Of all the exercises, the pull-up is the ultimate test of relative body strength and perhaps the one with the largest mind game attached to it.
Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, the mindset with which you approach the bar can make a world of a difference when it comes to your results. Sometimes limitations are just in your head. Other times the limitations that are holding you back can be physical and technical.
Let’s see what advice the 5 Gronk brothers had to share, with regard to mastering the pull-up!
1. Dan’s Tip: Use Bands & Chains To Displace Your Weight
Not having the upper body strength to complete a single pull-up is not an excuse for avoiding the exercise. Assisted pull-up machines or lat-pulldown machines are by no means a replacement for pull-ups and therefore you should not treat them as such. The functional benefits you get from pull-ups in terms of muscle co-ordination, joint stabilization and explosiveness are matchless.
If you are having trouble performing one or more pull-ups, all you need is some strength bands. These bands are ideal for assisted pull-ups, as tying one end to the bar and the other end to your feet, will effectively displace your weight, enabling you to complete more reps.
On the other hand, if pull-ups are not challenging enough for you, try performing them with a set of 22lbs chains hanging off your body. You‘ll find that a pair of chains can twist the exercise into a unique challenge, not to mention they look rather badass!
"It's not a sprint with the pull-up, it's a marathon. Start with assistance and work your way to becoming stronger" – Dan Gronkowski
While the traditional pull-up is done with your palms facing away and using a shoulder-width grip on the bar, there are different variations and grips you can try that will make progressing with pull-ups faster and more fun.
The Chin-Up (palms facing your body) and the Neutral-Grip Pull-Up (palms facing each other) will work slightly different areas of your back and will fire your muscles in a slightly different way which will, over time, make you stronger and help you avoid overuse injuries from repeating the same movement pattern over and over.
Changing your grip width to a mixed, narrow or wide grip can also have a serious impact to your training. When it comes to variety, you may find a multi-grip pull-up bar to be particularly useful. Experiment with your pull-ups, keep them fun!
"Changing the grips works different muscle groups and will help your overall pull-up." – Chris Gronkowski
3. Gordie’s Tip: Stay Tight!
If you can’t maintain relative body position throughout the pull-up and you flop around like a fish out of water, you have what we call an energy leak.
What this means is that you are wasting valuable energy on flopping around, instead of concentrating all your efforts on the actual pull. Keep your core tight, squeeze your glutes, point your toes to the floor, and pull your upper chest to the bar with a vice grip around the handles. You can relax only after you’re done with the set.
"Keep it tight and stay under control, not only with pull-ups but with all your exercises." – Gordie Gronkowski
4. Glenn’s Tip: Drop The Weight!
Clearly you can’t lighten the weight when it comes to a bodyweight exercise…or can you? Holding on to unnecessary fat, not only diminishes your overall performance but also makes the pull-up next to impossible or at least harder than it needs to be.
Get your nutrition in order and incorporate some high intensity interval cardio in your training to get some fast fat loss results. Dropping just a few pounds will affect the pull-up immensely. It might seem like the obvious solution, but it’s simple and effective.
"As a fullback I have to keep on more weight than I would like. It makes pull-ups tougher. I'm a Gronk though so I dominate them anyways." – Glenn Gronkowski
5. Rob’s Tip: Get Out Of Your Head
Limitations exist only in your head. If you can imagine it, you can do it. Approach the bar with the mindset of a winner. Empty your thoughts, get a grip on the bar and just hang there. When the pain gets intense, don’t avoid pain but rather go towards it. Embrace it.
If you’re going to pull yourself up from a hanging position, you’d best learn how to hang first. Dead hangs for time are an effective way to build shoulder stability and grip strength. They are also an excellent opportunity to clear your mind and prepare it for the sets to come. Get out of your head. Get your game on.
"Pull-ups are always a test of my strength. They are a challenge especially when you are 270 pounds. I always know how good of shape I am in based on how many I can do." – Rob Gronkowski
Papa’s Bonus Tip: Practice Makes Perfect
You are what you repeatedly do. If you want to master the pull-up, you have to practice the pull-up. Once a week is simply not going to cut it. Increasing your work capacity and training frequency is the only way to become proficient at any lift.
Now that you’re armed with all this advice, there’s nothing left but to actually get on it. Apply all the above tips and master the king of functional upper body exercises like the Gronks did, and have a little fun while doing it!
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