By The Numbers

58: The number of unassisted chin ups I’ve done since Monday. If you’re keeping track, that’s more than required by my #chinupsfordays challenge, and truth be told, I’m already feeling stronger. I went from doing two sets of 4 and a set of 3 on Tuesday, to two sets of 5, one of 4, and one of three yesterday. Progress!

And, I have yet to do one assisted chin up so far. Trying to keep my streak going… maybe I can get through the month with all full body weight chin ups? Can I really do 31 in one day? Only time will tell ūüėČ

6:¬†The number of bugs that flew straight into my eyeball while up at my mother’s camp in Maine this past weekend. Those little buggers must be attracted to my baby blues, because I couldn’t walk outside without a full buggy-vision assault. Gross.

5:¬†The number of power racks in the weight room at my gym now. Going from a tiny room with 3 to a bigger room with 5 is a major win. Now maybe even if people are douchey and taking up 2 (or 3) at a time, I’ll still be able to get my lifts in as scheduled!

1:¬†The number of times I’ve gone to the beach this summer. Blasphemy.

659:¬†The number on Boylston St which now is home to my new favorite lunch spot: Sweetgreen. I ate there for the first time yesterday with two awesome friends of mine, and ZOMG it was so good. Blueberry Basil Lemonade on a hot and sticky day? Yes please. A massive salad filled with local ingredients? Yes again. Next time I’ll try the froyo. Seriously, if you live in Boston and haven’t been yet, go. Now.

No, like seriously, go now. 

87654987234:¬†The number of times I look at my engagement ring per day. I mean, I know it’s obnoxious, but I can’t help it. It’s like a sickness. A sweet, sweet sickness.

2:¬†The number of times this past weekend that we drove past a giant bull in a field that was hanging out with a tiny, white miniature horse. (On the way to the camp, and on the way home). I think they were best friends, and I wanted to hug them both. And/or take the mini horse home, but that’s besides the point.

Can’t you just picture it though? A huge bull with a tiny miniature horse by it’s side? DOES IT GET ANY CUTER?¬†

Zero: The amount that any of this has to do with anything relevant, especially related to health/fitness. Besides the chin ups of course.

I told you I’m bad at blogging in the summer.

Have you been to a Sweetgreen? Have you been beaching it up this summer or have you been missing out on sun and sand time like me? Have you been participating in the #chinupsfordays challenge? 

Happy Weekend everyone!

Chin Ups For Days

Literally. Chin ups for days.

What does that even mean? I’ll tell you what that means.

Every day of July, I’m going to do at least the number of chin ups for the corresponding day. For instance, on Monday, the 1st of July, I did at least one chin up. Yesterday, I did at least 2 (I actually only did 3…but it’s more than 2!) I will continue this until the very last day of the month, at which point I will be doing at least 31 chin ups in one day.

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31 chin ups? That’s pretty crazy right? Of course it is, and I obviously don’t expect to be doing that many unasissted. My plan is to complete as many unassisted chin ups as possible each day, and then finish out that day’s number with assisted (using my resistance band hooked onto my pull up bar). As I get to the higher numbers, I’ll break them up into small sets throughout the day most likely, but I will complete all reps, every day.

Why am I doing this?

Because I’ve totally slacked on my chin up/pull up progress over the past few months. I need to get back into it, and what better way than progressing myself towards 31 chin ups in one day? My record for unassisted chin ups is 6, although right now I’m at 4 because I’ve been slacking. My hope is that by the end of this month, I’ll be able to consistently do 8-10 unassisted chin ups in one set.

Notice also that I said at least the number of the corresponding day. If I want to do 30 chin ups tomorrow, I will (I mean, I probably won’t, but still…). As with any big lift, consistency is key. And if I want to keep building on my progress, I don’t want to slack on these first few days just because I can. I’ll most likely try to bang out at least as many unassisted ones as I can a few times throughout the day, and then settle into the actual numbers around the 10th. Or maybe sooner.

So who wants to join me? Who wants to increase their chin ups, or maybe even get their first unassisted chin up? All you need is regular access to a pull up bar (you really should have one in your house by now, silly), and a resistance band to help you along the way should you need it.

And I’ll share a little secret with you as well: August is going to be for traditional pull ups. BOOM. Talk about a challenge.¬†

If you accept this challenge, tweet about it! I’ll use the hashtag #chinupsfordays to tweet about my progress, and you should too!

Hooray for summer challenges!

If you need more reasons to join this challenge, here you go:

1. Being able to do unassisted chin ups makes you badass.

2. This will really come in handy during the zombie apocalypse.

3. Guys dig chicks who do chin ups. And vice versa. And chicks probably dig chicks that can do them… and guys… you know. I could keep going here. Point is, people dig other people who can do chin ups.

4. Your shoulders will look fantabulous.

5. Need I say it again? Being able to do chin ups is bad ass. You do want to be bad ass don’t you?

So go do some. And tweet about it. #chinupsfordays

Let’s Go!

4 Tips To Improve Your Pull Ups

So, you want to do more pull ups huh? Or maybe you just want to be able to do ONE. I don’t blame you, because pull ups are badass.

Not only are they badass, but they are fully functional should you ever find yourself running from a rabid dog or say… a pack of zombies. If you can’t pull yourself up and over a wall or fence, those zombies¬†dogs will get you every time.

Needless to say, not only are pull ups a great test of upper body strength, they’re also an excellent life skill. And although the ever popular kipping pull-ups from Cross Fit can be equally as functional in times of danger, what I’m talking about here are true, dead hang pull ups.

None of that “use your whole body for momentum” crap. (Sorry Cross-fitters)

I have had several readers send me questions on pull ups, and how I have been able to increase mine. The answer is really more simple than people think: Do More Pull-ups.

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“But how can I do more pull ups if I can’t even do one yet?” you might be asking. Last summer, I could do 2 unassisted chin ups and zero unassisted pull ups. Now I am up to 8 chin-ups and 3 ¬†conventional pull ups. The methods I used are listed below, and these are methods that can be helpful to anyone looking to increase their pull ups/chin ups. I’m still working on mine, and I still include these methods in my workouts, although I’ve had to take a slight hiatus lately because of my decreased grip. I’ll be back at it soon though, and hoping to get to 10 chin ups and 5 pull ups by the end of this summer!

Bands –¬†Resistance/Assistance bands should be your best friend, especially if you can’t do at least one pull up on your own. You can buy a heavy duty band, hook it up to a pull up bar, and you’ve got everything you really need to begin your path to pull up domination. ¬†How to use them:¬†Loop the band around a pull up bar. Put either one knee, both knees, or your feet in the band and pull away. Make sure to keep your core engaged, control any excess swinging from the band, and lift yourself in a controlled motion bringing your chest toward the bar. ¬†Variations:¬†Holding your position at various points will help your body to build strength at various points in your lift. Try holding at your top position for 1-2 seconds before lowering, making sure to really engage the lats. When to include them: Bands can be used at any time! They are a valuable tool for those who can’t yet do a pull up, but they’re also a valuable tool for those who can already do pull ups, but want to work on increasing reps, or strengthening a weak point in their lift.

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Here’s me doing some assisted chin-ups last summer. I have one knee through the band, as that’s most comfortable for me.¬†

Negatives:¬†Pull up negatives are devils in disguise. The idea of them sounds quite easy, but the execution is far from simple. To perform a pull up negative, jump up into your top ¬†position, hold for a second, and then lower your self very slowly¬†to the bottom dead-hang position.¬†How to use them:¬†When I say lower slowly, I’m talking anywhere from 4-8 seconds to lower all the way to your dead-hang position. The key is to keep your lats and upper back engaged without letting your shoulders creep up around your ears. This should be a very controlled motion, and when done correctly, should either leave you wimpering, nauseous, or curled up on the floor begging for mercy.¬†When to include them:¬†Negatives are great on their own or as a way to finish out a set. Try doing them on their own with 3 sets of 8 nice slow reps. Or you could do what I do, and finish out my sets to my goal rep range. For instance, it’s my goal to do sets of 8 neutral grip pull ups. When I’m at the gym, I’ll do as many unassisted neutral grip pull ups as I can, which at this point is 4. I’ll then finish out the set with 4 negatives, to end up at 8. The next set, I may only hit 3 full pull ups, so I’ll finish that set out with 5 negatives, and so on.

Repetition –¬†If there is one thing that will help you be able to do more pull ups, it’s doing more pull ups. If you want to increase your reps, you have to be doing them more than once per week. If you’re doing 3 sets of 3 once per week, it’s going to be damn near impossible to add more reps without a little magic. If you’re mixing in high reps with the bands, sets with negatives, and just plain old hopping on the bar whenever you get a chance, you better believe you’ll increase your reps! I can’t stress this enough: more reps will lead to more reps. It’s really pretty simple.

Accessory Work-¬†To be able to do more pull ups, not only do you need to up your reps, but you also need to get stronger in all of the right places. ¬†Your Lattissimus Dorsi (or Lats, or bat wings) is the prime mover in a pull-up, along with a smaller muscle called the Teres Major. You get significant help from other muscles such as biceps, triceps, trapezius, pecs, and others throughout the movement as well, depending on your hand position. ¬†Rowing motions will help to strengthen your back musculature, as well as the accessory muscles in your arms and will be the most beneficial. Including inverted rows, or “let me ups” in your programming ¬†is a great way to get yourself used to lifting your own body weight. ¬†These will also help you increase your grip strength on the barbell (which will transfer to the pull up bar).

inverted-rowInverted row. The more horizontal your body, the more challenging this exercise will be. 


Bonus Note: If you really want to increase or improve your pull ups, your first order of business needs to be buying a pull up bar. Having a bar in your house will allow you to work on your pull ups all the time, not just when you’re at the gym. Plus, when it’s staring you in the face day in and day out, it’s harder to ignore and avoid it!¬†

Now get out there and do some pull ups!  Do you have any other tips for increasing your reps on this badass lift?

Good News and Bad News

Helloo!

For this post, I bring to you both good news and bad news. I’ll start off with the good news since I just can’t hold it in any longer.

Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote this post, talking about how I was stuck at 3 unasissted chin ups FOREVER, and couldn’t get past that sticking point? Well, boy oh boy, do I have some news for you.

Last Wednesday, I went into the weight room for my upper body lift, and for some reason had a crazy amount of energy. I decided to hop up on to the pull-up bar to start out, just to see what I could do. Well, to my surprise, my first pull-up felt super light, the second still easy, third was a piece of cake… Could it be? Was I going to get past my set of 3? YES! I hit 4! 4 Unassisted Neutral Grip Pullups! ¬†And to make it even sweeter, I then followed it up with 2 more sets of 3, and then a set of 2.

This was particularly awesome because up until this point, I had been able to get a set of 3, but had never been able to repeat the 3 on the following sets…I would always drop down to 2, and eventually 1. Well NOT THIS TIME baby. Sets of 4, 3, 3, and 2, and I was feeling pretty good.

Fast forward to Saturday of this past weekend. I was sitting at home getting ready to go to work, and just happened to walk by my pull-up bar. “Well, ok” I thought, and hopped up…. and 5 unassisted chin-ups later, I was dancing around my living room. Not only that, but I promptly followed it up with a second set of 5. How’s that for progress? 2 more full reps in a matter of 5 days. Can’t beat that.

Who’s excited for pullups!?

Just goes to show what a little dedication and a lot of hard work can do, because I was starting to think I’d be stuck at 3 for the rest of my life. I’ll describe how I did it in a different post, just in case any of you are trying to increase your pull-ups/chin-ups too!

And now for the bad news…

This is basically my hell week at work. Almost every day this week I’m working anywhere from 10-13 hours, which leaves little to no time for this little bloggy if I want any chance of staying sane.¬† So unless I come across anything that I just can’t wait to post, I’ll be back again next week when I’m on more of a regular schedule. I’ll be writing this week, but I don’t want to stress too much about posting at certain times, etc. Gotta take care of yourself sometimes, right?

So with that, I hope everyone has a wonderful week, and I’ll be back with some good stuff next week, I promise!

Muscle Imbalances – My Twisted Shoulders

Happy Friday!

This post was originally going to be about some training methods that I use at home on days when I can’t get to the gym. So¬† a couple weeks ago I had some pictures taken, just so that I would have some sort of visual reference for you guys.

However, looking through the pictures, I realized that that particular post was going to have to wait. Instead, today I need to focus on something I saw in these pictures, something that deserves a little lot of attention.

As I was perusing through my pictures, trying to find the best ones to post here, there was something that caught my eye, and not in a good way. I’ll take you back to the pull-up bar, which I referred to in this post as well. This bar was given to my boyfriend for Christmas, and I must admit I’ve done a pretty good job at hijacking it. I mean, what’s his is mine, right? RIGHT?

Typically, I do a mix of traditional pull-ups, chin-ups, and neutral grip pull-ups, so you’ll see a mix of these in the pictures below. Now let’s examine the problem. I present to you, Exhibit A:

This is at my hang position, clearly, although I think in this picture I’ve actually just¬†begun the pull. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Hey Steph, Cute Pink Shorts!¬†What’s so bad about this? And my answer to you is: Read on.

Now here at my top position, it also doesn’t look too shabby. Nothing to write home about, anyway. Moving on… Wait for it…

I’ve enlarged this one a little bit so that you could see what I’m talking about (and please excuse the blur… I’m like lightning, the camera just can’t keep up with me). What we’re looking for here, in case you can’t see it, is the fact that my left shoulder is jacked up to about my ear lobe, and the rest of me is all twisted because of it.

What does this mean?

Compensation, Muscle Imbalance, you name it.

Technically speaking, my Left Upper Trapezius has clearly kicked into overdrive and has taken control of this lift, most likely compensating for weakness elsewhere, such as my middle trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, and most likely rotator cuff, among others.

source

I think the most important thing to note here is that I don’t typically walk around with my left shoulder¬†up to here, and that my start and end positions didn’t show this posture. Some other views of different points in the pull/release also didn’t show this, meaning that it’s most likely a very quick compensation, and one that I maybe never would have realized had I not seen it on film.

So why does it matter? Who cares if I’m all twisted like Quasi Moto while I do a pull up?

Well for one thing, I can almost guarantee you that it’s not just when I’m doing pull ups. I’ve been told that I overcompensate with my upper traps while doing push ups, and since these pictures, I’ve started to notice it with many of my overhead lifts once fatigue starts to set in. ¬†The main reason I care about this is because muscle imbalance not only makes you look a little funky while lifting, but can also cause serious injury and discomfort. ¬†Compensation and imbalances in the shoulder can cause rotator cuff dysfunction, biceps tendon injury, thoracic pain, neck pain, or a whole other slew of injuries that I won’t get into here. ¬†Imbalances between quads, hamstrings, and glutes can lead to knee pain, hip pain, low back pain… and on and on and on.

So what do I do to fix this? Well, as I noted above, it seems likely to me that this is due to weakness ¬†in my mid-upper back, and that is where I will begin my correction. Since these pictures were taken a couple of weeks ago, I have added more “pulling” lifts (different variations on rows) to my upper body days, increased time spent on thoracic mobility exercises daily, and focused more on my form, especially on overhead lifts. I’ve gotten to the point now where I can feel those upper traps kicking in when I get fatigued on a pull-up set, and that is now the point where I stop. ¬†Why stop?

Finishing a set just to finish will get you nowhere if you don’t have proper form. (And may just leave you really, really injured)

So, my charge to you is to keep this in mind next time you are working out/training/exercising/zoomba-ing or whatever YOU do to stay active and healthy. Keep your eyes on the mirror, not only at the end points of your movement, but throughout. Ask someone to snap a few photos especially during that mid-range movement, so that you can see if you too have any funky ¬†movement patterns that have gone unnoticed. You may be able to save yourself from injury down the road, or at least correct faulty movement patterns before they become too ingrained to change. ¬†I’ll keep you guys updated, and hopefully eventually show some mid-range pull-up pics without this little shoulder twist I’ve got going on!

Does anyone have any movement patterns they are working to fix? Have you seen things in pictures of yourself that you didn’t previously see? Do you have any other suggestions for me to fix my twisty pull-ups?