How a skinny guy can get started with pull ups/calisthenics, my take on deadlifting AND squatting heavy in the same program, the value of tuck planche push ups/front lever rows for getting the planche and front lever themselves & what direct ab training I recommend…………
I’m interested in starting out with calisthenics and I go to the gym regularly (or did until you know what), however I don’t have the strength to do pull ups etc…..I’ve been focusing on weight training and dips, mainly. Any ideas where I can start for gaining strength?
Negative chin/pull ups from the top down are always a great starting place for the chin/pull up itself. The key here is you’re able to lower over AT LEAST 5 seconds. If you’re faster than that, the eccentric is too fast in my opinion – and in this case I would work on rowing (inverted/ring rows) until you’re able to lower under control from the top of a pull/chin up.
Assuming you already can lower over at least 5 seconds, it’s then a case of increasing the lowering time as much as possible (up to 30 seconds is a great goal), as well as ‘spot checking the range’; basically figuring out where in the range you’re weak and adding in isometric pauses there. So in the case of someone weak in the mid range (you find you go faster through there than you’d like), you’d lower under a normal tempo and aim to hold yourself right in the middle for a good 3-5 seconds!
The above technique works well for both the standard chin/pull up and the one arm chin/pull up alike. 4-6 weeks of dedicated work on the above should get you to where you achieve your first single rep and from there you simply add sets until you can do something in the range of 5-10 sets of 1 (perfect form) rep. Once 10 x 1 becomes doable with 2-3 mins rest, start back down at 5 x 1-2 and build back up from there. Remember: quality over quantity always with pull/chin up progress. Junk reps should be left to Johnny No Gains, not you! You’re better than that.
One last thing to mention, you have adequate strength on dips and say you can comfortably rep out sets of 10?! To have that kind of dipping strength and no vertical pull strength is a huge imbalance in my eyes, and one you need to fix. I would reduce dip volume for a while and increase pull volume until this evens out more.
Do you feel deadlifts impact your recovery at all when doing HEAVY squats, AS WELL?
I sure do! I’ve always said balancing big ‘power lifts’ (moves that are encompassed by the powerlifting world – squats, deadlifts & bench press) are very hard to train heavy and regular, while ALSO looking to progress within calisthenics based skills. It can be done but it forces the deload frequency up quite high and makes it tricky to schedule things right as heavy squats and deadlifts are hard as hell to recover from – even more so when the loads reach 1.5-2 x bodyweight, respectively.
Some will say I’m being a pussy and you can just grind it out and make great progress on both………..to that I’ll say: we’re talking for the natural trainee, as in NO STEROIDS, yeah? Then it’s quite a bit harder. My antidote to this is to use lower body derivatives of the back squat and deadlift that you can’t use as high loads on………
So front squats, split squats, front foot elevated split squats (front loaded or back loaded), step ups, pistol squats in substitute for back squats……..
And Romanian deadlifts, single leg RDLs, snatch grip deadlifts or my new favourite, the snatch grip deadlift off a 4 inch deficit! Credit to the great Charles Poliquin for this great move.
(Snatch Grip Deadlift from a deficit)
Any of those moves will force you to use less weight and thus, less spinal load and less overall systemic fatigue. All those factors will still allow you to have a powerful and balanced lower body, while still pushing the envelope on the upper body. You may even find you get stronger on the back squat and conventional deadlift should you try them down the line. Front squat work is notorious for boosting back squat numbers in those who’ve never trained the front squat extensively before. The same rings true for the snatch grip deadlift and the RDL.
Single leg/uni-lateral training will also be as good a choice as you’ll eradicate weaknesses and work on functional stability – all good facets to your armor for lower body.
RELATED READING: The Deadlift REVISITED: Still Overrated, Or?
Do you do much tuck planche push ups or front lever rows? I find them amazing for developing power within the levers!
I’m a huge fan of those moves! I think the push/pull power they develop when trained regularly enough to see good progress in them, is what separates the advanced from the intermediate who can’t shake their wannabee advanced T-shirt.
The issue with those moves is almost everyone does them with repulsively dog shit smelling form. With tuck planche push ups you get guys doing sets of 10 where they don’t once lock the arms fully, let alone push to full scapula protraction! Or you’ll see the hips lower than the shoulders throughout. Or both.
If you do them with a strict 1 sec pause at tuck planche (PROPER tuck planche; where the shoulders are protracted & depressed) AND, stop the set as soon as the form deteriorates, then add reps gradually, then and only then, will you see awesome carryover to your static hold and all round pressing game.
Similar sentiments apply to the front lever row. You get people rowing without any scapula motion going on; no retraction, just a rounded back and a ton of protraction. This isn’t going to condition the right muscles or movement pattern. Another issue is people not strong enough to use any significant range on them. You see people’s knuckles barely clearing their knees! Granted partial reps can have some place but in this instance it’s better to just go back to great form feet-on-floor rows.
When I do front lever rows I like to pause for a pronounced dead stop at the lever level where I’ll actively try and force retraction and lock the elbows, then pull again. This will keep it far stricter and again, will increase the effectiveness of the move.
If you can’t do either are you f*cked?
Not at all. You can do either ‘pseudo planche push ups’ or feet elevated rows towards the ribcage/bellybutton in order to nail the movement, the range and the activation. I still use these progressions even now as they’re so scale-able and each day is different.
What ab exercises do you do? And how important is ab training in your eyes? I’ve been doing direct ab work once or twice per week.
I’ve had altering opinions on this over the years. For a while I always thought direct ab work wasn’t necessary for the decently strong (intermediate?) calisthenics athlete, but recently I’ve been doing toes to bar work and weighted hollow body drills and they’ve really helped my ‘PPT’ (Posterior Pelvic Tilt) in most moves and generally!
As usual it depends on how strong your abs are and whether you need more strength there for your goals. I do think almost all bodyweight/calisthenics/gymnastics practitioners could benefit from more active compression work though, as that seems to be weaker than it could/should be. Good active compression just makes this game so much easier!
And for clarification, compression drills would be non-scapula heavy toes to bar (best done on stall bars for the strictest form), seated compression leg lifts, L-sits/V-sits and many advanced active hamstring/hip flexor strengthening drills.
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Keep training hard & diligently!
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