Category Archives: Workouts

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

Over the next few Wednesdays, I will be covering topics specific to physical fitness tests administered in certain careers such as law enforcement or the military. I’ll talk about the 1.5 mile run, push ups, pull ups, and the sit and reach test. If you or someone you know will be entering a career in law enforcement or the military and must participate in a pre-employment physical fitness test, I’m certified in administering the five phases of the Physical Efficiency Battery: the sit and reach test; body composition test; the bench press; the agility run and the 1.5 mile run. If you need help in any of the areas that won’t be covered in my Workout Wednesday topics, don’t hesitate to reach out – I’d love to help.

One of the ways I have increased my run time has been to incorporate interval training into my
workouts approximately 1-2 times per week. There are a variety of ways this can be done: on a track; on
a running path; or on a treadmill. The first time I tried sprints, I thought I was going to die. My strength coach prescribed them into my workouts when I made the decision to give triathlon a try. She said hill sprints were perfect for a beginner like me because I would avoid overstriding; she was afraid I would do so at first if I sprinted on a flat surface.

If sprinting is new to you, give hill sprints a try. After you complete a warm up, sprint up a hill at an intensity that is hard for you, but not out of reach. Once you reach the top, turn around and lightly jog down or walk back to your starting point (bottom of the hill). After these become easier (you can sprint at an effort of 7 or 8 out of 10), take your sprints to a track, running path or treadmill.

On a track:

After completing a warm up (about 10 minutes or 1 mile), sprint at about 70-90% effort on the straight parts of the track (100 meters). Walk to recover when you reach the curved part of the track (also 100 meters). When you reach the straight segment, sprint again. Recover. Repeat 6-8 times.

On a running path:

Complete a 5 to 10 minute warm up. Jog at an easy pace, then sprint at a hard effort for approximately
45 seconds. Walk to recover for 15 seconds (or longer if you need it), then sprint again. Repeat this 6-8 times.

On a treadmill:

Try either one of these.

Workout #1

Warm up for 5-10 minutes. After your warm up is completed, set the belt speed to 4 mph for 3 minutes. Maintain that speed for the duration of the workout and adjust the incline as you see below. You will notice the workout gets progressively harder, so pace yourself and push as hard as your body will allow.

If the workout is too challenging at the moment, lower the grade on each 2-minute segment to 0%. Keep
the 1-minute intervals as they are prescribed.

Time & Grade:

  • 1 minute 2%
  • 2 minutes 0%
  • 1 minute 4%
  • 2 minutes 2%
  • 1 minute 6%
  • 2 minutes 4%
  • 1 minute 8%
  • 2 minutes 6%

Workout #2

Warm up by running 1 mile at an easy pace. By the end of this warm up, your speed should be at 6.0 and 1% incline. After you complete your warm up, here is the workout:

  • .25 mile at 7.0 – 7.8
  • .25 mile at 5.0 to 6.0 (recover)
  • Repeat 4 times.

Again, these are designed to push yourself, but not to the point of failure. When you complete each workout, record: the speed you ran at; the level of your intensity (5/10, 7/10, 10/10 etc); how you felt; and whether or not you felt you could have done one more interval. This will help you see your progress.

On your non-interval days, you could actively recover by rowing, swimming, biking, or going for a light
run (the intensity should be moderate). You should also incorporate strength training sessions as well as mobility work to keep soreness or stiffness at bay. An example of your schedule can look like this:

Day 1 – mobility work (stretching and foam rolling) + interval run + lower body strength training

Day 2 – upper body strength training

Day 3 – moderate intensity active recovery (rowing machine, swimming, light run or biking)

Day 4 – mobility work (stretching and foam rolling) + interval run + lower body strength training

Day 5 – upper body strength training

Day 6 – moderate intensity active recovery (rowing machine, swimming, light run or biking)

Day 7 – rest

Strength training sessions, as well as active recovery sessions, don’t have to exceed 30 minutes. The focus is improving running, with strength as a compliment to it.

If you would like additional workouts for increasing your run time, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’d love to help in any way I can.

Tabata workouts are great for burning fat and can be done anywhere. They are especially good for someone like me, a road warrior, because even if the hotel gym is crowded or smells funky, I can do the workout in my room. I’m not a huge fan of running on the treadmill, so these types of workouts are awesome for elevating my heart rate and improving my maximal oxygen consumption.

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