a little.

This is the initial movement required for the pull up. It gets the back muscles engaged while it helps you get into an advantageous pulling position with the chest leading toward the bar. Often times, in an effort to get up to the bar, people will drop the chin and inwardly rotate the shoulders. This isn’t a position of power.  As a general rule, when working toward a pull up, look up.

The assisted pull up is another one way to learn the movement. The assisted pull up builds the necessary neurological pathways and from there, strength is built.

The band assisted pull up is probably one of my favorite ‘assisted’ pull up moves. The beauty of this assisted pull up is that it most closely resembles the ‘unassisted’ pull up. You’ll get more support where you need it most (when you’re in a full hang position because the band is stretched tight). As you lift yourself to the bar, the band doesn’t provide as much support and you’ll be able to use your own power to get your chest up to the bar. Then you can take all your weight on the way down from the bar thereby training that eccentric strengthening phase.

What’s this ‘eccentric strengthening phase’?

The most common misconception regarding the pull up, or any strength move for that matter, is that strength is built during the concentric phase of the movement. For the pull up, this is the lifting phase. In actuality, it’s the eccentric, or lowering phase that actually builds strength. This makes it easy then to build strength: all you need to do is get yourself up to the bar then you can lower yourself slowly down from it to build strength. You can step up from a bench, you can jump, or you can use a band to help you get your chest under the bar. The slow descent with 5-6 counts will build and fully exhaust those pulling muscles of the back, along with the secondary movers, the biceps.

Anytime you do an assisted pull up, work the eccentric phase, hold and descend from the bar slowly. You’ll experience more muscle soreness this way, (so be careful), but you’ll also build more strength by ‘working the negative’ as it’s sometimes called.

If you want the ‘illusion’ of doing a pull up, hop onto the assisted pull up machine.

This is the least effective tool for learning the pull up as far as I’m concerned. Your body position is all wrong, you can’t employ my tried and true ‘controlled cheating’ method (more on that in another post), and you get even support through the  movement which doesn’t resemble the real move. Need I go on?

Using the assisted pull up machine is like doing bicep curls with the Olympic bar in a squat rack. It just shouldn’t be done.

I have a ton more tips and tricks that will help you out, along with a progressive program. You can check it out here to see if it’s right for you.

All the best with increasing your pull up power!

About Shawna

Shawna Kaminski is a retired schoolteacher of 20 years who’s found her passion in the fitness industry. She’s parlayed her ability to teach and her love of training into programs that you can directly benefit from.

Shawna is in her late forties, is a mother of two teenagers and understands how busy life can be. Her workouts are short and intense and often can be done anywhere. She’s always up for a challenge and shares her fitness challenges with you.

Currently she runs her own fitness boot camps and coaches clients in person and online with her amazing result getting programs. You can learn how to improve YOUR pull up prowess here.