Thursday, January 30, 2014

A programming example (and a few tips on pullups)

Aris DeMarco

Affecting Gravity is pretty much all about goal-oriented programming. That is:
1. Come up with a goal
2. Ensure that you have a base in place
3. Plan intelligently
4. Work hard
5. Profit!!

Very logical, very simple. It being a new year and all, people are throwing around goals left and right. I've noticed that a lot of men from strongfirst would like to do a pullup with 48kg extra weight--the 'beast' kettlebell--while women would like to nail the 16 or 24. (And there are plenty of other people who would like to simply get stronger at their weighted chins and pulls, too.)

I recently commented on one of these posts with a tip that, as it turns out, not everyone knew, so I figured I'd share it here. First things first, though, let's break this down.

Goal: improve weighted pullup (specifically--pullup with 100lb added weight)
Okay, step one completed. Easy peasy, you're well on your way!

For your base, you'll probably need to be able to do pullups with at least some added weight. And to do that, you need to be decent at doing pullups with just your bodyweight. And to do that, you need healthy, flexible shoulders. Check this out. It's a great article by Eric Cressey regarding some of the problems associated with pullups and how to fix them. See how this works? In my opinion, if you can't hang, relaxed, from a bar without arching your back due to lack of overhead mobility, you shouldn't be trying to do pullups.

Plan intelligently:
For the sake of argument, let's say that you have a fairly healthy shoulder girdle, you're decent at pullups, and are actually somewhat close to your end goal of +100 pounds. You weigh 180 and can do a pullup with 70 pounds. (Let's also assume you're a male individual, unless I have blog readers from Themyscira.) You have some problems activating your lats, though, and notice that chasing 1RMs too often bothers your elbows. Sets of 4-8 are fine, though. Also, when you just did bodyweight pullups you could do them every day, but heavy weighted pullups more often than twice weekly have caused shoulder pain in the past. (These are all great examples of paying attention to what works--and what doesn't--in your own training, too.)

Back to your goals. You've got your base: good shoulder mobility, good bodyweight pullups, and a decent amount of weight--enough to make +100 a good goal achievable in a few months. So you start to get your plan together:

-Add 30 pounds to my weighted pullup
-Improve lat activation
-Keep my shoulders healthy
-Don't use heavy singles or doubles in my programming, stick to moderate reps when possible
-Only do weighted pullups twice each week

As you can see, this significantly cuts down on your options for programming, which is a good thing. It narrows your focus and enables you to hone in on the best options for you. 

There are good ideas and bad ideas. Then there are groundbreaking ones. 

Here's where that little tip comes in (did you snicker? Jeez, grow up). You want to a pullup with 100 pounds, you weigh 180. That's 280lb total weight. Yes, definitely factor your own weight in your programming for weighted bodyweight work, after all, it's a pretty fair percentage of your total load. 

You know that you want to stay away from heavy singles and doubles, so decide to try and get the 100-pound pull by using a top set of 5. Here's how you know when you'll be ready. You know your current 1RM (180+70, or 250 total). Now, find your 5RM. Warm up without tiring yourself out, like so:

Bodyweight x5
Bodyweight +25x5
Bodyweight +40x3 (could do five+ , but want to save energy... you think 50x5 is there)
Bodyweight +50x4 (ehhh... not quite)

You decide to use 50 as your 5RM for your calculations anyway, as it's conservative. So, 180+50 is 230. That's 92% of your 1RM. Thus, to do a pullup with 100 pounds, you should aim for 92% of that, 257.6, for a set of five. Rounding up a bit, that's bodyweight +80 for a set of 5. 

Now, there are many, many ways you could work this information into your program. You could do ladders or pyramids of 1,2,3 or 3,2,1 with your 5RM, density work, whatever; but you want to keep the heavy sets to a minimum and so set up a simple linear cycle of a single top set and a few backoffs. 

Day 1: Top set of five, two backoff sets, extra work for the scap retractors

Day 2: Top set of five, one backoff set, extra work for the arm flexors

You need to keep your shoulders healthy, so you decide to warm them up first, stretch your lats between sets, and do rotator cuff exercises after your pullups. You also need to work on lat activation, so you do some of that after your joint warmup. 

Here's what your actual workout would look like on day one. 

Mobility warmup:
-foam roll lats
-tennis ball around scaps, pecs, triceps
-Dislocates with a rope or broomstick

Activation warmup:
-Scap retraction/protraction in pushup position with band resistance
-Hardstyle plank x10 seconds
-Hollow hold on bar x10 seconds
-3 to 5 fast pullups focusing on pushing your elbows down, not pulling yourself up
(Do as a circuit for 2-3 rounds, don't tire yourself out)

Pullups +20x5
Pullups +35x3 
Pullups +50x5 (sweet! New PR!)
Pullups +40x6 (backoff set one, just drop 10 pounds off)
Pullups +30x8 (backoff set two)

(There are many options for progression here but the simplest would be to add 5-10lb extra weight every time you hit 5 solid reps on the top set. When linear progress slows down, having a heavier and lighter day each week, or doing pullups one day and chinups the other, could help keep things moving. Backing off and cycling back up, or switching from single to double progression, would be great options too. That's a subject for another article, though.)

Bent-over row 1x10 warmup, 3x8 work sets (use the same weight for all sets, add weight when you can do 3x12--simple double progression on the supplementary exercise). A note on form here--when using them to supplement your pulls/chins, letting your elbows flare out so that lats don't take over, and pausing for a second with the bar at your chest, will do wonders. 

Straight-arm band pull for rear delts, 1-2x25-50
Rotator cuff exercise of choice, 1-2x25-50

There you go. Fairly expansive, yes? With a program this specific, you won't be able to do a whole lot else on your two pullup days unless you have all day to spend in the gym (comparatively, anyway, keep in mind that the general idea of my advice on this blog is for people to be able to train intelligently even if they don't have much time to commit), so the rest of your training week will have to be planned accordingly. Something like: 

Monday: pullup day one
Tuesday: Press
Wednesday: Squat
Thursday: pullup
Friday: press day two
Saturday: pullup day two

This assumes, of course, that the rest of your goals are also strength-related. If they aren't, I'm sure you could come up with something else. If you really wanted to focus, doing something like doing presses before your pullups for a few high tension sets of 3-5x3-5, and doing lower body exercises the same way after your pullups, could work well too. This would give you two strength days and free up the rest of your week for conditioning and other stuff. Plenty of options, and this blog is long enough already.....

Remember that this is a purely hypothetical example that shows what I think a good thought process should be for someone designing his or her own training program. Any individual might need a completely different approach even for this same goal; changing the exercises, frequency, volume, intensity, etc. to fit their own needs. Hopefully, though, there was some information here that you can make good use for your own purposes!

Samurai cat says "crush your enemies." The enemy in this case being your pullup 1RM.

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