One-arm pullup program

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rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Topic Author's Original Post - Mar 2, 2013 - 04:51pm PT
I originally posted this in answer to a question in the At 60? thread. Now for sure we have a bunch o' golden oldies here, but the population of superannuated geezers busting one-arm pullups and staying out of the emergency room while doing it is mighty, perhaps vanishingly, small. Hell, I gave up doing 'em twenty years ago when I was fifty.

So I thought I'd liberate the program description from its sextagenarian prison and give it a life of its own here, on the off chance that someone under sixty might also read SuperTopo now and again.

0. Fuhgettabout high repetitions of body-weight pullups. You'll never get anywhere doing that. (Well, you'll manage more and more two-arm pullups of course, but you'll make only the most minimal progress towards a one-arm pullup. I encountered a guy in the gym years ago who could do 100 two-arm pullups---with a bit of a kip, but still---and not even a single one-arm pullup.)

1. But you do need a base level of ordinary pullup strength before you raise the intensity. For me, this has always been five sets of ten pullups with three-minute rests.

2. Start with weighted pullups. They are safer, more finely tuneable, and will give you the necessary base. After a short while, you can intersperse these with uneven-grip pullups, which are not quite as fine-tuneable but are more specific to the ultimate goal. For both types of pullups, I found a routine of five sets of five with three minutes rest in between, to be the most effective most of the time. When you increase the resistance for weighted pullups and/or increase the hand span gap for uneven pullups, shoot for five sets of four and build up to five sets of five. Every now and then, crank up the resistances and do maybe six sessions at five sets of three.

3. When you are doing your weighted pullups with about 120% of your body weight, I think it is a good time to add in uneven grip pullups. You have to be a little more sophisticated about the uneven-grip pullups then looping a towel over a bar for the lower hand. I suggest a pair of still-rings on adjustable straps. You can buy some rather pricey ones or just get the rings and use luggage tie-down straps. The point is to have fine control over the spacing between the upper and lower hands, so you can make progress incrementally and so that you can replicate your workouts at any one particular level. Having still rings is not so important until you start to get big hand spacing, in which case the lower hand will have to take a false grip and will be pressing, not pulling for most or all of the motion. A ring accommodates a false grip a lot better than homemade loops or handles.

Given the previous weighted pullups, I think it will be easy to start with the rings set up so that, in the starting position, the low hand is at the elbow of the high hand. As strength gains are made, the spacing is increased. The straps inable you to do this in small increments. The eventual goal is to have the low hand at the level of the armpit of the high hand. Of course you work both sides. Let the weaker side determine when you stop, and over time you will even out the strength on both sides.

When you are doing uneven grip pullups with the low hand at the high-hand armpit, you can add lockoff training. Do an uneven-grip pullup and simply lift the low hand slightly to unweight it. You can immediately reweight the lower hand when your strength starts to fail, which is far safer and better than dropping on your locking arm once it is too fatigued to hold you in place.

4. When you can lock off for, say, three seconds and/or are doing weighted pullups with about 140% of body weight, it is time to start doing elastic-assisted one-arm pullups. The elastic in question should not be bungie cord, which doesn't stretch nearly enough. The only thing that works is latex surgical tubing. You want to get a piece maybe ten feet long with the most rubber possible: large outside diameter and small inside diameter. Years ago, I got fantastic samples from a hospital supply room, but the days when a bum from the street could walk in and buy ten feet are long gone. Right now the best source I know of is diving supply houses, since the tubing is used for gases under high pressure. Make sure you are getting latex tubing and not something else.

The idea behind the tubing is to perform the exact muscular motions with less than bodyweight. If you want to estimate how much help you are getting, the following excel spreadsheet should help: http://www.primelineindustries.com/tools/forcecalculator.xls.

What you do is to put a small webbing foot loop on your tubing, which you clove-hitch to the chinning bar. Make sure you have enough tubing to leave long ends behind the clove hitches. You need to tie the tubing loop up quite tightly---you'll have to stand on a stool to get your foot into the webbing loop. As with aiders, there's a brief learning curve about positioning your foot relative to your body; the main thing is you can't let the tubing pull your foot straight out in front of you.

Do not just stand on the tubing. If you do, it will one day roll of your foot when fully stretched and smack you really hard, and you will never do that again, unless of course you already enjoy being flagellated with a bull whip.

So you get up on your stool, step in the webbing loop, straighten out your leg to tension the tubing, lower yourself to full hang to further tension the tubing, and then release one hand and perform your assisted one-arm pullup reps; I think the same five sets of five with three minute rests works well, with as before a periodic intensity burst at the level of five sets of three reps. As you get stronger, you tie up the tubing so that it hangs lower, hence stretches less and so gives you less help. I found pony-tail hair ties a useful way to mark where you are tying the knots so that you can replicate the intensity from workout to workout.

That's about it. People start at enormously different base levels, but I'd guess that many, if they follow this program and don't get injured, could get to repetitions of one-arm pullups in a year.

By the way, don't equate poundages for weighted two-arm pullups with one-arm pullups, which are in some sense easier because of the way the body is oriented when hanging from only one arm. For a while I tried, but never could push my weighted two-arm pullups much past about 160% of body weight, while at the same time I could do one-arm pullups with relative ease. This is one of several reasons for shifting from weighted pullups to uneven and assisted one-arms. On the other hand, the two-arm weighted pullups are easier on the shoulders, which is why one should start with them.

I should add that some people have substituted a counterweight and pulley system for the elastic assistance. In principle, this sounds even better, but the few times I tried it I found that I preferred the variable resistance of the elastic to the constant assitance of the weights. As you near the top of your pullup, the elastic is less stretched and so provides less help, but you are also stronger in this range, so I always felt I was betting a better training effect from the elastic.
moosedrool

Trad climber
lost, far away from Poland
Mar 2, 2013 - 05:09pm PT


When I was young and had a hard-on, I could only barely push my dyk away from my chest!
This days, my hands are just too weak.
jogill

climber
Colorado
Mar 2, 2013 - 05:18pm PT
The idea behind the tubing . . .

I recall 45 years ago or so you refered to this as a "FFD."

Remember?


;>)
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 2, 2013 - 05:48pm PT
Yup. I must confess I didn't coin the term. Someone sidled up to me in the West Side Y while I was rigging tubing contraption to the high bar and said, "Say, what is that, a french f#cking device?"

Being young, earnest, and naive, I actually explained to him what it was for, a topic he hadn't the slightest interest in learning about. But his terminology, or the acronym corresponding to it, seemed rather better than LTAGR ("latex tubing anti-gravity rig") or any other succinct specifications I could think of, and so FFD it became.
RyanD

climber
Squamish
Mar 2, 2013 - 05:51pm PT
Cool stuff Rgold. I've never been too interested in 1 arms but I like how you lay it out in terms of progression. Seems like the greatest benefit would be increased lock off ability. Thanks.
darkmagus

Mountain climber
San Diego, CA
Mar 2, 2013 - 05:57pm PT
Thanks for posting, good stuff!!
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 2, 2013 - 05:59pm PT
Please note that nowhere do I claim that these are of any use to climbing. Some climbers seem to acquire a side interest in feats of body weight strength, performed for their own sake, and that's who the article is aimed at.

Others imagine, probably to their detriment as climbers, that this or that physical capability is all that stands between them and whatever grade they can't currently manage.

For some insight into just how useful feats of strength can be, have a look at http://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/996070/The-Saga-of-the-Triple-Lever-A-Trippy-Report
McHale's Navy

Trad climber
Panorama City, California & living in Seattle
Mar 2, 2013 - 06:17pm PT
May as well transfer my post from the 60s thread;

I learned to do one-arms way back when simply by hanging a bicycle innertube off the pullup bar. When you do pullups you grab the bar with one hand and grab the tubing as high as possible with the other hand and do pullups like that for awhile. Gradually you move the hand down that holds the tubing. As the one hand gets lower, you can even use it to push down on the tubing. As the hand gets lower through training though, you can't get the push down on the tubing, and that benefit goes away, but the hand going lower means you are getting stronger. Eventually you just grab the tubing for psychological support and don't really need it. I once could do 3 quality one-arms on my left arm, and 2 on the right without doing an obsessive amount of training.

It's mostly about doing the 'specific' training that makes it possible, and following through with the training. I'm sure I experienced the usual ups and downs, peaks and valleys of training. I started from a base of being able to easily do 20 to 30 quality chinups however - quality meaning going all the way down. The one-arm pull ends up being a neutral hand position on the bar - between the chin-up and pull-up postion. It probably helps to be fairly light-weight with a high weight to strength ratio as they say. I never did much power-lifting - what lifting I did was aimed at endurance.

I remember when John Gill ripped one of his biceps years ago. Older folks would want to make sure they were pretty gradual in building up to this stuff. I was in my late teens and early 20s at my peak doing these, although I could do them into my 30s. I no longer do it because of various injuries. Now. I just try to build as much power and endurance as I can through, bouldering, buildering, climbing gyms, and climbing.





klk

Trad climber
cali
Mar 2, 2013 - 07:11pm PT
Someone sidled up to me in the West Side Y

yeah, i bet that happened a lot

heh
Michelle

Social climber
Toshi's Station, picking up power converters.
Mar 2, 2013 - 07:19pm PT
Thank you all for making me feel young at 40.
jstan

climber
Mar 2, 2013 - 07:52pm PT
If this thread does not devolve into a study of all known FFD's I shall be very surprised.
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 2, 2013 - 08:20pm PT
yeah, i bet that happened a lot

You know the West Side Y? It did happen a lot, at least for a while, until everyone figured out whose orientations were what.

There were many gay regulars there; I think they outnumbered the straight members, at least in the late-afternoon early-evening crowd.

I met someone I knew from the Y about twelve years later, another three-day a week regular. I started asking him about various people I remembered, and almost all of them were dead from aids.

We've forgotten what it was like before all the drugs were found.
Shack

Big Wall climber
Reno NV
Mar 2, 2013 - 09:08pm PT
I saw Moffett bust off a few one arm fingertip pull-ups and I don't think he did any of that stuff.
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 2, 2013 - 10:47pm PT
Yeah, and I'm sure we could say the same about Sharma. I tried to give an idea about how an ordinary athlete could progress sensibly, in a carefully controlled manner, toward a goal like one-arm pullups. Some folks have gotten there doing less, and a whole lot more people try and never make it.

Moffet isn't the best example, even if he could do what you remember him doing. First of all, he was arguably the best climber in the world for a while, and so was certainly physically exceptional. It wouldn't make sense to use him as a model for what more ordinarily gifted people should try or could do. And then his training methods, whatever they were, screwed up his elbows so badly he needed surgery and two years off to recover. That's exactly the sort of outcome my pedestrian approach is meant to prevent. So Moffet's example actually argues for an approach like the one I've outlined rather than suggesting it is overdone.
Shack

Big Wall climber
Reno NV
Mar 3, 2013 - 12:55am PT
Wasn't knocking your approach at all...just stating a fact. Some people are freaks like that.
I think Jerry's tendinitis was from climbing as hard as he could, everyday, for years without missing less than a hand full of days in like 4 or 5 years.
Least that's what he believed.
chappy

Social climber
ventura
Mar 3, 2013 - 08:29am PT
Hey Dan, Mark Chapman here. Its been a long long time since we have seen each other! Seems like you are well. You showed me your inner tube trick when I was a youngster and it worked great. I used to be able to do stacks of one arms...now I can barely do a two arm pull up! In fact I owe you a lot for getting me focused on climbing specific training BITD. You were one of the strongest guys I knew and ahead of the curve on the climbing work out thing. All the best...
Chappy
Curt

climber
Gold Canyon, AZ
Mar 3, 2013 - 09:22am PT
I think Jerry's tendinitis was from climbing as hard as he could, everyday, for years without missing less than a hand full of days in like 4 or 5 years.

Just watching the campus board training he did would give most people tendonitis...

Curt
klk

Trad climber
cali
Mar 3, 2013 - 11:30am PT
We've forgotten what it was like before all the drugs were found.

it was a catastrophe in the bay area.

so far as the one-arm regimen, when i was trying to learn them i spent a lot of time doing various pull-up routines, chins w. weights, etc. but i couldn't do one until after i had started rope climbing seriously.

after climbing rope for awhile, i realized i could do a one-arm on the bar fairly easily. although i never could do multiples.
McHale's Navy

Trad climber
Panorama City, California & living in Seattle
Mar 3, 2013 - 12:22pm PT
Mark! 77 was the last time I saw you. You showed me your mushroom mobile! Hahah!

As for rope climbing, I picked up a fat rope climbing type rope that I want to mount next to wall so that there can be a good feet assist on the wall. Seems like that would be a good old man exercise.

rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 3, 2013 - 12:28pm PT
Yes, rope-climbing might well be the best method of all. I left it out for two reasons: (i) Access to rope-climbing ropes has become almost non-existent in gyms, so you'd have to buy one and have a place to mount it. (ii) There is, I think, a substantially higher risk of elbow tendinitis because of the extra gripping involved and the wrist position when fully locked.

That said, here are some rope-climbing tactics.

(1) You have to learn how to hold on with your feet so you can rest if you pump out when you're up high. With the rope between your legs, you spin, say, the right leg around in front of the rope, then behind, and pick up the rope on top of the instep of the right foot. Then you stand on this with your left foot. You should be able to crook an elbow around the rope and hang comfortably this way without needing either hand.

(2) You can either climb (without feet, of course) dynamically for speed or statically for lock-off power. I chose statically, Gill always did it for speed. Either way seems to work if you aim for increasing the length of your "stride," but the gains from the dynamic approach may decrease as you learn the coordination.

(3) For static climbing, the progression is to first just get up the rope, using a stride as short as necessary to make it up. At the top, you pinch the rope between your feet and then lower down one hand at a time.

(4) Meanwhile, you start working on climbing up with longer and longer strides and locking off fully while regrasping. A really good intermediate stage is to begin with one arm fully stretched and the other at armpit level. Pull up, lock fully, and reach fully with the new upper arm, which will put you in the same position except the arms are reversed.

(5) When you can do this, you can probably also start lowering down the rope one hand at a time without pinching the rope with your feet.

(6) The final stage is to do a one arm pullup, reach high with the free hand, release the locking and sag back to full extension on the high hand, and do a one-arm pullup on that hand, and repeat.

Additional remarks:

(a) You really have to chalk the rope up every time you climb it, otherwise it gets too slimy to hang on to one-handed. This is another place the foot grabbing technique is required so that your hands are free for chalking.

(b) The rope workout is similar to but superior to the Bachar ladder in my opinion. You aren't forced to use any one particular rung spacing and, in particular, can shorten your stride as you fatigue. There is also no good Bachar ladder activity corresponding to lowering down the rope one-handed while pinching the rope with the feet. (I should add that John disagreed with me about all this, and I think his responses might be somewhere on this site.)

(c) With a few pulleys, you can set up a counterweight system that uses weights to effectively reduce your bodyweight. You'll want two pulleys mounted horizontally up at the top so that the descending weight is not coming down on top of your head. You can wear a harness. I found it works best to tie in at the back of the harness, not through the tie-in loops, because a rope in front seems to get in the way.
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