Strength & Conditioning - Al Kavadlo: Week 1, Day 1
This four-week program is designed by calisthenics expert and author Al Kavadlo. Three workouts are posted each week and cover a total of twelve bodyweight exercise progressions and tutorials, including everything from pull ups, to pistols, to the infamous human flag. If you're joining late in the game, feel free to jump right in!
Week 1, Day 1: Pull Up Progressions and Tutorial
Pull-ups are the most fundamental bar exercise, and they're also one of the most important exercises overall. There's no two ways about it, a well-rounded fitness program needs to include some type of pull-up. Though you may not be able to do one yet, you can use these variations to progress yourself to pull-ups and beyond over the course of several months or years.
You may need to spend a few days, a few weeks or even a few months on each step in this progression, depending on where you are starting out. I recommend practicing your pull-ups near the beginning of your workout, two or three times a week, with at least one day of rest in between efforts. Individual conditioning can vary greatly from person to person, so feel free to train more frequently if you have the energy.
A flex hang involves holding yourself at the top of a pull-up position with your chin over the bar. It is best to start by using an underhand (chin-up) grip. Use a bench or a partner to help you get in position and then simply try to stay up. Think about squeezing every muscle in your entire body. If you can hold this position for even a second on your initial attempt, you are off to a good start.
Once you can hold the flex hang for several seconds, you’re ready to start working on negative pull-ups, which just means lowering yourself down slowly from the top position. In the beginning, it might be very difficult to perform a controlled negative, but with time you will be able to make your negative last for ten seconds or longer. Once you can do this, a full pull-up will be within reach.
The Australian pull-up (or bodyweight row as it’s sometimes known) is a great exercise for someone who is working their way up to a standard pull-up. The Australian involves getting “down under” a bar that is about waist height, with your feet resting on the ground. Keep a straight line from your heels to the back of your head as you squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your chest to the bar. Novices may choose to bend their knees and push gently with their heels in order to give their arms assistance if needed. When you get a little more comfortable with this exercise you can angle your heels to the floor with your feet pointed up and your legs straight.
Once you are strong enough to do lot of Australian pull-ups and negative pull-ups, you will be ready to start working on chin-ups, which is the technical name for a pull-up done with an underhand grip. As with the flex hang, it is typically easier for beginners to start with the supinated grip.
After you can do a few good chin-ups, you should begin training for the classic pull-up (overhand grip just wider than shoulder width). You may need to go back a step and practice flex hangs and negatives with an overhand grip in order to prepare your body for a pull-up, as the pronated hand position tends to be more difficult.
Once you’ve gotten confident with controlled pull-ups, you can begin training plyo-pull-ups. Any type of explosive pull-up in which you let go of the bar is a plyo. When you perform plyo pull-ups, think about pulling your chin over the bar as fast and explosively as possible. In fact, don’t think of pulling your chin over the bar - think of pulling the bar below your chest! Once you get the feel for this, try opening your hands for a split second. Eventually you can develop enough power to take your hands off long enough to clap.
These variations are just the tip of the iceberg! Check out the video below and pick up a copy of my book, Raising The Bar: The Definitive Guide to Pull-up Bar Calisthenics for more information on pull-ups and pull-up bar training.