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December 29, 2017

New Years GAINZZZ Thread: I Hit a Goal (Almost!)

For a bunch of Morons (TM), some of you guys are pretty smart.

I have a big accomplishment to mention, and a big thank you to one or two (or all?) of you morons.

One of my goals has been to do a pull-up. I never have done a real pull-up in my life. In high school, when I was probably at my best strength-to-weight ratio, I was able to do 3 or 4 chin-ups, but they're different than pull-ups. Chin-ups work the biceps more than the back/lats, and, being a bro, my biceps were developed while my back was Chernobyl. And I don't mean radioactively strong like the Hulk. I mean it was a disaster area, a forlorn place devoid of life.

As far as an actual pull-up? As far as I know: Never in my life.

I've done sporadic exercises to work on this -- like just doing a pull up from a barbell held in the squat rack, using my legs to provide just enough push to let my back and arms pull me up -- but not a lot.

It's hard to do an exercise when the top amount of reps you can do is, literally, zero. I'm pretty sure that's what puts most people off trying their first pull-up.

When you can do one, it's not a big thing to set a goal of doing two, but when you can only do zero, just one seems like an impossible hurdle.

I mentioned that in the last GAINZZZ thread about two weeks ago, and one of you morons told me: Then just do the negative.

Which means, push yourself up to the bar in the contracted, completed position, with a jump or just stepping up a step-ladder, and then let yourself down as slowly as possible.

If you can't do the positive -- the up part of the pull-up -- then just do the negative, the down part, very slowly, to maximize time under tension.

It works pretty much the same muscles as the positive, just maybe in a different sequence of activation.

Now I've read that lots of times before, but I never really bothered to try it. Not with any kind of consistency or purpose.

Until a moron in one of these threads said to.

The negative is demonstrated here.

So for two weeks, I actually did, for once, commit to working the negative.


I think 90% of the battle of just doing something is just trusting that it will actually work. A lot of times when I don't do something, it's because I figure, what are the odds this will actually work? Probably low. This will probably all end in failure and humiliation.

So let me just skip this entirely.

But thanks to Moron Counseling, I trusted.

I used the Grease the Groove method, which just means, as often as possible, you do the exercise (here, a negative pull-up, but you can do it for anything, push-ups, squats, etc.) The link above also talks about Greasing the Groove, after the bit about the jumping negative. (You can also just step-up to the bar with a little one-foot kitchen step-ladder.)

When you Grease the Groove, you are not trying to push yourself to fatigue; the idea is that you're doing low enough reps (in my case, negative one) that while your muscles are being used, they're not being drained, and you can do the exercise again in an hour or two. Once again, not pushing yourself to the point of wearing the muscles out. Just working them so they get practiced.

I didn't even do Grease the Groove all that much. On some days, I did five negative pull-ups. On another day, three. On another, zero. But I was doing more than I'd ever done before, and more consistently.

Some people make it a habit to do a pull-up (or a few) whenever they go through the door-jam they have their pull-up bar attached to.

I also worked on technique -- which is really important, because not all muscle movements are intuitive and automatic. I found the whole "activate your scapulae" very non-intuitive -- I had no idea how to make my back do anything, really; you don't have fine control over your back muscles like you do your arms or hands -- and had to practice this partial exercise of just squeezing the scapulae together and then depressing them, to even get them to start firing.

Works, by the way. Your brain just has to figure out what pathway to send signals down to get these not-very-dextrous muscles to start doing some basic movements.

I think pull-ups are like climbing the rope in seventh grade -- either you have an intuitive idea of how to do it or you don't, and if you don't, you ain't goin' up no rope. You're just gonna hang there looking like a dope.

It never occurred to me to grip the rope with my legs. Even when I saw other people doing that and climbing the rope easily, I couldn't figure out how they were doing it.

So, like an idiot, I just tried to muscle up with arm strength alone.

And I dangled on that rope like the other retards.

Similarly, unless you're doing a pull-up with your back, with scapulae pinched back until they're almost kissing and then pulled down towards your hips, you can't do a pull-up. (Ynless your biceps are so huge and your bodyweight is so low you don't need much help from your back.)

Also, if you're not using your back, you're not using the pull up to develop a hard-to-get-at muscle group, your lats. It's easy to work your biceps -- just do curls. Simple as pie.

But the big draw of the pull-up is that it's working your lats. And your biceps a bit; but if you're not using your lats to the max, you might as well just do curls.

Anyway, once you teach yourself to activate your back and scapulae, you add in a lot of muscle strength from your back to the pull-up, and it becomes... doable.

This all actually... worked, unbelievably enough. I started out with really weak-ass negatives, almost immediately descending with barely any ability to slow my descent with muscle power.

But over just a few days my descent took longer and longer.

Just days to see obvious results.

Eventually I could hold a near-the-bar position for about 20 or 25 seconds.

Today I felt confident and decided "The hell with the negative, I'm doing the positive," and... I did.

Thanks to one or two of you morons' advice, for the first time in my life I did two pull-ups.

They weren't great. My chin barely got over the bar and only because I was jamming it out further than Thurston Howell III.

But I actually pulled from bottom to (almost) top. And they weren't those bullshit Crossfit "kipping pull-up" cheats, either. They weren't great, but they were strict.

Then I did four chin-ups, which I haven't tried in forever, and they were pretty easy, chin easily clearing the bar, chest hitting the bar.

I figured for some time that I could do chin-ups again, but I hadn't bothered, because I was focused on the White Whale of the pull-up.

So anyway: Thanks to the Wisdom of Moronic Crowds, and group encouragement/accountability, I did five sets of two (not great, but I'm counting them anyway) pull-ups, and went from zero to 5x2 with some chin-ups and negatives mixed in pull-ups in just two weeks of putting just some moderate effort and repetition into it.

It really just took believing that it would work, and doing what people had told me to do.

So-- thanks! I feel pretty damn great about this. Not just that I did it, but that just having faith that a reasonable-sounding exercise would produce the result I was looking for, and following that through. I set aside "This won't work" for the mindset of "This probably could work, if I keep at it," and it did.

Which makes me a little bit more confident about hitting other goals, too.

Anyway, those are my end-of-year GAINZZZ, and man, am I thrilled about them.

So -- what are yo GAINZZZ?!

PS, I think I was probably half-way there to doing a pull-up before this new focus on them, but I'm pretty confident the combination of active-hang scapular retraction and pull-down exercises (to train your brain how to signal your back muscles to contract, which your brain might not know how to do), plus doing the negative, plus greasing the groove, will probably work for almost anyone. It might take a while, but even before you can do the pull-up, you're building up your lats.

And if you're very overweight -- you're just doing weighted pull-up negatives, which is building your lats even more. It might take you longer to do a positive pull-up, but in the meantime, you will be hitting your lats hard.

PS: In two weeks I went from holding the negative for like four seconds to holding it for twenty or twenty five seconds. Obviously I did not gain 400% or 500% actual physical strength during this period. It was 90% what Mark Rippetoe calls "neuromuscular strength," or the skill of teaching your brain how to actually get muscles to fire.

I saw some vid I can't find now -- I think it was Alan Thrall -- who said that if you can't do a pull up, it's because 1, you're too fat, 2, you're too weak, or 3, your technique sucks.

It's probably all of those for most people, but number three is a much bigger factor than you might realize. And it's the fastest to fix -- while it takes months to lose twenty pounds of fat or gain six pounds of muscle muscle, it only takes a couple of weeks to train your brain to start properly activating the muscle you do have.

Some exertions of strength, like the bench, the standing press, or the curl, are pretty much intuitive. You know how to do them just by looking at them. (Yeah everyone needs practice, tweaking, and coaching, but with those lifts, you pretty much get the gist of them on first sighting.)

The pull-up is non-intuitive for most. But once the technique starts firming up, it gets a lot easier.

Strength is a skill, they say.


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posted by Ace at 05:39 PM

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