Last week I visited the Indian army training grounds in Delhi and Mumbai. I learned there that for decades, Indian army has used pull-ups to prepare soldiers for combat – they are the gold standard for bodyweight strength testing protocols – and for good reason. Few exercises require the strength-to-weight ratio needed to perform pull-ups. Though often thought of as only a back exercise, pull-ups actually work your entire upper body as well as your abs.
In an MMA (Boxing, Kick boxing, Jiu jitsu/Bjj, Muay Thai, Karate, Judo) fight, the strength you build from doing pull-ups has plenty of functional carryover, but fighter or not, any self-respecting man ought to be able to bang out a few pull-ups without too much trouble. In certain circles, beating someone in a pull-up contest will earn you just as much respect as tapping them out in the center of the octagon.
A standard pull-up is performed while hanging from an overhead bar with your hands a bit wider than your shoulders and your palms facing away from you. Keep your whole body tight as you begin to pull yourself upward. When your chin passes the bar, you’ve completed one repetition. A chin-up is the same thing except you have an underhand grip, which beginners usually find easier. Once you get comfortable with those, you can start to mix it up with some more challenging variations.
The commando pull-up is a great move for MMA athletes. Start with your body facing sideways and grab the bar with your palms turned towards each other in a narrow grip. From here pull your head up to opposite sides of the bar on alternating reps. Remember to engage your abs and pull yourself through a full range of motion. The movement of a commando pull-up is similar to trying to control your opponents head in a Muay Thai clinch or keeping them from posturing up while you are on your back in the guard position.
Once you can bang out ten or more clean pull-ups in a row, you’re ready to start working on plyometric pull-ups. A clapping pull-up is one example of a plyo pull-up, but any time you create enough explosive power to take your hands away from the bar, you’re doing a plyo. Once you get the feel for being air born, you can try switching grips, sliding your hands side to side or performing other freestyle arm movements in between reps. The explosive power that can be developed with plyo pull-ups is second to none.
THE ONE ARM PULL-UP
An awesome feat of strength on it’s own, the one arm pull-up may also have its place in MMA training. After all, no other exercise builds single arm pulling strength like a one arm pull-up and in MMA, you often need to use your arms independently of one another. Once you can perform at least ten consecutive dead hang pull-ups, you might begin throwing some OAP training into your regimen. Tendinitis is a bitch though, so back off if you start to get pain in or around your elbows.
FLEX HANGS AND ONE ARM FLEX HANGS
Whether you’re a novice learning to do a standard pull-up or an expert training for a one arm pull-up, performing a flex hang (holding your body at the top of a pull-up position) is a great way to practice. Use a step or a chair to help get into the top position with your chin past the bar, then lift your legs and try to stay up. Once you can hold the flex hang for a few seconds, try to slowly lower yourself down to a dead hang – this is called a negative. Be prepared that the first time you try to do a negative you will drop very quickly. When starting out, don’t even think of it as a negative, think of it as just trying to keep yourself up. Gravity takes care of the rest. Eventually, you’ll work up to the point where you can make the lowering phase last for ten seconds or longer. When this happens, you’ll likely be able to pull yourself back up. Be patient with this process – it takes lots and lots of practice.
You can have fun playing around with different types of pull-ups by varying your grip, the position of your legs or changing anything else you can think of. You might even try doing them on different surfaces. A pull-up on a ledge or a thick bar can add a whole new challenge to the exercise. Make it fun and keep your body guessing – there are always new ways to challenge yourself and expand your horizons.
A number of gyms in Delhi, Gurgaon and Mumbai instruct their male pupils to put on mass but doing high weight low rep sets, while the women are discouraged from doing this exercise.
The mass building workout is good to put on muscle but the explosiveness and muscular stamina can only be enhanced by using body weight exercises like Pull up. So the next time you go to the gym and you want to train and look like a Boxer, Kick boxer, Jiu Jitsu specialist or Mixed Martial artist (MMA)… Do a pull up or two… 🙂