Once, I came across this question posted on a popular strength-training website by a young Marine: “How should I train to improve my pullups?”
I was amused when I read the arcane and nonspecific advice the trooper received: “Do straight-arm pulldowns, reverse curls, avoiding the negative
part of the chin-up every third workout…”
I had a radical thought:
If you want to get good at pullups, why not try to do…a lot of pullups?
I’ve been reading the work of Pavel Tsatsouline for over fifteen years. Back in the 1980s, was a physical-training instructor for Spetnaz, the elite Soviet special-forces units. He is the guy who popularized kettlebells (a Russian training tool) in the US and now he trains the US Marine Corps, the US Secret Service, and the US Navy SEALs. in addition to his writing and RKC (Russian Kettlebell Certification) work.
In The Naked Warrior, his book on developing strength through body weight exercises, he discusses the concept of “greasing the groove.” If you want to get good at something, you do it a lot, every day. In the anecdote quoted above, he helped his father-in-law improve his pullups by installing a pullup bar on the stairs down to his study in the cellar. He was instructed to do one good one every time he passed the bar.
In a few weeks, he could do twenty. more than when he was a young man.
I’ve hit this idea from dozens of angles on this website and its something I struggle with myself, because basically, I’m lazy. I’m like a recovering addict and my addiction is sitting on my ass reading or watching TV. This addiction brings with it a lot of the addict rationalizing behavior. And I think I’m not the only one.
You develop skills by practicing. Period. The more you practice, the better you get. Its that simple. You see all these exercise commercials on TV with a ridiculous variety of devices or musical accompaniment. Calisthenics with Rhumba. A thing to stand on so you are unbalanced while you lift dumbells. The Soloflex gym. Its all B.S. You can get the same results doing pushups, situps, free squats, jumping jacks, and all the other body weight exercises that require no equipment.
You can lose all the weight you want with a $5 jump rope.
And the best way to learn Wing Chun is to buy a $15 hanging bag and to hit it thousands of times.
Obviously, you need someone to show you how to do it right. But then you are really on your own.
Fill it with rice. Start by hitting it lightly fifty times. Do this three times a day. Hit it a little harder every day. Get to the point where you are hitting it with about 75% power. Start adding reps. Get up to hitting it 100 times three times a day.
Focus on connecting to the heel on the same side, for power.
Add ten a day. In a month you’ll have added 300. Get to the point where you are hitting it 1000 times three times a day. Takes about 15 minutes each session.
You’ll find you slowly start developing attributes. Your hips drive your elbows more naturally and effortlessly. You punch more from the center. Your hands get harder. You start to get really good at hitting.
After a few months, change the rice and put in Mung beans. Lighten up your hits at first and then slowly get back to 75% power.
Pavel calls this sort of training “Greasing the Groove.”
Every once in a while, after you’ve toughened up your hands and they can take it, hit that bag with 90%. Or have a training partner hold a pad and hit that. In fact, try this before you start training, then do the punching training for three months, then come back and try again. Note the look on your training partners face as you punch right through that pad.
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