Make 2018 the year you become that guy with these five moves, courtesy of Karen Smith, kettlebell instructor and chief bodyweight instructor with StrongFirst.
To elevate your pullup game, incorporate these exercises into your routine three to four times per week. If you’re already doing a lot of pulling work (i.e. deadlifts, pull-ups, rows) during your regular workouts, tackle these exercises only once or twice per week to avoid overtraining.
Build your pulling muscles (a.k.a. lats) by taking your kettlebell military press up a notch. Instead of giving in to gravity after pressing the kettlebell overhead, focus on actively pulling the weight back into rack position. You’re working your lats with each and every active rep, and ultimately mimicking the motion of a one-arm chin-up, Smith says.
- With one hand, hold a kettlebell in the rack position (your fingers will loop around the handle with the bell resting on your bicep, and the outside edge of your thumb is flush against your body). Your wrist should be straight and the kettlebell should be resting against it.
- Tighten your core and press the kettlebell overhead to a full lockout without letting your elbows flare out to the side.
- When you lower the weight, focus on actively pulling it back into racked position while keeping your elbow close to body. Keep your shoulders contracted and make the kettlebell seem heavier than it is.
- Repeat for three to five sets of five reps per side. Complete all repetitions on one side before switching to the other.
Sure, it looks simple, but the hollow-body rocker actually develops serious core strength and stability. In order to do it correctly, you have to keep your whole body tight and controlled, from your core to your glutes to your legs, Smith says. As you practice this exercise, you’ll learn to move your body as one controlled unit—a key skill needed to master the pull-up.
- Begin lying on your back with your arms and legs extended; your arms should be in line with your ears.
- Press your low back into the floor and lift your arms and legs off the floor several inches. If you feel your lower back start to peel off the floor, regress the movement by lowering your arms to your sides.
- Then tighten your core and rock back and forth while maintaining contact between your low back and the floor. Do not change the angle of the shoulders or hips to initiate the rocking motion; your body should move as one solid unit. As you rock, keep your arms and legs glued in place; don’t let your shoulders or back collapse.
- Continue rocking back and forth for three sets of 20 reps.
According to Smith, strict hanging leg raises require tons of lat activation, along with a solid core. And while you may not be able to crank them out by the dozens, just a few solid reps of a strict hanging leg raise will help you develop the core and lat strength needed to bang out a series of pull-ups.
- Grip a pull-up bar with a thumbless overhand grip. Hang from the bar in a straight-arm hollow position with legs extended and squeezed together.
- Brace your core and raise your legs toward the bar with control, taking care not to round your lower back. Only raise your legs as far as your current level of strength and flexibility allows.
- Straighten your legs and repeat. The goal is to bring your toes all the way to the bar while keeping your legs straight. Build volume slowly for two to four sets of one to five reps.
Deadlifts are the ultimate full-body exercise (aside from pull-ups, of course). Not only do they develop core, glute and upper-back strength, but they also build hardcore grip strength, which will help you hang on to the pull-up bar longer. And once you work your way up to pulling weight that’s equivalent to one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half times your bodyweight off the floor, pulling your bodyweight up to the pull-up bar will seem much easier, Smith says.
- Begin with a barbell or kettlebell on the floor directly in front of you and stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Push your hips back and hinge forward at the waist to grip the weight with both hands. Keeping your back flat, brace your core and pull the weight off the floor until your torso is fully extended, taking care not to arch your lower back at the top of the movement.
- Slowly lower the weight back down to the floor. Complete three to five sets of five reps.