Increasing Pull Ups: Smart Strength With Charles Staley

This week, the answers to questions about pull ups, food labels, and how to grow big traps.

Note: Charles is here on a weekly basis to help you cut through the B.S. and get to the bottom of the biggest questions in health and training. Post your questions directly to Charles in the comments below this article.

Question #1: Fine-Tuning the Overhead Press

READER: Barbell overhead press question, I’ve started leaning significantly toward one side, leading with one arm. Any recommendations for fixing that?

CHARLES SAYS: Yes – stop doing that. No sarcasm. Force yourself to use weights that allow you to maintain a symmetrical position until it corrects itself. If it doesn’t gradually correct, you probably have a more significant issue that might need professional intervention if you really want to fix it.

Question #2: Increasing Pull Ups

READER: I am stuck on pull ups. I can’t seem to get more than about sixteen no matter what I do. I want to get to 25. Any suggestions?

CHARLES SAYS: First, drop any unnecessary bodyweight if you have any to lose. Second, make sure you are training the movement often enough. Once the soreness from your previous session has cleared, train again. Third, alternate between hypertrophy and strength phases in your training to ensure that both tissue and neural contributors are being addressed. Since this goal relies mostly on strength-endurance, I’d suggest eight weeks of hypertrophy training (3-6 sets of 8-12 reps) followed by four weeks of strength training (3-6 sets of 3-6 reps). Finally, this is one training goal that could be helped by creatine monohydrate supplementation.

Question #3: How Do I Develop Big Traps?

READER: What’s the best movement for developing the traps? How often can I work them?

CHARLES SAYS: Personally, what creates the most soreness for me (and I do take that as a sign of tissue damage) is double kettlebell swings, where the bells are kept on the outside of the legs. This was shown to me by Mike Mahler. Here’s Mike demonstrating the movement:

How often you train traps (or any other muscle group) depends on the amount of damage you create from training them. As soon as residual soreness has disappeared, you can train again.

Question #4: Caloric Variance

READER: I’ve noticed that among the various food-tracking apps there is no agreement on caloric value of foods. Furthermore, different packages of the same foods, say Blue Diamond and Safeway brand walnuts, will show different caloric values. How can I be precise with my diet with this situation? How do I navigate this?

CHARLES SAYS: I’m not sure I could clearly articulate why this is so (there are number of factors involved, some of which I don’t fully understand), but I will say that if you carefully track and monitor your nutritional intake, you should do just fine anyway.

Personally, I go by whatever the food label says (even though it may not be accurate) and I do just fine. Here’s why: let’s say the label says 90 calories, but it’s really 120 calories. I track everything according to labels and monitor by bodyweight. If I’m looking to drop weight and it’s not happening, I lower by calories until it does. So even if the absolute values are wrong, I can still get to where I need to go.

This Week’s Training

This Week’s Volume: 37,049 Pounds (Last Week: 127,460 Pounds)

Significant Lifts:

Dumbbell Bench Press: 180×12

Military Press: 110×8

Not a whole lot to report this week, as it was a deload consisting of only three easy sessions. I did get a few “interesting” (meaning unexpected, I guess) PRs as noted above. Both occurred toward the end of the week, so I’m guessing I’m finally experiencing some recovery and, hence, the improved performances.

Recently someone was asking me about how I construct my deloads, so I’ll speak to that briefly here:

As a first principle, the extent of deloading is mostly based on how trashed I feel from the previous weeks of heavy loading. If I’m feeling super beat up, I’ll unload more, but if I don’t feel particularly thrashed, I might work a bit harder during the deload. That being said, it’s important to “earn” your deload by training super hard in the three to five weeks preceding it. If you don’t usually train very hard, there’s no need for a deload.

workout, intensity, bodybuilding

Second, I’m especially careful to deload “big” movements like deads and squats, since fatigue from these exercises are the primary obstacles to complete recovery.

Finally, I’m recently leaning toward the notion that you shouldn’t do anything particularly novel on a deload week, since novelty tends to disrupt homeostatic mechanisms more than familiar drills. I used to use the deload week to prep the exercises I planned to use on the following cycle, or to simply do various fun things I didn’t normally have the time to do, but lately I’ve been influenced by the work of Dr. Mike Isreatel on this topic, and so my current practice is to simply do the same exercises I’ve already been doing, and reduce the intensity a little, and the volume a lot. As a practical example, if you’ve recently been bench pressing up to 225 for 5 sets of 10, on the deload you might bench 195-205 for 1-2 sets of 10.

Thanks everyone, keep the questions coming!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Bodyweight: 202.6 Pounds

Volume: 16,015 Pounds

High Bar Squat

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 95 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 185 lbs × 8

Close Grip Bench Press (Pinkies on Rings)

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 95 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 8
  • Set 4: 185 lbs × 8

Stiff-Leg Deadlift

  • Set 1: 135 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 185 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 225 lbs × 8

Close-Grip Lat Pulldown

  • Set 1: 140 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 140 lbs × 8

Incline Dumbbell Press

  • Set 1: 100 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 120 lbs × 8

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

  • Set 1: 70 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 70 lbs × 8

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Bodyweight: 201 Pounds

Volume: 9850 Pounds

2.5″ Deficit Pull

  • Set 1: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 185 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 225 lbs × 5
  • Set 5: 275 lbs × 5
  • Set 6: 315 lbs × 5

19″ Box Squat

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 5
  • Set 2: 95 lbs × 5
  • Set 3: 135 lbs × 5
  • Set 4: 185 lbs × 5

Leg Curl

  • Set 1: 40 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 50 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 60 lbs × 8

Friday, July 10, 2015

Bodyweight: 201.2 Pounds

Volume: 11,184 Pounds

Bench Press (Dumbbell)

  • Set 1: 80 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 120 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 160 lbs × 8
  • Set 4: 180 lbs × 12

Military Press

  • Set 1: 45 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 65 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 88 lbs × 8
  • Set 4: 110 lbs × 8

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

  • Set 1: 50 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 60 lbs × 8
  • Set 3: 70 lbs × 8

Tricep Pushdowns

  • Set 1: 140 lbs × 8
  • Set 2: 140 lbs × 8

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Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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