Category Archives: Training Advice

Adding Weight to Your Chin-up or Pull-up

As a youth, I remember seeing images in muscle magazines of bodybuilders doing chin-ups and pull-ups with 50 lbs dumbbells suspended around their waists with a chain. I remember thinking that in order to do what they are capable of doing I would need to be as huge and muscular as they are.

It turns out this is far from the truth. Adding weight to the chin-up or pull-up is not as hard as it seems. The Guinness world record for the weighted pull-up was accomplished by a 165 lbs martial artist named Ron Cooper who did 27 pull-ups with a 40 lbs backpack. Other world records include a 206 lbs weighted pull-up and 14 pull-ups with a 100 lbs backpack – both set by Steven Proto.

The reason this is not happening in the gym is simple. No one is concerned about how much they can chin; they are worried about their bench press, preacher curl, and lat pull down.

Secondly, so many gyms in America don’t allow chalk and many powerlifters and weightlifters are forced to go to specialty gyms that are not always easy to find.

If you want to maximize the benefit from chin-ups you need to use chalk no differently than you would for the deadlift in powerlifting or the snatch in weightlifting. The thought of not using chalk is absurd.

Also, you need to be able to place the weight in a backpack or suspend the weight tightly around your waist with a belt. You need a fixed center of gravity. If the weight is able to move or swing – for example, if it is on a chain – the center of gravity will be thrown off.

Lastly, don’t worry about doing high reps. If you wanted to add weight to your bench press you wouldn’t focus on doing sets of 12 reps. Instead you would trim with a heavy enough weight that limited your reps into the 3 to 5 range or less.

So why would you train the lats any differently than the chest?
Start doing sets of 3 or 5 reps and continuously add weight slowly. In time, you will be turning heads at the gym each time you touch the chin-up bar.

Gain Strength Without Building Muscle

Did you know you can actually gain strength without gaining any muscle at all? For example, if a totally untrained person practiced a certain exercise without any resistance for several months they would become remarkably stronger in that movement.

However, this same person also wouldn’t experience the “beginner gains” they otherwise would benefit from when they start resistance training because certain neurological adaptations have already occurred. This phenomena occurs because the body is learning how to best perform this movement as efficiently as possible.

This is how plyometrics increases your ability to jump. You are training the nervous system to recruit more and more muscle fibers to explosively contract in unison. The goal of plyometrics isn’t to gain muscle mass. However, an increase in your vertical jump definitely marks an improvement in strength.

This is also why powerlifters can benefit from heavy/light programs. The light days are intended to practice technique – not to increase size or strength.

Much of the gains made in weightlifting are of the same nature. Weightlifters with a small body mass heft huge weights about their heads in less than a second. However, much of their training consists of using light weights that most beginners could lift.

For example, a broomstick is often used to master the clean and jerk instead of a weighted Olympic bar. Weightlifters often train with submaximal weights for several months while still continuing to build strength.

Lifting weights is not just about lifting weights; it’s a learned skill, the consequence of which are neurological adaptations, muscle hypertrophy, and increased strength.

If you are serious about bench pressing a truck load of weight or building hulk sized arms then take my advice. You need to start treating exercises like the bench press and biceps curl no differently than a professional golf player or baseball player would treat their swing – they practice they shit out if it.

Training Volume – How Many Sets and Reps?

The number of sets and reps depends on your goal: strength ranges from 1 to 5 reps, muscle size 6 to 12 reps, and endurance 15 to 25 reps.

If only if it was this simple. Powerlifters train in the rep range of 1 to 5, bodybuilders 6 to 12, and all other endurance athletes train in the high reps range of 15 reps and beyond.

Based on the principle of specificity this is true, but only to a certain degree. As an advanced athlete you begin to reach a level where gaining anything is hard to do and seldom occurs. Elite athletes often need to train outside of normal boundaries to reach new levels.

For example, an elite powerlifter might have to deadlift in the 20 rep range for awhile in order to further increase their strength boundaries. Likewise, a bodybuilder that typically trains their back with high rep lat pull-downs and seated cable rows can greatly benefit from heavy low rep deadlifts.

Regardless of the rep ranges you choose, having a quantified number of sets and reps provides an invaluable way to measure training volume.

High volume programs based on sets and reps provide an easy way to manipulate training volume. German volume 10 x 10 and Vince Gironda’s 8 x 8 are extreme examples of high volume routines. Nevertheless, these volume programs yield a quantified amount of work completed. The result is a training variable that can be manipulated.

For example, if you are accustomed to bench pressing 150 lbs for 5 sets x 10 reps, the total pounds bench pressed in a workout would be 7,500 lbs . The total work done or workout volume is measured in total pounds lifted.

If the number of sets is reduced to 4 sets the total pounds lifted or work done is halved to 6,000 lbs. The total work has been reduced, creating a the need to increase other training variables such as intensity. To balance this deficit, intensity can be increased by adding 5 or 10 lbs to the lift.

The reduction in volume can be offset with an increase in intensity – lifting a heavier weight. This juggling act between volume and intensity can be repeated over time – the end result is a training cycle.