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Pull ups were once a seldom seen movement that only old school lifters did. Your “everyday” trainee usually did pull downs instead. However, now you’re seeing everyone from bodybuilders to soccer moms hanging from the pull up bar. That said, if you ever want to start adding extra weight, you’re going to have to be doing strict pull ups.
Kipping pull ups are a hot topic on most online training message boards and social media. While there is reasoning behind doing them, they’re not to be used if your goal is to eventually add external resistance. Strict pull ups keep all the emphasis on the back, whereas kipping lets you take advantage of body momentum to get your chin over the bar.
This is worth noting because you’re generally not going to be able to kip with added weight. Sure, maybe it’s possible if you’re wearing a snugly fitted weighted vest. But if you’re hanging plates, a dumbbell, or kettlebell from your waist, kipping is out of the question. Strict pull ups are what you’ll need to focus on.
Many lifters want to do weighted pull ups for a number of reasons. Some just want the bragging rights of saying they can do them. Some want to use them as a way of building bigger and wider lats. And some still want just want to build their back as strong as possible.
That said, strict pull ups are necessary for a pretty simple reason – weighted pull ups are really just strict pull ups with external resistance attached. If you want to bench press more weight, you first have to perfect the art of bench pressing itself, then you can start to pile the weight on. Getting good at strict pull ups so you can add weight down the line is the same basic idea.
Strict pull ups should be a part of any program rooted in strength-based hypertrophy. Sets could be alternated with sets of an upper body “pushing” exercise if you were doing a general strength workout. For instance, you could do a set of overhead press, then a set of strict pull ups, and keep going back and forth. However, if you were simply just doing a back workout, do them first before moving onto other movements.
There are two sets and reps schemes that would work well. The first would be a standard strength-based hypertrophy setup of 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps. Another route you could take would be to do 30-45 total reps, no matter the sets and reps. You’d simply just do as many reps as you could every single set. Keep performing sets, keeping a running cumulative total. Once you’ve achieved your desired number of total reps, you’re done.
You can’t get better at doing strict pull ups if you can’t do any in the first place. If you’re still struggling to get your chin over the bar for the first time, there are a few things you could do. The first would be to just lose weight. If you don’t have as much bodyweight to have to move around, that means you’ll be able to pull yourself up easier.
Another way to start off would be to do “negative-only” reps. Place a box or bench next to your pull up bar. Step on it to get yourself into the top position of a pull up with your chin already over the bar. Now lower yourself as slowly as you can. This works as eccentrics have been shown to build strength more quickly than when doing concentric and eccentrics together. Don’t do more than 3-4 sets of 4-5 reps, though. Eccentrics are really hard on the CNS and could cause you to over train.
Your last option would be to add some assistance. This could be in the form of stepping into a band you’ve looped around the bar to help pull you up. The other way would be to just use the assisted pull up machine if your gym has one.
Strict pull ups are indeed one of the most effective back exercises you can do. All the emphasis is kept on your lats and rhomboids when momentum is minimized, and getting better at them is what will allow you to eventually add external resistance. Do a modified version if you’re unable to do them currently, then move onto treating them like a strength-hypertrophy exercise for best all-around results.