Strength Training for Yogis: Pull Ups for Upper Body Athleticism

Like any form of physical activity, yoga has a few blind spots when it comes to functional movements – including pulling.

As a form of fitness, yoga encompasses balance, bodyweight movements, strength, and flexibility, as well as mental focus. As you get stronger, more flexible, and more proficient in your movements, you will be able to perform advanced postures and transitions.

But like most forms of physical activity, yoga misses some basic functional movements we should be able to perform. Specifically, it misses the action of pulling.

You might wonder why this is important to yogis. If pulling isn’t part of the yoga practice, why do we need to discuss it? The answer is, creating a well-rounded physical practice, whether through yoga or any other type of movement, means varying the ways in which you move. Variety will have a greater impact on overall strength than repeating the same movements over and over again.

Pull Up Breakdown

Strict pull-ups and their variations give you more than just big biceps. They strengthen the key muscles of the upper body — namely, the shoulders, lats, and rhomboids. These are the muscles that contribute to the strength you need for backbends, arm balances, and better posture.

There are five basic points of performance for a strict pull up.

  1. Start by gripping the bar, with your hands about shoulder width apart.
  2. Starting from a hang (elbows straight), draw the shoulder blades down to pull the shoulders away from the ears.
  3. Squeeze the legs together as you draw the belly button in.
  4. As you start to pull down on the bar, focus on bringing the elbows towards the hips.
  5. After you get your chin over the bar, descend slowly back to a straight hang.

Modifications: Jumping or Banded Pull Ups

Modifying the movement with jumping pull-ups or banded pull-ups is a great way to start working the motion of pulling, as well as building the strength you need to complete a strict pull-up.

Jumping Pull-Ups:

  1. Set yourself up on plates or a box so that your wrists come 3-6 inches over the pull-up bar.
  2. Use the strength of your legs to jump and then pull your chin over the bar. The points of performance stay the same here as for a strict pull-up. The only difference is you are now using the legs to assist you.

Banded Pull-Ups:

  1. Wrap the band securely around the pull-up bar.
  2. Step one foot into the band.
  3. Hang on the bar and cross the ankles. From here, follow the points of performance above for strict pull-ups.

Workouts to Build Your Pull-Ups

Below are three workouts to help you incorporate pull-ups or variations of them into your weekly routine. They do require equipment, so plan accordingly.

Warm Up:

  • Jump rope 2 minutes
  • 5 sun salutations
  • 30 second plank
  • 30 second hang on the pull-up bar
  • 30 second plank
  • 5 sun salutations
  • Jump rope 2 minutes

Workout #1

  • 5 x 5 strict pull-up (with or without band)

Workout #2

For Time:

  • 30-24-18-12-6 squat / 15-12-9-6-3 ring row / 15-12-9-6-3 sit up
  • *Do 30 squats, then 15 ring rows, then 15 sit ups, on to 24 squat, etc.

Workout #3

For Time:

  • 400 meter run / 30 Push Up/ 400 meter run/ 30 pull-up (strict, jumping or banded) /400 meter run/ 30 Push Up/ 400 meter run

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Photo 1 courtesy of Shutterstock.

Photos 2-4 courtesy of Stephanie Ring.

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