Category Archives: Strength Training

I can hardly believe the holiday season is just around the corner–how did it get here so quickly?!?

If you are like me, you struggle to come up with gifts for people, and the struggle is especially real for those who seem to have everything. At that point, it’s a matter of figuring out what they like or want as opposed to what they need. I thought I’d provide some gift ideas for the fitness enthusiast in your life, all of which are under 50.00. These are things I’ve used and been happy with and in many cases, think the price to value ratio is on point (meaning I have had a good experience with the purchase and it’s lasted me a while or given me tremendous value).

In full disclosure, the links to Amazon are all associate links. You don’t have to purchase through me; I only provide the link so you’ll know the exact product I am referring to and hopefully it’s easier (and quicker) to click a link rather than open Amazon and hit their search bar.


For anyone looking to eat more home cooked food in 2018 (and hopefully every year thereafter, wink wink), I’ve come across 2 sources that I think are so well done and so well thought out that I’d be crazy to not recommend them for anyone looking to add some variety (and simplicity) to their meals. Knowing I have something good to eat at home or packed in my meal bag makes it so much easier to skip eating out and eating something that isn’t prepared healthfully or made with fresh, wholesome ingredients.

  • Ready or Not, from Michelle Tam and Henry Fong 

Michelle Tam, of Nom Nom Paleo fame, recently put a cookbook out that is not only BEAUTIFUL, it is comprehensive in it’s display. She has some outstanding recipes that are easy for an intermediate level cook like myself, but there are plenty of recipes appropriate for any level cook. This is one of the best cookbooks I own and one thing I *really* appreciate is the inclusion of recipes for using an instant pot. The book is broken into multiple sections: Get Set! (mastering some basics and having some things prepared ahead of time for when you’re short on time; Ready! (recipes that can be made ahead of time and are excellent for meal prep/planning); Kinda Ready! (good for those hectic work days and you have pantry staples on hand or leftovers you want to repurpose); Not Ready! (quick meals that don’t require tons of effort or pre-made ingredients); Beyond Ready! (4 weeks of dinner plans).

Favorite recipes so far: Slow Cooker Kabocha +Ginger Pork; Pressure Cooker Kalua Pig (this is a popular one for me); Bangin’ Baby Back Ribs; Roasted Carrots w Ginger Sesame Sauce; and Choose Your Own Adventure Egg Muffins.

Purchase here: Ready or Not!: 150+ Make-Ahead, Make-Over, and Make-Now Recipes by Nom Nom Paleo

  • Practical Paleo, 2nd Edition, from Diane Sanfilippo

Diane Sanfilippo, of Practical Paleo and Balanced Bites, also has a few cookbooks out but the one I have is the updated and expanded version of Practical Paleo. I’m not a strict Paleo follower, but I use the lifestyle as a guide in my approach to eating. What attracted me to this book is that it’s almost half nutrition/wellness book (with excellent graphics) and half recipe book. If you’re looking for information on getting started with Paleo; clearing up carb confusion; autoimmunity; balancing blood sugar; managing stress; and coming up with meal plans addressing those issues, this is the book for you. Diane’s recipes are also easy to follow, well laid out and they are ones you’ll enjoy using over and over again.

Purchase here: Practical Paleo, 2nd Edition (Updated and Expanded): A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle


Back in September, I saw TreadBands at a race expo and thought it was brilliant to leave out the elastic and make it a tie back. I’ve got some headbands I really like but am sad the elastic hasn’t lasted very long on them. With a tie back, you never have to worry about that! I have one in charcoal heather, but with the sales they frequently have, I know I’ll be adding others in the future. Subscribe to their email to catch their sales! I really do love my headband because of the tie back. 🙂

Check them out here: TreadBands


Passion Planner isn’t just *any* planner, this is an awesome tool to mind map; dream; schedule; plan; reflect and list out what you’re grateful for. I know there are other planners out there, but really, this one has been the best fit for me in planning out my training business and keeping my life in order. I write small, so last year I purchased the 2017 compact planner. This year I purchased the classic size which is much larger in comparison and absolutely beautiful to look at. Passion Planner is a small business company that impressively has their shit together in ways that are beyond impressive. Their CEO, Angelia Trinidad, has such amazing vision and her business model is brilliant. For every planner purchased, they give one away to individuals, organizations and schools via an application process. Seriously. How cool is that?

The planner I purchased for 2018 is a new addition to their line–the Eco line. It’s a thick, card stock paper planner on the inside, with a reusable, faux vegan leather sleeve. That way, I can recycle the planner if I like, but when I purchase one for 2019, I still have my cover to slide over it. My rose gold planner is so, so pretty, but there are plenty of other great looking options available to you!

Check out the rose gold classic planner here: 2018 Rose Gold Eco Set


  • Down Dog Yoga App (free and 29.99 for one year)

What made this app different for me, compared to some other free yoga apps I’ve used, is the ability to focus on certain areas (called boosts in the app) such as back strength; hamstring opening; hip opening and low back opening. There are other options, but these are the ones I like the most. There are 4 levels of sessions available to the user: Beginner 1; Beginner 2; Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2. Session lengths are as varied according to the level you choose and can be as few as 10 minutes and as long as 60 minutes. There are also 4 sequence types: full practice, short practice, quick flow and restorative. The cues given are easy to follow and the poses are easy to follow, plus there is a comprehensive directory of all poses and their breakdowns (you’ll be redirected to You Tube to see these).

See info here: Down Dog Yoga App

  • Calm App (free and 44.99 for one year)

I won’t lie. There’s only one reason I purchased this app: the sleep stories. I am willing to do anything to get a good night of sleep and using this app at bed time really helps a lot. Don’t get me wrong, there are a limited number of things available in the free version (both meditation and sleep stories), but after hearing the same story over and over, I decided to purchase an annual subscription as soon as it was on sale.

Other features of this app include different meditation programs (I wasn’t a believer at first, but it does take practice (repetition) for it to get easier to simply relax for 10 minutes a day. I use the beginner guided meditations for now, but there are multiple programs to choose from. There is also music / white noise you can listen to, which is a fairly new offering for users. New material is added all the time, for me it was a good purchase.

See info here: Calm


  • Mini bands

I had no idea how versatile these were until the last year or two! I keep one set in my travel bag to do light workouts while I’m on the road and I keep one set at home in my gym. The fitness enthusiast in your life will appreciate having a set of mini bands–the number of exercises that can be done with them helps one stay on their fitness track! I can tell a difference in quality between the ones I keep in my suitcase vs. the ones I have in my home gym, so I’ll give you the link to the ones in my home gym. Check their website often because they have sales and that’s when I bought mine.

Purchase here: Mini Bands

  • Resistance bands with handles

I love the set I got because the handles can be swapped out via a metal clipping system (so all bands don’t have a handle on either end until you clip one on), which give the bands a lot more versatility. I also travel with some of these bands and leave the rest at home. I take 2 or 3 of them with me on my trips and those, combined with the mini bands, also give me a great workout.

Purchase here: Black Mountain Products Resistance Band Set with Door Anchor, Ankle Strap, Exercise Chart, and Resistance Band

  • Loop style resistance bands

This is another product I didn’t realize was so versatile until the last year or so. I use these to add resistance to tricep push ups, dumbbell bench presses, goblet squats, barbell squats, barbell bench presses, straight arm pull downs, rows, hamstring stretches, lat stretches, and the list goes on. These can also help with pull ups in a few different ways! If there is anything I recommend for the fitness enthusiast in your life, it’s definitely bands like these. I keep one skinny band in my travel bag and use it ALL THE TIME.

Purchase here: MummyStrength Resistance Bands for Men and Women. The Best Stretch Band for Pull Up Exercise and Powerlifting. Works With Any Pull Up Bar or Station. Single Band. Workout Guide Included – BLACK

This is a short but hopefully useful list. If you have any questions or need suggestions for exercises that can be done with bands, feel free to contact me, I’d love to make a list for you!












Introducing Coach Lauren (Pak)

Hello reader!

Here is a quick re-cap of previous posts last week: On day 1 I featured Coach Rhonda T, a woman I know from my Best of You coaching/mentorship group. On day 2 I featured Coach Fowler, who I’d been following on social media and got to meet at the Jill Coleman Fitness Business Retreat recently held in Asheville, NC. Day 3 featured Julie Read, also someone I’d been following on social media and finally got to meet at the same retreat (she is currently my coach). Day 4 featured Cori Lefkowith, a woman I found when researching pull up progressions and have since been a social media follower, a subscriber of her newsletters and a member of her Facebook groups. Today, day 5, I’d like to introduce you to Coach Lauren.

How I know Coach Lauren: I heard an interview featuring her and her husband Coach Jason on The FitCast Podcast and I loved all of the things the host, Kevin Larabee, was saying about the Pak’s: their strong community of members at their gym facility in Boston; the support networking they encourage among their gym members; and the coaching methodologies they employed to create a feeling of belonging and acceptance.

A quick peek of their social media will show smiles on their members faces that will tell you everything you need to know. As an example, I love how their Instagram posts features their members on a recurring basis demonstrating an exercise, participating in group workouts or giving each other high fives and/or hugs.

If I had dreams of opening a gym of my own one day, I’d start studying the business models of both Cori and Coach Lauren. The sense of inclusion and community they promote is simply awesome–they encourage *everyone* and leave no one behind.

And seriously…who wouldn’t love to have a shirt that says, “Peace, Love and Muscles”?!?

Quick funny story–over the summer, I attended the Perform Better Fitness Summit in Providence, RI. While coming out of my hotel one day, I saw the Pak’s entering the hotel. I totally fan-girled and wanted to say hello, but got shy and didn’t say anything. I regretted it later because I know they would have welcomed a chance to say ‘hi’ back (seriously, they really are nice people). Coach Lauren, upon hearing my story, has told me to make sure I say hi the next time I see them, and I absolutely will.

Sadly, this is the last of my five part series featuring women coaches I find inspirational, endearing and authentic. I hope you saw a common theme among these women: they are passionate about what they do; they are firm believers in empowering others; they demonstrate community and inclusion; and last but not least, they ensure their clients have fun every step of the way. Fitness and health don’t have to be painful, boring or dull. It can be confidence building, celebratory and life changing!

Give Coach Lauren and Achieve Fitness a follow. Her upbeat personality and dedication to others will brighten your day and I promise you’ll learn valuable fitness tips from her!

Let’s get into the questions!

Question #1: What got you into fitness and coaching others?

My husband (who was “just a friend” at the time) got a job at a local commercial gym and they told him they were looking to hire more female trainers. He knew I liked to workout and even though I was still studying journalism in college at the time, I thought it would be a fun part-time job. I had NO idea it would end up being the thing I’m most passionate about in life!As soon as I started training people I realized that I had the potential to guide them toward longer, healthier, more fulfilled lives. This was not something I took lightly and I committed to learning everything I could by attending seminars, certifications, etc. to make sure I had as many tools as possible in my toolbox.

What drives me to keep coaching and keep pushing forward in this industry is seeing how much more confidence people get when they realize they’re capable of so much more than they initially imagined.

Question #2: What is your favorite exercise to coach or teach to others?

My favorite thing to teach is probably kettlebells, so I’ll go with either the kettlebell swing or the Turkish Get Up. I love them because they take a lot of focus and concentration, and they both make people feel powerful and capable!

Question #3: What is the biggest fitness myth that you would like to dispel?

I think right now there is a lot of divisiveness in the fitness industry. There are a lot of trainers who bash other modalities that they don’t agree with, and I think it has made fitness a little bit more intimidating for folks who are just looking to move more and get healthier. They’re bombarded with conflicting opinions on what the best type of exercise is, so I think the myth I want to dispel is that there is one ultimate best type of workout or fitness routine. Different things work wonderfully for different people, and everyone should try a variety of modalities to see what they like the best and what makes them feel the best!

Question #4: What is one nutrition tip you think women could use? 

I think the best advice when it comes to nutrition is slowing down. I know a lot of women are incredibly busy, so they eat their meals VERY quickly and within the hour they can’t even remember if they ate or not! That was certainly the case for me for a long time. I had to practice slowing down my chewing and trying to stretch my meals out to last at least 20 minutes. Just doing that helped me so much with understanding portion control and how much food I actually needed!

Question #5:  Your past clients and current clients are all at a cocktail party. What do you hope is the common thing that they say or remember about you?

Great question!! I really hope that they would say I instilled a sense of confidence in them. I hope they all felt like I truly cared about them (because I do!) and that I brought a sense of joy to working out.

Introducing Cori Lefkowith

How I know Cori: Back in 2014 or even 2015, I was doing extensive research on pull ups (how to work up to one or more) and a few different posts by Cori popped up. I liked the information she presented and loved her thorough instruction.

I did some some poking around and found she posts a LOT of free stuff online. Seriously.  A TON of free things that anyone can use and get results from. Sit at a computer or desk too much and need sime stretches to undo that tightness? She’s got you covered. Looking to burn some fat before the holidays? Yep, she’s got you covered there, too. Want to up your running game by  developing more endurance or power? I think you know the answer here.

Cori ran a pull up challenge for anyone to join but she especially encouraged those who hadn’t gotten their first pull up yet to join her 30 day challenge. I joined. Of course. I think I managed to squeeze out two good ones and even won a prize at the end. Go me!!!

I thought, if she gives such amazing stuff away for free, what does her paid content look like?!? It’s fabulous and I know because I worked with her privately for a short time. I quit my gym because I built out a home gym and needed a program to keep me on track with what I had. Cori gave me exactly what I needed and some of what I wanted, which is what a good trainer does. 🙂

It’s evident her gym members and clients love her–Cori’s energy for healthful living is contagious and inspiring because she truly loves what she does (the proof is in her answers to my mini-interview questions below). Take a peek at her website and Facebook page. I’ll bet she has posted something you could use and implement right now.

Let’s get into the questions!

Question #1: What got you into fitness and coaching others?

I’d been an athlete my entire life…My mom told me that growing up tennis was more fun than Barbies so she got me out on the court early on. She fostered my love for activity.

That early love of sports led to me playing tennis at college. There I was lucky enough to have a trainer who inspired my love of lifting. I began learning and researching and even designing my own workouts. I would even force my sister to lift with me each summer when I came home.

After graduating, I thought I wanted to write about college athletes, but I quickly realized I wasn’t happy if I wasn’t working hands on with people to improve their strength and fitness. I wanted to help others find the empowerment through exercises and fitness that I’d found.

I began lifting with my boyfriend of the time…and now husband. He pushed me constantly to lift heavier and experiment with new workouts…He was part of the reason I competed in powerlifting. He always believed in me!…Which has now backfired on him as I force him to try new things and workout with me all the time (and he isn’t afraid or embarrassed when I beat him!).

After realizing I wanted to train people and work hands on, but also knowing I had no experience, I took a job working as a customer service rep at a corporate gym just so I could get started in the field…And well…that built till now!

Question #2: What is your favorite exercise to coach or teach to others?


So my favorite moves is the Deadlift. I love coaching this because of how awesome it feels to beast mode up a heavier weight than you did last time.

BUT I also love coaching the pull up as I think that move is so freaking empowering and something we can all do with some work. Plus there are just so many different things you can do to get people to feel the move and do it right. I like moves that can sometimes be complicated and that challenge you as a coach to get your pupil to learn!

I also love coaching glute activation exercises like the glute bridge because I think they are a must-do move that just about everyone needs because we all sit too much! I just love glute activation!

Question #3: What is the biggest fitness myth that you would like to dispel?


That dieting has to mean deprivation.

AND that getting results is about doing more and working out harder. Less is often truly more AND it really is about training smarter not harder. You can often get better results by spending less time in the gym. Everything you do just needs to be focused on your goals. And you need to think about the muscles that are working and NOT just go through the moves. Just because a move looks right, doesn’t mean you’re recruiting the right muscles!

Question #4: What is one nutrition tip you think women could use? 

EAT and stop depriving. Again it goes back to the fact that sometimes doing less, and making things simpler works better.

We think if we do more, like cut our calories lower or deprive ourselves of more foods…Or overcomplicated things and micromanage every detail, we will get better results.

But simplicity is key because it isn’t about perfection, it’s about consistency!

Question #5:  Your past clients and current clients are all at a cocktail party. What do you hope is the common thing that they say or remember about you?

She taught me to train smarter. I’d like to think I’m a teacher. I don’t want my clients to think I know something they don’t know. I want to share my knowledge so we all get better.

So if they felt they’d learned something from me and became more empowered…well hot damn I’d be happy!

Bonus Round: What’s been the toughest situation a client brought to you and how did you overcome it? 

There have actually been a few situations that come to mind…But the hardest thing I’ve had to learn as a coach is that you can’t want it for someone.

Often I feel like I want my clients to reach their goals even more than they do. But I realized at some points, you have to step back and even say “I can’t want it for you. I can give you the tools and guide you, but you need to find the reason WHY this matters to you if you want results.”

And sometimes that discussion means even knowing when you aren’t the right person to get them there and trying to help them find the person that is!

Where you can see Cori Lefkowith in action:

Introducing Coach Julie Read

How I know Coach Julie Read: I first saw her in Jen Sinkler’s posts on Instagram. Jen’s personality is huge and she’s a superb role model in the fitness industry. I’m a firm believer that good people draw and attract fellow good people, so I knew Julie had to be equally cool. I stumbled across one of her muscle drawings that someone had reposted, and I poked around to see if she had completed other muscle drawings. She has a sizable collection online that you can purchase or download (see here: website) Her drawings are a far better way of learning muscle location and function–not kidding, just take a look for yourself. 🙂

Coach Julie Read is wicked smart when it comes to programming her clients and seeks out ways to elevate her coaching business. If you have a fitness or nutrition goal, she will personalize a program for you and help you understand the importance of trusting the process a coach lays out for you.

Do like I did and check out Coach Julie Read. I bet you’ll become a follower like me!

Let’s get into the questions!

Question #1: What got you into fitness and coaching others?

I’ve been in athletics for as long as I can remember—competing in gymnastics from a young age and moving into the throwing events on the Track & Field team. When I graduated college I discovered that I missed being a part of a team and wanted to fill that space. I let my friend convince me to try out CrossFit and the feeling of taking classes with others made me feel part of a team again. Simultaneously I’d been getting regular bodywork and my massage therapist said that becoming a manual therapist was the best thing she’d ever done. Two days later I was enrolled in massage therapy school. Before graduation I quit my full time job and pursued massage therapy and personal training full time.

Question #2: What is your favorite exercise to coach or teach to others?

I love coaching the squat—anything from the bodyweight squat to the back squat.

Question #3: What is the biggest fitness myth that you would like to dispel?

There are many ways to approach fitness and the only right way is the way that helps a client to reach their goals in a sustainable and safe way. Many people believe that there are good methods and bad methods and I think that’s a total myth. There are methods that are safer, methods that are faster, and methods that are sustainable, but results are dependent on the individual and the implementation. It’s also important to know that generally all three of those can’t co-exists; there’s a cost in choosing a method that’s fast and there’s a need for greater expectation setting for a method that is sustainable. Flexibility in programming, training, methodologies, and occasionally form can help clients more than rigidity.

Question #4: What is one nutrition tip you think women could use? 

Get more sleep. I know, I know…that sounds like it doesn’t have anything to do with nutrition. We often think of nutrition as what we put into our body, but rarely think about how our daily life affects what we eat. Getting enough sleep helps regulate the hormones that play a major role in how (and if) we’re able to change our body composition. And, if body composition isn’t a top priority, then we’re probably looking at nutrition purely as a health topic. In that case, sleep deprivation has greater long term effects than poor nutrition. With less sleep we have less of an ability to make good nutritional choices, too, and oftentimes find ourselves reaching for too-calorie dense foods.

Question #5:  Your past clients and current clients are all at a cocktail party. What do you hope is the common thing that they say or remember about you?

I hope that my clients remember that they are my top priority. I never want to add more stress to their lives and hope that working with me gives them some mental freedom when they enter the gym, like they are taken care of and don’t have to think about anything but good movement.

Where you can see Coach Julie Read in action:

Introducing Coach (Stephanie) Fowler!

How I know Coach Fowler: I first saw her at the Girls Gone Strong Women’s Fitness Summit in Kansas City, MO in August of 2016. She was hanging out with Jen Sinkler and Jen is a really, really fun person and highly regarded. Good people tend to draw fellow good people, so I knew Coach Fowler had to be someone to start “stalking” on social media. 🙂

I quickly realized I can identify with so much of what she posts about: coffee; brunch; lifting weights; living a good life and having great friends. She is inclusive of all women and recently a post of hers made me admire her “leave no woman behind” mentality. Check this out: 

It was the update she included in her post that made me feel the compassion she shows to others: “Update: I have passed a message along to the additional student that she is welcome to join my current student at @empowerhousegym for her practicum. #safespace” 

If I’m ever in Oklahoma City I absolutely will find a way to do her Bootcamp to Brunch workouts because let me tell you, I wish my workouts led to brunch all the time!

Be sure to follow Coach Fowler. She keeps it real, she’s candid about her struggles with obesity as a teenager, and she’s got a great message about self acceptance.

Let’s get into the questions!

Question #1: What got you into fitness and coaching others?

I started coaching while I was at the peak of my own fitness performance.I was already a high school teacher and softball coach, but the lead trainer where I worked out approached me about training part time. That’s how it all started!

Question #2: What is your favorite exercise to coach or teach to others?

Honestly, my clients would probably tell you that I love coaching the push-up. It’s so important to me that my clients progressively get stronger with correct form, and the push-up (a simple move, but challenging if done correctly) is one of the exercises that a TON of people get wrong.

Question #3: What is the biggest fitness myth that you would like to dispel?

“Lifting weights makes you bulky.” NOOOOO. Lift heavy and lift often!

Question #4: What is one nutrition tip you think women could use? 

I would love to encourage women to consume more protein. Not only does it help keep us satisfied, it’s also the major component that helps repair our muscle tissue after workout (I.e. helps with recovery!)

Question #5:  Your past clients and current clients are all at a cocktail party. What do you hope is the common thing that they say or remember about you?

I hope they’re agreeing that I would tell them to enjoy the hors ’derves and cocktails guilt free, all the while strutting confidently around the room in whatever they choose to wear. 

Bonus Round: What’s been the toughest situation a client brought to you and how did you overcome it? 

A tough situation I have faced with a client is when they decided to leave my location for a location that promises weight loss with a strict eating regimen. I truly always wish for future success when and if a client chooses to leave, but I struggle when they choose the sexy “fast fix” versus honing in on the slow, consistent process of lifting heavy weights and dialing in on moderate nutrition. I have ultimately accepted that everybody has different goals, and if their goals don’t align with what I offer, then I wholeheartedly wish them success in their future journey.

Where you can see Coach Fowler in action:

Next month marks my 20th year in my career with the federal government and I plan on doing five more. When I do, I want to start a full time fitness and nutrition coaching career.

2017 is the first of my “five year plan”. I joined Jill Coleman’s elite mentorship group, Best of You, and have learned more than I could have imagined about creating content; building trust; marketing yourself; creating freebies and paid programs; understanding analytics to see who is drawn to my posts to better understand my future clients needs; and lastly, how much commitment is required in order to show up fully present all the time, every time. Last month, I attended Jill’s fitness business retreat in Asheville, NC. I came away with SO MANY ideas and felt like a HYOOOOOGE fire had been lit under my ass. Funny thing is, when I got home, I had so much swirling around in my head and had no idea of how or where to start. I decided to just start. To jump. To press publish no matter what. This week, I’ll be introducing you to 5 women coaches who symbolize everything I want to be to others.

I’ve been so fortunate to come across some women that are doing great, great things in the coaching industry.

What makes them so great, you ask? I admire the knowledge they possess and the ways they pass that knowledge on to others; I am inspired by the sense of community they build among those they coach; I’m encouraged by the support they show and compassion they demonstrate. I’ve spent plenty of time in gyms over the years and seen some horrible trainers. Years ago, I had a strength coach who was so darn good at what she did (I made considerable progress with her-seriously she knew her $&@ÂŁ) but she was hard to relate to or build a rapport with because she was SO smart and SO busy that I really couldn’t have more than segmented conversations with her.

I pay a lot of attention to how coaches and trainers work with people, either in person or over the internet, and I take note of what I want to be and what I don’t want to be. The women I’ll be featuring this week embody all of the things I will be as I continue to form and shape my coaching career.

I hope you enjoy reading the mini interviews I had with them!

Below is a link to todays’s post, featuring Coach Rhonda T:

1 of 5 Women Doing Great Things in the Coaching Industry

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Thanks for reading!

in the gym

If only I could do a strict pull up…

This is the most common thing I hear from trainers and trainees alike. When I talk with fellow trainers to learn what goals their clients set for themselves or when I talk with my clients to ask what they want to learn or improve, the pull up constantly comes up.

The pull up is done with your palms facing away from you and uses mostly the muscles of your back. The chin up is done with your palms facing you and uses primarily the biceps

When my physical fitness test changed at work, I became determined to perform 3 strict pull ups. I even hired a personal trainer to work with me to build up the strength I needed and help me pull my face over the bar. I worked HARD, like three times a week with progressive strength training for a few months, and yet, 2 weeks before the test date, I couldn’t get even one pull up. What was I doing wrong? I was incredibly frustrated; I knew I gained a tremendous amount of strength and skill development. It wasn’t until I talked with another trainer that I discovered the part I never received any training on: mindset. Though mindset, I learned how to connect the way my muscles need to move in order to pull me over the bar. Once that connection was made, boom: the magic happened.

To achieve my pull ups, I focused on developing upper body strength. More specifically, I really developed the muscles of my back. The three key exercises I found to help build pull up strength were: rows (barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell and inverted); isometric holds (using a chair or box to get up over the bar and hold the position for as long as I could); and grip work.

Rolling and muscle activation as part of the warm up is imperative; it helps the body perform movement with greater coordination, but more importantly, it prevents injury. Take about 5 minutes to roll out any tight spots. You can use either a foam roller or a small ball such as a lacrosse ball or a tennis ball. Complete about 6-10 activation exercises, then move on to primary and secondary exercises, and conclude with core work.

Here is a sample workout:

Roll tight spots
  • band pull aparts (10 reps)
  • band straight arm pull down (10 reps)
  • hollow body hold/rockers while laying on the ground (hold/rock for 45-60 seconds)
  • kneeling lat stretch (10 reps)
  • lat pull down (either with a band or weight stack, 12-15 reps)
  • push ups (15-20)
  • inverted body weight rows (either with a barbell or a suspension trainer, 12-15 reps)
  • squat to shoulder press (using challenging weight, 12-15 reps)
  • pallof press (either with a band or weight stack, 12-15 reps each side)

Repeat the exercise circuit 3x.

Cool down by rolling out anything that feels tight, followed by static stretching.

This workout is an example of a starting point in developing upper body strength. In addition to strength exercises for your upper body and core, you’ll want to move to the pull up bar. If you want to do pull ups, you have to do them. 🙂 You can add isometric holds by grabbing a pull up bar and hanging for as long as you can. Time it, because once you can hang for 45-60 seconds,  you can progress to holding at the middle, as well as holding at the top (chin over the bar). Another way to develop a mind-muscle connection is to do “mini pull ups”. This is a great way to feel your lats at work and is key for continuing to understand how involved your lats are in pulling you up and over the bar. Negatives are when you start from the top of the bar and lower yourself down with control in at least a 4 second count and up to 8 seconds. You can start with a range of 4-10 reps of these, with a maximum of 3 sets. Remember, form is more important than your rep or set count; your goal is to build controlled strength so you can continue to progress with good muscle memory. Another key form point is to avoid shrugging your shoulders – keep your shoulders down and away from your ears.

Once you have worked at the negatives and you feel like you can maintain a controlled 8 count descent with good form, give a pull up a try. You won’t know if you can do one until you try; you just may surprise yourself by doing one or two! When I got my first one, I thought I was going to cry tears of joy. I had been working so hard and couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get over the bar. When I finally put it all together, it was the most liberating and empowering feeling and I won’t soon forget it.

If you have any questions or need suggestions on how to add pull ups into your work out, please don’t hesitate to send me a message. I’d love to see you nail the pull up!

Band pull aparts

Straight arm pull downs

Hollow body hold

Kneeling lat stretch

Lat pull down

Inverted body weight rows

Squat to shoulder press

Pallof press