Why are one arm pull ups so damn hard?

one arm pull up

If you’re been munching on potato chips, soft drinks, and other junk watching late-night TV infomercials of all those fly-by-night fitness products and programs, you’ve probably seen some ripped dude hammering out pull-ups about as easy as popping another chip into your mouth.


In those hyped-up ads, it’s easy to think that if that guy can do so many pull-ups and make it look like child’s play, you should be able to muscle your way through a few reps. So you walk over to your pull-up bar, grab on with an overhand grip, and pull. But instead of effortlessly floating above the bar, you hang there struggling to even complete a single rep. And that’s when you ask yourself, why are pull-ups so damn hard?


The Truth About Pull-Ups

If you’re having a hard time with pull-ups, let’s get a few things straight before we take a look at how to improve your upper body strength to complete this exercise (Step 5 in the progression series to achieve the one-armed pull-up). First off, if you’re new to Convict Conditioning and consider yourself a beginning or average in terms of health and fitness, you shouldn’t be messing with pull-ups just yet. And second, if you’re sincerely trying to achieve the kind of supreme survival strength Paul Wade promises if you stick with the program, it’s time to toss out the chips and junk food and start eating cleaner.

If pull-ups were easy, everybody would be doing them. If pull-ups were easy, they wouldn’t be used to test the mettle of potential soldiers in the U.S. Marine Corps. (You need to be able to do 20 or more pull-ups in the Marines to achieve the maximum number of points on the Physical Fitness Test. Watch what a proper Marine Corps pull-up looks like.) And if pull-ups were easy, Paul Wade would have started the one-armed pull-up progression series with full pull-ups instead of with vertical pulls standing in front of a wall.

Stick With the Program

But don’t get discouraged. Pull-ups are not impossible. And 20 reps will seem like nothing if you diligently follow Paul Wade’s progression steps. Stick with the program, and you’ll be one step closer to achieving super human strength. Who knows, you might even get strong enough to take on the world record in pull-ups. Just to give you a taste of what’s humanly possible, Czeck Republic-born Jan Kareš holds the world record for the most pull-ups in 24 hours. In 22 hour and 55 minutes, he completed 4,620 pull-ups. Watch him achieve this incredible feat in this time-lapsed video:


Paul Wade didn’t magically start pumping out one-armed pull-ups while he was in prison. He spent 19 years locked up, and used his time on the inside to build that kind of strength one step at a time. But he had to go about it the hard way through trial and error that too often included over-training and injury. Fortunately, he’s laid out an easy-to-follow plan to achieve the pull-up and move on the more difficult exercises with a safe and progressive training plan.


Build Pull-Up Strength With Progressive Exercises

You can develop the muscle strength and endurance you need in your arms and shoulders to start doing pull-ups in Step 5. But most people need to work at this for a while. Here’s how to build the strength you need to achieve the pull-up.


Vertical Pulls

In CC, Step 1 to building pull-up strength starts with vertical pulls. This gentle strength-training exercise gives the muscles you need to execute the pull-up a peek at what they’ll need to do for pull-ups.

Horizontal Pulls

In Step 2, you’ll practice horizontal pulls that only require pulling a percentage of your body weight, with your arms and shoulders, instead of your entire body weight.

Jackknife Pulls

Once you’re strong enough to complete Step 2, you can advance to Jackknife Pulls in Step 3. These partial pull-ups are close to the real deal and continue building your strength to keep progressing.

Half Pull-Ups

Make it to half-pull-ups in Step 4, and you’re nearly there. Instead of completely extending your arms like you would with full-pull-ups, you’ll complete half-pull-ups by starting with your elbows bent at 90 degrees. Master this exercise, and you’re on your way to full pull-ups in Step 5, and one step closer to executing the one-armed pull-up.

If you’re crying about pull-ups being hard, get over it. They are difficult. Most people don’t use much upper body strength on a daily basis, so this exercise takes some time for people to develop those muscles. Time and patience. That’s one of the hallmarks of CC that makes Paul Wade’s program so successful. Follow the progression steps as outlined, and you’ll get there. And it won’t take you 19 years to do it.

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Jeff Cowan

Professional trainer, ex cross-fitter and a long time calisthenic practitioner. Started with Convict Conditioning and developed levels of strength which led him to street workouts championships. Jeff writes about everything calisthenics focusing on control development, skill progression as well as injuries (as he got a few). He would love to hear from you and answer any questions you might have.

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