Pull-ups are arguably one of the most critical exercises in your combat workout armory. They target your lats and biceps, and the strength of those muscles could literally save your life. Need to climb a rope to get onboard a hovering evac helo, or climb a wall during an urban battle? Back and biceps, baby!
Lat pulldowns use the same muscles but are a pale imitation of pull-ups. With pull-ups, you have to lift your body through space. This has all kinds of benefits for your muscles and nervous system. With lat pulldowns, your body remains stationary making them much less effective.
Pull-ups, done with an overhand grip, and chin-ups, done with an underhand grip, do have one distinct disadvantage. To do them, you need to be strong enough to lift your entire bodyweight using just your arms. This can be a tall order if you are still working on your strength or have a lot of weight to lift. The good news is that there are a few ways you can scale pull-ups to make them more manageable than the standard version.
Note: All of these modifications can be applied to chin-ups as well as pull-ups. The only difference is your hand position, i.e., supinated or pronated.
Your muscles generate force concentrically (as they shorten) and eccentrically (as they lengthen). However, you are about 30% stronger eccentrically. In other words, you can lower more weight than you can lift. Negative pull-ups make the most of this phenomenon.
Place a bench or box next to your pull-up bar. Climb up, grab the bar, and position your chin just over it. Contract your arms and lats, lift your feet, and lower yourself smoothly down until your arms are fully extended. Use your legs to boost yourself back up and repeat. Stop your set when you can no longer control your descent.
As your eccentric strength increases, so too will your concentric strength. In time, you should find you can do your reps from the bottom up instead of the top down.
Use a strong resistance band to make pull-ups and chin-ups easier. Loop your band over your pull-up bar and then either stand or kneel in it. Do your reps as normal while enjoying a boost from your resistance band. Use progressively weaker bands as you get stronger, and then wean yourself off the band entirely.
No band? No problem! Adjust the height of your pull-up bar so that, when you grip it, your feet touch the floor and your knees are slightly bent. Use your legs to jump up as you pull with your arms. Do as much work with your upper body as you can. Lower yourself smoothly back down and repeat. As an added benefit, this exercise will drive your heart and breathing rate sky high.
Rest-pause Training for Pull-ups
Just because you can’t do a set of five pull-ups doesn’t mean you can’t do five sets of one rep. Do one perfect pull-up, rest 10-15 seconds, and then do another. Keep going until you have done all the required reps or are unable to continue. Rest a moment and then do another set. This is a very effective way to increase your pull-up performance even if you can only do one rep at a time.
When you can do ten reps in one set, you are ready for some progressions to increase your pull-up performance.