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build full pullups .pdf

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Owen Johnston – www.strengthcalisthenics.com
Building up to full pullups
Start with the first exercise in the horizontal pullup progression, called
straight pullups. Refer to the calisthenics progression article for the full list of
exercises in this progression - http://tiny.cc/progressions
Start with an overhand grip and imagine you're rowing a boat as you
practice. The imagery isn't as important as the mechanical principle you're trying
to drill. The idea is that you're gripping and "rowing the boat" into your armpits
with each finger and the thumbs.
Activate the shoulders as you do this and try to get the entire chain of
muscles involved in the movement. Have someone put the fingers of one of his or
her hands between your shoulder blades to spot you. Try to squeeze his or her
fingers with your shoulder blades as you start a repetition of the exercise. Try to
pull the bar into your sternum as you pull your elbows into your armpits.
Also focus on gripping hard with the little fingers as you pull into the bar.
Imagine that you're trying to "corkscrew" your hands through the bar and turn
your palms up (supination of the wrists). This will help you recruit more muscles.
Keep the hips locked out and the midsection braced throughout the
movement, especially the negative portion.Take a deep breath in through the
nose before pulling into the bar (positive), hold the "flexed" position for 1 second
(focus on bracing), and exhale from the navel as you reverse the "corkscrew"
motion and return from the bar (negative).
Remember to maintain bracing and muscular coordination at every part of
the movement. These basic tips will help you with the rest of the progression.
The next exercise involves you stepping your feet under the bar some and trying
to get "hollowed out" at a 45 degree angle to the floor, or close enough. This
makes the exercise harder. The closer you get to fully horizontal and under the
bar, the harder.
Angled pullups are done with your body at about a 45 degree angle to the
ground. Aim for at least a few reps in as hollow a position as you can.
Horizontal pullups are done with your body below the bar and hollowed
out. Make the exercise harder by getting parallel to the ground (you can use a
block, folded up cheese or similar to put your feet on) and/or by using a lower
bar (perhaps lower a bar at gymnastics). To make the exercise easier, use a
higher bar (perhaps raise a bar at gymnastics) and/or bend at the knees (this
gives you a better position for pushing down through the legs to assist the

Owen Johnston – www.strengthcalisthenics.com
Once you become proficient with horizontal pullups, perform them with an
underhand grip and the hands next to each other. Perform them normally
(elbows into armpits and so forth) until you become proficient with this variation.
This will help build up the biceps.
The next "toughener" is locking your elbows onto your ribcage, as if you
are about to perform biceps curls. You will essentially be performing "biceps
curls horizontal pulls". It will take some experimenting to figure out the best
angle of the body of the floor for you to start with. Feel free to bend at the knees
at first so you can push a bit more with the feet, to help get used to this
Once you feel good about these, move on to the pullup progression.
Remember the same lessons you learned about breathing, bracing, grip, and
pulling into your armpits. Have a partner assist you with pullups, or perform leg
assisted pullups. Either variation will help you strengthen and learn how to
engage the lats. The key point to remember is to still pull your elbows down into
your armpits. Imagine you're trying to pull the bar into your chest.
With leg assisted pullups, use a bar low enough that you can at least
partially squat down while holding onto the bar. You will want your elbows and
shoulders to be fully extended. Stand straight up as you pull your elbows straight
down into your armpits. As you get stronger, pull more with your arms.
Remember to not push away from the bar at any point so that the exercise does
not revert to a variation of horizontal pullups. The motion should be strictly up
and down.
Once you feel comfortable with this, move on to bent leg "jackknife"
pullups. From a leg assisted pullup position, keep your hands on the bar and
move your feet forward. The thighs should be parallel to the ground and the
heels should be planted. Ideally, your shins will be perpendicular (90 degree
angle) to your thighs. Your legs can still assist with the motion, but put more of
the focus on pulling straight down through your arms.
Also feel free to ask a partner to give you a spot between the shoulders. If
you are having trouble with this exercise, even with a spot, try at least one of
these: 1) ask for a heavier spot; 2) go back to horizontal pullups and perform the
reps very slowly, with a focus on holding the "flexed" position at the top for a few
seconds (train this with different hand positions)
Once you feel proficient with this exercise, fully extend the knees. If the
bar is low enough, or you have something safe and sturdy to place your heels on,
you can get your body into a full "jackknife" position (hips are bent at a 90
degree angle). Using a higher bar will make the exercise easier, as long as your

Owen Johnston – www.strengthcalisthenics.com
feet are still in contact with the floor at the top (fully flexed) portion of the
movement. Not elevating your feet will also make the exercise easier, since they
are in a better position to assist, as you push through your heels.
Elevating the legs higher than horizontal makes the exercise harder, as the
legs are not in a good position to assist. You will have to focus even more on
pulling down through your lats. Using a lower bar can also make the exercise
harder, as long as you are able to fully extend the elbows and shoulders at the
bottom position of the movement.
Start with your feet on the floor. At first, keep your feet in contact with the
floor throughout the entirety of this exercise. Try to fully master this exercise
before adding the next "toughener".
Again, make sure you do not push away from the bar when using your legs
to assist. If you are having trouble with this, and have a training partner or coach
that you are very comfortable with, you could ask him or her to spot you. What
he or she will do is place a hand on each side of your ribcage and help you stay
vertical. He or she should cue you to pull straight down and bring your elbows
into your armpits. He or she could instead place one or both hands on your back
and give you the same cues as he or she pushes straight up.
The next "toughener" is to only push down through your heels during the
bottom portion of the upwards phase and allow the feet to hang down (if
possible) or tuck the feet under you as you ascend. This will make the exercise
closer to a full pullup without self assistance. A training partner or coach can
give you a light or heavy spot behind your shoulders or torso, or give you a spot
under your ankles as you ascend. Build up to doing 2 sets of 10 repetitions this


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