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Fitness Questions From Instagram (July 2021)

Types of chest to bar pull ups, developing wrist & shoulder flexibility for awesome handstands & maintaining strength during a lay off……….

I’ve been working HARD on my pull ups and I STILL find I’m weak at the top; getting my chest to the bar just seems IMPOSSIBLE. Do you have any tips or ideas as to why I can’t do a high/chest to bar pull up??

Welcome to the club! Levelling up from chin-over-bar pull up to CHEST-TO-BAR pull up is quite a step and a common tripwire for most.

There are two types of chest to bar pull up: the fast, explosive one and the slow, lock in at the top one. Like the description suggests, the first one is dependent on power/velocity/force production. And the second one is dependent on mobility and retraction of the shoulder girdle.

I will say upfront: I can’t do the slow chest to bar hold anymore and even when I could, I sucked at it. It will sound like a cop-out but my arms are just too big and I lack the extreme elbow flexion needed to do this. When you have bigger biceps than average, you have to extend the shoulder much more and this takes a TON more end range strength with a very disadvantageous angle at the shoulder.

Skinnier people and women tend to be better at this in my experience. And the move only really carries over to slow muscle ups, which is fine if that’s your goal but the problem with always training this style of chest to bar pull up is it trains you to be SLOW.

You can get away with it if you do enough explosive work alongside it but I nearly always see people only sticking to the slow one.

The powerful, thud-and-shake-the-bar style carries wonderfully to the fluent muscle up – and the weighted muscle up as well as the weighted pull up. You hit the fast twitch fibers really well with this movement but it’s hard as hell if you’re not naturally explosive.

A couple of other factors to consider are whether you’re at an ideal ‘strength to weight ratio’? Which means a light bodyweight relative to your strength aka not carrying unnecessary bodyfat. This is super inefficient and is almost the enemy to power and speed training – especially in the bodyweight world!

The other one is how good are you at the basic bodyweight pull up anyway?

If I earned a £20 tip every time someone asked me for muscle up advice when they were nowhere near ready or conditioned enough for the move, I’d be retired on a yacht in Monaco now.

10 pull ups from a DEAD HANG should be easily available to you well before you even seriously think about muscle ups! This seemingly conservative figure ensures learning clean form will be much easier down the line as you’ll have a sufficient strength base to work from.

As Charles Poliquin famously said: ‘You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe!’

How much wrist & shoulder flexibility do I need for handstands? Would you consider the ‘ideal’ handstand as requiring ‘advanced’ flexibility in these areas?

Interestingly enough, you don’t actually need all that much. Let me explain!

I have had an ‘aesthetic’ and fairly straight handstand for years now despite failing the classic handstand overhead mobility test! Even to this day I barely pass it even after improving my bridge/thoracic mobility loads over the last 2 months or so.

It really depends how advanced you want to be? If you want to be able to press with straight arms, hold one arm handstands & do Mexican handstands with ease, then my overhead mobility is still lacking and if you haven’t got good overhead flexibility either, this will limit you too.

Does it mean you can’t do those skills without ‘optimal’ flexibility? Not at all. They can be done but they’ll take way more energy & strength & ultimately hinder your practice/development.

Wrists are trickier as they not only tend to be tight but also a little fragile and most people’s forearms aren’t conditioned enough to open a tube of toothpaste.

Which is why it’s super advised to put in the ground work on the wrists for a good 3-6 months, to where eventually you don’t even need to warm up for handstands. Believe it or not this mythical state does exist as it’s a land I’ve visited quite a lot lately!

From mid 2020 to late 2020 I put some serious work in on my forearm conditioning and it was the best investment I’ve made! Far better than any stock purchase. It saves me time on my warm up and has made my pulling exercises stronger………..and what’s more, I’ve not had wrist pain since late 2019 (*knocks on wood*).

One last bit of advice I would offer from my own treacherous experiences is: really make sure to refine your kick up/entry. If you don’t have ideal shoulder mobility, the tendency is to overkick to compensate for a late opening of the arms overhead, which causes you to overbalance before finding your line, which then causes over-extension of the wrists, and if they’re not bullet proof you’ll f*ck them up eventually.

I guess it’simple……work on shoulder mobility & wrists as a warm up for handstand work until you’re NOTICEABLY more mobile and strong in both areas. You’ll thank me later and so will your wrists!

I have a super busy period in my life coming up and will barely be able to train at all. How can I preserve as much of my strength, skill & mobility as possible during this down time?

As much as it pains me to say it, less is always more when it comes to ideal performance, strength maintenance and dare I even say strength improvements!

I really hate admitting this because it seems to almost violate the laws of repeated efforts; that more effort should equate to more results. However with exercise adaptation this is not so simple.

I’ve seen many people maintain their level for quite some time with little to no training. Obviously we’re talking maintain, not increase or build. BUT these people had solid training backgrounds prior to their hiatus.

Basically, what’s been hard to gain will be harder to lose. The body isn’t as feeble as we fear it is!

In your question you mentioned skill and mobility. These are slightly different subsets of fitness to strength. Mobility can disappear quite fast if you’ve only gained new ranges and not used them enough. However, if you’ve really solidified these positions over 18-24 months, you won’t see a huge decline if you take 4-6 weeks off. And even if you do, it will come back far faster than it took to initially gain it.

Skills are somewhat similar. It depends how advanced a skill we’re talking and how good you are at said skill? If you mean one arm handstands or 12 ball juggling you’ll no doubt see a decline if you don’t sustain at least a maintenance dose. If you’re just talking a basic handstand or maybe a back lever (could be seen as a skill in those strong enough), then you could put these down for quite some time and still have them.

I know I don’t need much work at all to balance a basic handstand at all now. And even the back lever only takes a bit of warming into due to the extreme stretch position of the move!

Power tends to be the hardest to maintain without regular work, followed by strength, then endurance. Obviously with long enough down periods you will regress significantly. To say how long exactly is tough as it’s very person specific. Some will lose and gain faster than others; such is the power of genetics.

One last thing to note, stressing out and worrying about losing strength, skill or flexibility will only make it WORSE. There are plenty of real world case studies of those who took anywhere from 1-6 months off any training at all, and they found they didn’t lose as much as they thought they would. Some even reported feeling better! They were mentally refreshed and a lot of the common ailments, niggles and strains had also evaporated.

Don’t stress, you’ll soon be back!

Thanks for reading. Don’t forget if you want your question answered in next month’s edition, hit me up on Instagram (@straight_talking_fitness) or drop me an email (

I’m looking forward to seeing what topics you throw at me!

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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