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Get BACK to Basics…with Pull-Ups


There is no place worth going that requires a shortcut.
–Anonymous

Most everyone agrees that a wide, thick back will form an aesthetic, 3-dimensional type of physique that will turn heads. And yet, the back remains one of the most neglected male body parts.

Nothing beats the deadlift when it comes to thickening the back, but I want to focus on a key exercise that most of you are likely avoiding: the pull-up.

Pull-ups are a most effective, and yet, sadly, a most neglected back exercise. In gyms across America, chances are you will wait in line to use a lat machine, while the pull-up bar will remain devoid of all users. After all, how many people do you see in your gym actually performing pull-ups?

The reason that so many gym goers skimp on pull-ups is simple: pull-ups are damn hard, and we have egos! I remember that I couldn’t even perform a single pull-up when I first started working out. That’s pretty humbling! On the lat pulldown machine, however, I could churn out 10-12 solid reps using 100 + lbs. of weight, which was easier than struggling to do pull-ups and a helluva lot better for my ego.

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But, unfortunately, ego does not build muscle!

I was not getting the results I wanted using the lat machine, so one day I finally accepted the fact that in order to build a wide, strong back, I was going to have to get back to basics, which for me meant doing pull-ups.

If you want the kind of physique that will turn heads, you must build a nice back, so get back to basics and start frequenting the pull-up bar. Pull-ups are not easy, but unlike a man’s ego, they will build muscle and increase your strength quickly if you stick with them.

If you’re like I was and can’t perform a single pull-up, try starting out with chin-ups (palms facing you); you’ll tone and strengthen your biceps, and you will steadily increase your back strength. If you can’t perform a chin-up, the assisted pull-up machine is another great way to form strength; just don’t become addicted to the machine! Remember that you must eventually get back to basics!

After a few months of doing pull-ups, you’ll discover there’s hardly anything better than sporting that much-coveted “v” tapered physique that will make your shoulders appear wider and your waist smaller.

By: Michael Aspiotes

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About the Author

My name is Israel Lagares. I used to be the kind of guy that was always in shape, but over the last few years I've fallen off tremendously. This site is my final attempt to get back into shape. So far I've lost 70.4 lbs. Check out my weight loss chart, weight loss videos and progress pics. Follow my journey, those of others, and read our thoughts on various health topics. Share your thoughts, experience, and journey here on FMU.

Community Thoughts (25)

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  1. ClareNo Gravatar says:

    Michael Aspiotes your article is very good it provides very useful information for good health. being healthy is very much improtant is this fast world. and your post give us some useful tips to be healthy. thanks you very much for sharing this information.
    regards,
    clare

  2. Strong OneNo Gravatar says:

    This is one of those exercises that you won’t understand unless you try and do them. I never believed in them until I tried. They are now an integral part of my regimen. Great for the ‘V’ look as well as overall upper body strength and control.

    • Israel LagaresNo Gravatar says:

      Man, I can’t wait to be able to do pull ups again…need to drop some more weight. I am looking into those elastic support bands to help me now.

  3. TeavalizeNo Gravatar says:

    If you are trying to get the best fit that your body needs, you must actually do the basics first. You are right! going to basics, which is pull-ups, will help you do some heavy exercises step-by-step, all the way, your body could adjust thoroughly. Being fit all the time can enhance you more on different exercise than those depending on the machine. Be sure to take all notes before skipping to basics.

  4. MuataNo Gravatar says:

    What I love about the basics is that they never get old or too easy. If you want a strong back and “lats” of steel, all you need to do are pullups or chinups and rows (bodyweight or with weights). Israel, since you have a really nice rack (talking about weight rack here ;) , set your bar so that you can do bodyweight rows/fat man pullups/reverse pushups (whatever the hell you want to call them) first, and then once a week, I want you to simply hold yourself in the top position of the pullup for as long as you can. I could barely hold on for more than a second or two when I first started, and now I can crank out 10 without a problem or warming up; however, this is still a far cry from 20, which is my goal. One last thing I love about pullups/chinups is that, as Coach Steve Maxwell mentions on his blog, they let you know when you’ve been eating a bit too much. People with a lot of body fat simply don’t do pullups because they can’t, so this is a great exercise to tell if you’re starting to gain the weight that you’ve lost because the heavier you become, the more your pullup/chinup numbers will go down. Personally, I think that everyone should be able to pull their own weight–literally! Good post …

    • Israel LagaresNo Gravatar says:

      Mauta,k yet again you come through for me bro! Why didnt I think of doing that?? I will be adding this to my routine starting Wednesday.
      By the way, those body weight exercises are mad hard to do!!! But my wife seems to be able to fly through them. She is so inspiring…

      • Israel LagaresNo Gravatar says:

        I really started rocking with pull ups when I was in the marines, but then I fell off and the rest is fat man unleashed history.

      • MuataNo Gravatar says:

        Israel, don’t mention it bro. If it wasn’t for youtube and the googoobs of exercise videos on there, I would no nothing about kettlebells, bodyweight training, or how to do a proper pushup! I guarantee that you’ll be posting a video of you doing your first pullup in a while before Spring! Oh, one more tip that I picked up from Charles Staley, focus on pulling your elbows into your sides as you lift yourself. Also, CRUSH the bar and contract your core (abs and glutes) too to get a little hyper-irradiation (muscles helping other muscles) going on. If you haven’t done so already, Pavel’s Power to the People and Beyond Bodybuilding are must have books for those lifting for strength and understanding the whole concept of recruiting other muscles to help during your lifts (hyper-irradiation). Keep us posted on your pullup/chinup progress Is ….

  5. Tom RooneyNo Gravatar says:

    Israel,

    I’ve had trouble with doing the pull-up all my life. I remember when I was in the Army that we used to do the overhead ladder before going in to eat. I could barely do one rep down, but in 8 weeks I was able to go back and forth about 7 times. I’m sure the pull-up would work the same.

  6. JasonNo Gravatar says:

    Pull-ups are a son-of-a-gun man. I have never been able to do many if any. I can run 50 miles but a pull up is hard.

  7. Vic MagaryNo Gravatar says:

    I love pull ups! I get my assist bands from http://www.jumpstretch.com for clients still building pull up strength. Another option when training the pull up is to use a bar low enough that your feet touch the ground with knees bent; use your legs as little as possible, but as much as needed to get you over the bar. Also, try negative reps to help build initial pull up strength; use a box or other step to get you to the top position (chin over the bar) then lower yourself to arms fully extended as slow as possible. Train hard and get pulling!

    • Israel LagaresNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks Vic, I just checked them out. But which one do I get???

      Also, thanks for the advice. That combined with Muata’s advice should get me going and on the road to performing a set of 5 pull ups soon.

  8. Michael AspiotesNo Gravatar says:

    Some great advice being posted here…let me again stress that the pull-up assist machine, AKA Gravitron, is an excellent tool from which to form pull-up strength…don’t be embarrassed to use the Gravitron…bottom line: if you can’t do a single pull-up, you have to build strength! Whether you build strength with bands or with a machine doesn’t matter…just start somewhere. The rewards are worth it…Isreal, you’re a former Marine: one of the Few, the Proud…now I challenge you to be one of the Few, the Proud who actually does pull-ups. ;)

    • Israel LagaresNo Gravatar says:

      Well, I don’t go to the gym, so I don’t have access to that machine but I have used it before. I like how it helps you go through the motion. Thanks for the article Mike!

  9. 365 FitNo Gravatar says:

    I love pull-ups, or at least I love trying to do pull ups. My back and upper body workouts use pull-ups. I will admit I have to cheat to do them because I am not strong enough to do it all the way, but I am making progress. I never have to wait to do pull-ups which adds to their awesomeness.

  10. zantrex 3No Gravatar says:

    i didnt know they worked out your back that much. maybe its time i get back to doing them pullups o_O
    -mikey

  11. I totally relate to this Israel. Last year I always worked out in the gym and stuck to the weights. I pretty much ignored bodyweight exercises such as pull ups and press ups for the full year. However, this year I decided that I want to mix up my workout routine and try and do more bodyweight training. As a result this month I have avoided the gym and been doing a bodyweight routine that I put together myself. It involves both press ups/push ups and pull ups/chin ups (both wide grip and close grip). When I started they were very tough but one of the things I like about bodyweight exercises is that you gain strength quite quickly and make a lot of progress in a short period of time. One additional tip I have is that when the pull ups get a little easier try wearing a weighted vest or rucksack. You can keep adding weight over time and before you know it you will have developed a very impressive pull up.

  12. Paul BNo Gravatar says:

    Now we’re talking, pull-ups (along with push-ups ad sit-ups) are my all time favourite exercise.

    To make life a little more difficult for when you can manage 20-30 normal pull-ups without straining I like to combine the top of the pull-up with a leg lift. You get to feel that across your whole upper body.

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