Friday, October 14, 2011

How-To: Pull-ups without equipment

Pull-ups (and chin-ups) are probably the most well-known and practiced exercises for the back muscles, and for good reason.  Few people can even perform 10 pull-ups with good form and without additional weight, and only an elite few perform pull-ups with a 25 to 45 pound plate around their waist.  Pull-ups work out pretty much every muscle in the upper back, and they work it out hard.

However, many people don't have access to a gym where pull-up bars are everywhere.  Furthermore, some people feel it is a rip-off to purchase what is essentially a $25 rounded piece of steel to do pull-ups in a door frame.  Playgrounds often have a variety of bars to do pull-ups on, but not everyone lives close to a playground, and not everyone wants to do their tough workout with a bunch of little rascals running around.

Today, I'm going to show you a method of doing pull-ups without any extra equipment that you can do right inside your house, for free.

First, find a sturdy door in your house.  It doesn't have to be made of solid steel or anything.... just a door that will support your weight without collapsing or falling off the hinges.

Here's the door I use for pull-ups
Once you've found a suitable door, grab a towel and place it over the door as shown in the picture below.

Towel folded over the top of the door
The towel will help you maintain a good grip on the pointy edges of the door.  If you feel more uncomfortable with the towel than without it, by all means take it off.  Depending on where the door is located and how it moves, you may also want to put a heavy object at the base of the door as well.  This will prevent the door from moving from the momentum of the exercise itself.  I just use a large rock... anything reasonably heavy will work fine, though.

Now, to start the pull-up, position yourself hanging from the top of the door, with ankles crossed and knees bent to 90 degrees.

Pull-up starting position

From here, use your lats (the muscles under and behind your armpits) to propel yourself upwards.  Once you hit the top point, pause for a second or two, then slowly let yourself back down to the starting position.  Here's what you should look like at the top position:

Pull-up top position
When you've finished the entire movement, that's one repetition.

The door pull-up is a little harder than conventional pull-ups.  Because the physical barrier of the door is in the way of your legs, it is impossible to "cheat" by developing momentum with your legs to help swing you up to the top position.  Thus, you may find that you can do 10 regular pull-ups, but you are only able to do five or six reps using the door.

Also, semi-long clothing is essential with this exercise.  Since your body is in contact with the door at all times, your skin may rub on the door and become irritated, as well as making the exercise more difficult.  Wearing shorts and a shirt will help to relieve this problem, as clothing tends to slide against the door, instead of "sticking" on it like your skin would.

Finally, for beginners, I would first try to accomplish one rep.  If you can't do a single rep, use your back muscles to bring you as far up as possible, hold for 2-3 seconds, and come back down.  If you keep at it, your strength in this exercise will improve quickly.  Also, try starting from the top position by using a chair to hoist yourself up, then drop down into the starting position as slowly as possible.  This will help develop some of the muscles that are used in the top position without actually doing the full rep.

People with a bit more experience should aim for 3 to 5 sets of 5-7 reps.  Elite athletes and highly-trained individuals may need a backpack full of something heavy (like rocks or sand) to progress.  Just make sure your door is capable of holding the extra weight!

Well, that's it for now.  Stay tuned for more free exercises that you can do around your own house!

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