Build a back that turns heads with this pull-up program from Men’s Health.
Gimme a “V”
The “V” HAS A grand lineage. For the Romans, it was a letter and number, chiselled into marble for millennia. The “V” is flashed for victory and for peace. V8 juice is good for our bodies, V-8 engines are good for our souls. (Let’s ignore V2 rockets and VH1.)
But back to that chisel. A V-shaped upper body conveys power in the boardroom, as well as on the beach. You get that “V” by developing the latissimus dorsi, the largest muscle in your back.
Chin-ups can deliver you to V-ness. They require strength, flexibility and balance and recruit muscles from your back, shoulders, arms and core. Whether you call them pull-ups or chin-ups, they work.
I. GET A GRIP
Unless you strengthen your grip, it will fail long before your arms, shoulders or back.
Static hang Grab the bar with an overhand grip and hang straight down. Once you can do that for 60 seconds, wrap a towel around the bar. The thickness makes your finger and forearm muscles stretch. Work at this until you can hang for 60 seconds.
II. RECRUIT SUPPORT
Your core connects your upper- and lower-body musculature. So improving core strength will keep your head, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles properly aligned throughout the chin-up.
Swiss-ball reverse push-up On a Smith machine or squat rack, secure a bar one to 1.2 metres above the floor. Lie under the bar and grab it with an overhand grip that’s slightly wider than shoulder width. Hang at arm’s length with your body in a straight line and place your lower legs on a Swiss ball. Keeping your body rigid, pull your chest to the bar.
Pause, then lower yourself back to the starting position. Perform 12 reps.
III. Boost Endurance
In a dead lift, the weight travels less than 30 centimetres. In a chin-up, your body weight travels about 120cm. That’s tiring. You need to improve your muscular endurance.
Gravity games Using a step (or a boost from a partner), hoist your chest to the bar. Then lower yourself slowly – try for a count of 12 before your arms are straight. Complete a set of six to eight reps.
IV. Add Weight
As you become proficient at chin-ups, add weight to your frame to make the critical muscles work harder.
Weighted chin-up Add 10 per cent of your body weight by attaching weight plates to a dip belt. (Or hold a dumbbell between your feet.) Once you can do 12 chin-ups, increase the weight by 50 per cent.
Drop-set chin-up: after performing 12 weighted chin-ups, remove the weight and do as many unweighted ones as you can. Working the muscles to failure makes them bigger, building your “V”. Do this only once every three work-outs or you risk overtraining.
V. Forget Form
These variations challenge your muscles from unusual angles, spurring growth.
Sternum chin-up Place your hands in an underhand grip. Pull your body up to the bar while leaning your torso back and bending your knees. Keep your back arched and pull your head away from the bar. Touch your lower chest to the bar so your body forms a 45° angle with the ground. Try to complete 12 reps.
Hanging-towel chin-up Place two towels over the bar at shoulder width. Grab both halves of each towel just below the bar and pull your chest to the bar. Your body travels a longer distance than in a standard chin-up because you start lower.
As this gets easier, start with your hands halfway down the towel. You won’t be able to pull your chest to the bar, but the instability will force you to fight your body’s tendency to swing. Aim for 12 reps.