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Alternatives To Weighted Pull ups

Weighted pull up hold

With summer in full swing in the western hemisphere, outdoor training is as appealing as it will ever be. Sunshine, long days and fresh air sculpt the ever-growing appeal of exercising outdoors. This was a big reason I fell in love with calisthenics – I could train wherever, whenever and with little to no expense!

One of the problems with doing calisthenics in parks for those beyond the beginner level is how to make basic exercises like dips, push ups and pull ups harder. The simplest method is adding weight via a weight belt but do you really want to be lugging weight plates and extra equipment to the park with you? Surely that defeats the minimalist appeal of calisthenics in the first place?!

Of course adding weight is FAR from the only option and there are an almost unlimited set of options available for progression; the only true limit is your creativity/imagination.

Coming up I’d like to share 5 of my favourite ways to progress both pull ups and dips without any external equipment besides a set of trusty old gymnastics rings.

5 progressions to standard pull ups

1) Bulgarian Ring Pull ups 

Top of the Bulgarian pull up

Begin in a usual deadhang position. Depress and engage your scapula. Pull yourself up and as you approach the top, turn your palms towards each other as you drive the elbows back and out. The elbows should resemble close to a 90 degree angle at the top.

What will you get from this move?

This variation utilises more of the upper back muscles (posterior delts, mid traps and rhomboids) than a standard pull up. You will also find good carryover to the iconic wide arm ring muscle up, too.

2) Ring ‘Typewriter’ Pull ups

Typewriter pull up collage

From a dead hang, engage and drive the scapula down, and pull to the top of a chin up. Keeping one arm where it is (tight to the body), allow the other arm to fully straighten out to the side. This will now mean the bent arm is holding 75% of your bodyweight as opposed to 50%. Alternate from side to side for reps.

What will you get from this move?

A typewriter pull up is one of the early stages/steps on the route to the holy grail of vertical pulling, the one arm chin/pull up. You will also become aware of any imbalances you have between arms and this will allow you to work on levelling out the strength between sides.

3) False Grip L-Sit Pull ups

False grip L sit pull up collage

What makes these brilliant isn’t just how cool they look but also their capacity to strengthen 3 areas in one move. You have core work from the legs being in an ‘L’ position, grip and hand strength work from the false grip and greater pulling strength from the slightly disadvantageous placement of weight that the L-Sit forces.

What will you get from this move? 

If I had a gun to my head and had to recommend a single move to help you build muscle up strength, the false grip L-sit pull up, whether on a bar or rings, would be my choice. You will find the more you practise these the more height you’ll get on your pulls. You can expect to lose a good few reps from your regular pull up count here, but that’s the point, right?

Also, don’t worry if you lose your false grip after a few reps. Just continue your set with a regular grip and over time you’ll be able to maintain the false grip deeper into the set.

4) ‘Frenchie’ Pull ups/Chin ups 

Frenchie pull up collage

Basically a standard pull up with the catch being: you have 3 pauses throughout the range; one at the bottom, one in the mid range and one at the top. You can make these pauses as short as 2 seconds or as long as 10 seconds if you need.

What will you get from this move?

Maybe not as sexy as the 3 previous but every bit as valuable. Frenchies build strength throughout the entire range of a pull/chin up. Usually people are weakest at the top or bottom. When you’re at the top, focus on really pulling up and holding as high as you can. Again, this will have good carryover to the muscle up. When at the bottom, be sure to keep in an ‘active hang’ – shoulders down and back, scapula engaged. This will help develop straight arm pulling strength that will see you good for front lever work.

5) Scapula Pull ups (arched back)

scapula pull up

From a dead hang, pull to an active hang (you’ll need decent active hang strength for this one) and allow your back to arch (relax your core), then pull powerfully towards the bar. This is essentially a hybrid between a pull up and a row and requires a high amount of scapula retraction strength. If, like me, you’ve trained hollow body pull ups a lot, this move will prove very difficult and getting the chest to the bar (or close) may seem impossible at first. But this is just a sign you need to train the move more!

What will you get from this move?

This move will benefit the transition phase of the muscle up as they’re both more of a ‘row’ than a pull up. Furthermore, scapula retraction is paramount for success with the mighty front lever and you’ll also see good carryover to front lever rows from training arched back scapula pull ups.

Weighted pull ups are great but they’re often one dimensional and you can be limited to where you can do them. Use these 5 variations and watch your weighted pull up strength go up without training it. 

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JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

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