Tag Archives: pull-ups

Back at the Bar

Those who know me might immediately assume I mean the kind that serve gin. 

However I’m talking about my trusty pull up bar. 

I haven’t actually been away from it. Far from it. I’m continuing to build myself up to greater things with it. 

Having gotten to where I can do three sets of ten in a row I’m looking for something loftier. 

Starting today I’m going to increase the number in each set until I can hit 30 straight pull ups

Now THAT’S a goal. 

Kickin’ A&&

I’m working on a couple of posts with some exciting developments.  In the meantime let me take a moment or two to update those of you who care to follow along about a recent goal and my progress.

A few weeks back I set a personal goal of getting really “good” at pull-ups.

img_9617

Weights and a ball

Thanks to a friend who fabricated an awesome pull-up bar for my back yard I finally had the right tools, so to speak.  The other tools would be my arms, shoulders, and back.  I’ve kind of had them since birth but you know how that goes.

My “progress goal” was to do 25 pull-ups every day in a span covering no more than 5 minutes.

In the first few days I accomplished this goal just barely by doing a set of 5, then resting a minute, then continuing with additional sets until I had hit the magic number.

It was tough going and the subsequent sets (after the first) were of a lesser quality in terms of form and required greater exertion on my part.

But I did it.

Last night – I am happy to say – I knocked out 3 sets of 10 in under 2 minutes!

I include the exclamation point there because this is a HUGE deal for me.  What’s more, each set, in my opinion, saw proper form and was exponentially easier than those weak sets from the first day.  And that was just 3 weeks ago.

I am demonstrably stronger, bigger, and, ironically leaner than I was when I started.  My mom, in town for a few weeks, commented, when she saw me coming in from a workout with my shirt off, that I had bulked up.  I’d like to think mom’s tell the truth more often than not.

At the same time, I am continuing my BodyBeast routine of lifting heavy weights every single day.  I could not be doing that without the help and support of the same friend who made the bar for me.  He’s a good man and I greatly appreciate working out with him.  His friendship is invaluable and the motivation we provide each other is priceless.

I’d like to think this proves the theory I was testing.  If you want to do pull ups, then do pull ups.

IMG_9372

Do MORE pull ups!

By the way, in addition to the 30 pull ups, I’ve been doing more.  See that, another friend (JB) challenged me once to always go father when working out.  Only a minute after finishing the 30 I proceeded to do 15 chin ups (underhand grip, working different muscles) and 15 “scapula pull ups” designed to specifically target the muscles of the upper mid-back.  These last movements actually contribute to being able to do more effective pull ups.

If you’re reading this looking for inspiration, let me know if I’ve helped by dropping a comment.  If you’d like advice on any aspect of this plan, send me a message.

Otherwise, I’ll be back on the bar.

Just Get It Done

I heard someone say once “If you want to write well, simply write.”

The implication is that in order to become a better writer one has to first write anything at all and, more to the point, write a lot. 

Likewise I heard a former Navy SEAL say that when he first joined the Navy he thought he was able to do pull-ups. He was humiliated to discover that the “half-up and half-down” method he was great at wasn’t really a pull-up. “How am I ever going to be a SEAL,” he thought, “if I can’t even do a pull-up?” He discovered what good writers have known for some time. If you want to at least try to be great at something you just have to get it done. In other words, to be good at pull-ups, do pull-ups. 

I just finished 25 in 5 minutes. I’m not satisfied. Some who know me know that I rarely ever am satisfied. I see that as a good thing. These 25 pull-ups? They were in sets of six. See that’s I pushed myself up one from the sets of five I did the other day. But they weren’t great. I admit toward the end I wasn’t going down all the way. But somehow it seems to be coming together. I’m squeezing the right muscles in my back and noticing my forearms working a bit more (taking the strain off my biceps). For those who are interested I watched a YouTube video yesterday on how to improve form. It involves hanging from the bar and just raising one’s head up and down to focus on strengthening the scapula muscles. This is apparently a key to doing phenomenal pull-ups. I did it. Don’t know if it helped or not but it couldn’t hurt. 

Enough about that. I think I’ll try to knock out another 10 before heading inside. Thanks for following along. 

Challenging Myself

As a dad I face many challenges every day. Most of them involve living up to the expectations of my kids, my wife, and God.

Son, not making a fool of himself on the field.

For instance, this evening it’s off to the ballpark where I get the pleasure of serving as assistant coach to my son’s baseball team. The challenge here: until a few weeks ago neither he nor I had ever played baseball. He’s 9. I’m almost 40. The challenge lies in rising above myself and not worrying about the fool I will make of myself on the field. Because you see, this one is all for my little boy.  The reward is great though. He’s getting super good super fast and I’m learning quite a bit about a game I’ve never played. Somewhere in the recesses of both of our minds are visions of the two of us being drafted by the New York Mets. And we’re having lots of fun in the process.

Me, making a fool of myself (and demonstrating what a friend politely called “a natural tennis swing”) at the batting cages.

On the marriage front, I am always faced with the challenge of becoming a better husband. Daily I look around my house and my world and ask myself what I can do to make my wife’s life even marginally better. In the past year alone I have found myself tinkering with my homes electrical system, building props for the play, finally advancing in my career (😉), and shopping for produce at a farmers market at five in the morning on a Saturday. Every time I’m given a task I’ve never done before I find myself rising above my own fears and coming to realize that because she trusts in me I can do anything for my wife. And we’re having a whole lot of fun in the process.

So this afternoon when I got home from work I decided to challenge myself. Remember the pull-up bar? This one is a challenge to which only I am answerable. After hearing that friend of mine toss out the figure of 25 to 50 pull-ups a day, I decided to reach for the stars. I don’t expect to be as good as him – certainly not right away – but one cannot hope to achieve great heights without starting somewhere. The challenge is to complete 25 pull-ups within five minutes every day of every week. And of course, as I notice myself gaining strength, I will have to increase that number. A short while ago I just barely beat the clock. Five sets of five pull-ups with a little more rest between sets than I would’ve liked; but I did it. The reward, I hope, will be great.

And I’m having tons of fun.

Raising the Bar

Getting back to writing about my fitness goals…

I had intentionally stopped writing about these particular goals for a long while.  In fact, my plan was not to mention the subject again.  There’s only so much one can write about when it comes to a lifetime of trying to get in shape.  And failing.

I have had the benefit over the years of a number of resources yet never felt confident that any of the information I received was either worthwhile or accurate (in other words, it wouldn’t deliver the results I wanted to see).  In particular, the past four years I’ve been leeching off the training advice of a coworker who generously tried to help whenever he could.  The problem, it turns out, was me.  I always had some kind of excuse.  Sometimes it was valid and oftentimes it was not.

About three months ago, having completed the Insanity Max:30 program from BeachBody and having taken a subsequent Christmas break and some time off for the death of my father I committed to BeachBody’s BodyBeast program.

The program started out great.  I spent three weeks using fairly light dumbbells in what the program’s trainer calls the “Build Phase”.  That is, you build yourself up to the next phase by learning the movements and proper form.  In my case, even though it had been many years, I was re-acclimating myself to these movements.  Not entirely unfamiliar with weightlifting technique, I discovered that I more or less remembered proper form.

When I finished building I moved into the “Bulk Phase”.  The goal of the whole program is to build solid muscle, something I have lacked.  I started seeing results, especially after another friend who had injured his shoulder graciously loaned me some considerably heavier dumbbells.  I’d buy my own but a full set runs around $500 and I don’t feel like dropping that kind of cash on something I wasn’t sure would benefit me.

Then came the callback…  Two weeks ago today the guy with the bum shoulder called his weights back.  He was recovered and ready to lift again.  To my surprise (and not entirely unsure of whether he was just trying to be polite) he called that night and asked if we could workout together.  His weights.  His garage.  In my  mind I balked at the idea because I just didn’t love the idea of making a fool of myself.  Don’t forget, I’m probably the most insecure person you’ll ever meet.  Seems to me that most guys my age are not only either current or former champion athletes but also far more adept than me in a gym.  This guy was going to kick my ass and then laugh about it.  Or worse yet, he’d patronize me by telling me “good effort!”

IMG_9372

A more solid pull up bar there never was.

But it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined.  For the past two weeks, almost every night around 9:30, he and I have been lifting heavy weights in his garage.  I’m noticing tremendous gains.  Even if I’m the only one who sees it, the muscle is there and getting bigger.  What’s more important is that an increase in raw strength – something I had almost overlooked as a goal – is also improving.  This past Sunday my friend called me as I was on my way home from graduation.  He told me to swing by his house.  He had a present for me.  He had heard me make one of my trademark excuses.  “I could do pull up’s… if I had the proper bar with the right clearance.”  So he made me a bar out of a length of pipe he’d picked up from Lowe’s.  He completed the bar with mounting brackets and told me to stick it onto the cross timber of my kids’ playset in the yard.

And so for the past four days, with no actual excuse in sight, I’ve been doing pull up’s.  I heard a statistic about a year ago that said only 1% of grown men can properly do a single pull up.  That sounds high to me; but then again I’m talking about real, solid, proper-form pull up’s – the kind where you dead-hang from the bar before lifting yourself completely up to chest height.  I certainly had a hard time for the longest time.  Callouses, gripping the bar right, what muscles to engage, etc…  But when you shed those excuses – or rather, when someone takes them away from you – it all comes down to how committed you are.  I WANT to do pull ups.  Another friend told me today that he knocks out 25-50 a day every 2-4 days.  That’s impressive.  No comparisons here.  That would be insane.  But man, I’d love to get to that level.

Toward that end I gripped the bar this past Sunday.  Remember that strength I mentioned?  It must be growing, especially in my forearms and upper back.  I nailed 5 of them.  And as if to knock me back down I tried a sixth and struggled hard.  I’ve been experimenting and discovered that I can knock out five at a time, take about three minutes, and knock out another five.  Can I do more than that?  I’d probably need more of a break between the later sets.  Should I try?  I see no reason not to.  Just a short while ago I hit fifteen in three sets of five over about five minutes.

But without a friend like the guy who threw this bar together for me I wouldn’t be able to try.  And if he’s reading this (which he probably isn’t) I want him to know how much I really appreciate that and the time he’s investing and the camaraderie.  I’m certainly having fun.  I’ve had a few personal goals in the past few years.  One of them was to move into school administration before I turn 40.  Another was to get shredded before 40.  In both cases I’ve been motivated by a desire to prove myself.  Very few people have any measure of real respect for teachers.  It’s sad but true.  Even those with the best of intentions generally let on that, in their minds, teaching is something you do when you can’t do anything else.  I know my fellow teachers know what I’m talking about.  Likewise, very few men have any measure of real respect for a man who is weak.  They may be polite and tell you athletic ability, broad shoulders, and curling prowess are overrated but deep down we all know differently.  It’s man’s nature to respect power and achievement.

I got the admin job.  I’m excited to finally show my family and friends I’m actually a really talented guy who is competent in the formation of youth.  So what if some of them needed to see a title attached to my name in order to believe it.  I’ve always considered myself mentally strong.  Maybe those same people will finally see that strength in me too.  So what if some of them need to see a strong body to believe it.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll get jacked before I’m 40 after all.

One Badass Workout

I promised to keep you, my two loyal readers (Mom got bored), up to date on my progress with my new bulking/shredding program called BodyBeast which is designed to get me huge and ripped.  Previously I would have thought those were two things I wanted to avoid.

Last week I finished week 1.  True, I had spent the two previous weeks messing around with it.  It usually takes me a week or two to get things like a new diet under control (especially when that diet has me jump from about 1700 calories a day to 3400).  I had done some of the workouts using limited equipment I borrowed from a friend and a stability ball I picked up at Walmart.

Last week, though, I was set and committed.  It’s either going to happen or it’s not.  What motivated me was the knowledge that if I had been so committed in the first two weeks I’d be approaching the end of the first phase right now.  OK, just get it done.

img_8688

That’s what I’m talking about!  A nice looking set of dubmbbells and plates right there.

On Friday I went to the trainer’s house.  Yes, the point of this workout is that you don’t need a trainer and you do it all at home.  But, I like the guy.  He’s given me great advice and stuck by me while I wallowed in the many failures I’ve endured trying to get into his shape.  Most of the time, he hasn’t even laughed too hard at me.  He and I ran through a 45 minute workout on the pavement of the driveway behind his house.  We each had sufficient weights, each had a stability ball.  He has an awesome pull-up bar rigged up over his 8 foot fence and that came in handy.  At the end of the routine I was pleased to discover that he judged my form to be great and he was impressed at my ability to complete a pretty tough workout.  Did he have a drop of sweat on him?  What do you think?  Nonetheless, I felt confident that I was doing something good.  If this guy, who is a training god, came very near to expressing pride in his wannabe-protege, then I can’t be too off.

img_8689

A closer look.  These range from 10’s on the left to 40’s on the right with a set of interchanging weights in the middle and some plates for the bar.

Today, it was back to chest and tri’s.  This time, though, I’ve expanded my arsenal.  From yet another friend I managed to borrow even heavier weights.  For many movements lighter weights aren’t a bad thing.  I’m thinking of shoulders.  At the end of a workout, you try lifting more than 15-pounders in a military press over your head.  It’s hard!  But for chest workouts, I can definitely go higher than the 20’s I had maxed out with.

A note on all these friends who have weights to spare…  It seems a universal truth to me that in America when a young man enters his 20’s and has a trifle bit of spare change he invests it in weights.  He uses the weights religiously for a short while, then trails off.  Evermore the weights remain in his possession until his wife, who long ago gave up caring what he looked like naked, puts them on eBay for extra Christmas money.  Either that or he repurposes them into a coffee table in his pseudo man-cave.

Anyway, I’m definitely feeling this.  It’s going great and I feel great too.  I also was one of those who had weights once.  My excuse was the two spinal fusion surgeries I had so I’m going to stick with that.  It’s been years since I lifted anything and it’s taking some time to get back into it but I feel it coming back to me.  Drop a prayer now and then, if you would, that I don’t injure myself and that I complete these twelve weeks so I can be “beastly”.

The Backhanded Compliment

Do you know what “trainer” said to me today?

During a conversation about what qualifies as a “real” pull up – yes he and I have these kinds of convos at work – we were comparing the two standard varieties. There’s the US Army standard of pulling up from a bent arm position and the US Marine Corps standard of pulling from a complete dead hang.

Guess which kind he does. That’s right.

Hey, I’m working on it.

“The dead hang,” he said, is the only way to get it done.”

He’s transforming…”

Then he went on to regale me with his prowess at how he had once done 170+ of these in a single day. OK you already knew I was impressed. Thing is, he wasn’t. He went on to speak at length about how weak he felt and how he wished he could have done more.

For the record I can do like three of these.

Here’s the kicker…

pull ups

Neither Army nor Marine Corps; these are the REAL deal here.

He continued, “One time in college my suite-mate saw me doing the Army kind. He told me those weren’t real pull ups.  We had seen each other shirtless before and here’s the thing. He really didn’t have room to talk. I mean I looked – well, I always look good. He was, well,” he said “He was transforming.”

This is when he went on to say that the guy was basically a fatty who was “trying to get in shape. “Eventually,” he added, “he got to looking somewhat decent.”

The implication is, of course, that us lower beings have no business addressing the genetically superior.

Why didn’t I think of that?!

Here’s why. I’m just transforming or is it transfiguring? Maybe I’m just transitioning as in from fat to not quite as fat but never be on the same level. Perhaps one day I’ll be in the ranks of the “somewhat decent”. I’ve poured my heart and soul, blood, sweat, and tears into this effort for almost a year now. I’ve gone from not running to running several miles at a stretch; from one push up to dozens; from a carefree diet to a rigorous regimen loaded with veggies – the bane of my existence. But I wonder if that’s ever going to be good enough.

I take his words for what they are – the advice of a friend and he’s been really helpful too. If not for him I’d be nowhere near as healthy as I am now. So no offense taken.

One day, though, he’ll be somewhat decent at lifting people up. And I’ll be somewhat gracious (and possibly an inch closer to somewhat shredded).