Last week I wrote about the benefits of the humble push-up. And this week I want to focus on its counterpart – the pull-up. I like to think of them as the ying and yang of the upper body. They complement each other harmoniously to ensure the muscles of your upper body have balance.
Unfortunately, the pull-up is the oft-forgotten exercise, especially if you are training outdoors. It is easy to incorporate exercises such as push-ups, squats and lunges into your outdoor sessions but not so easy to include pull-ups or rows because you need equipment.
But pull-ups or rows are vital to your training program because they work your back and bicep muscles. It is importance to have exercise balance because if you just perform push-ups it is likely you’ll end up tight through your chest and weak through your back, which could lead to all kinds of muscular problems, not to mention poor posture.
Like the push-up, there are many variations of the pull-up or row.
If you’re at the gym you might work these muscles by using the vertical or horizontal row machine, the lat pulldown or the assisted chin-up machine.
You can also use dumbbells to perform single-armed rows – use a bench to rest your left arm and leg on then, with your torso parallel to the ground, use your right arm to pull the dumbbell towards your ribs. Do 10 then repeat on the other side.
If you are outdoors, you might be able to use a fence rail for pull-ups, which you can make easier or harder by having your legs straight throughout the motion or bent at 90 degrees. Or you just need a set of dumbbells, theraband (those long latex band things) or resistance tubing and you’re good to go at home or at the park.
My ultimate goal is to be able to confidently perform a handful of chin-ups. I used to be able to do a couple in my 20s but I haven’t tried for a while – the last time was on the monkey bars at the park with the kids and it wasn’t pretty. But ever since seeing a totally toned Linda Hamilton perform chin-ups in Terminator 2: Judgement Day I’ve always wanted to be able to do some.
There are varying interpretations of the chin-up but according to the US Military’s guidelines (usmilitary.about.com): ‘One repetition consists of raising the body with the arms until the chin is above the bar, and then lowering the body until the arms are fully extended; repeat the exercise. At no time during the execution of this event can a Marine rest his chin on the bar.’
But the simplest way to start if you’re working out at home or outdoors would be sitting on the ground with legs outstretched and a theraband wrapped around your feet then pulling the ends of the theraband towards your ribs, ensuring you maintain good posture throughout the motion.
If you’re looking for some quick workout ideas, here is a short cross training session you can try:
10 rows, 10 push-ups, 50 skips with a skipping rope. Repeat 2-3 times.
10-20 lunges then run/walk 1-2 minutes. Repeat 2-3 times.
5-10 minutes of running, walking or skipping intervals, where you work hard for 30 seconds then go easy for the next 30 seconds.
Finish with some core work. And don’t forget a good warm-up and cool-down.