Can’t Do A Pull-Up? Here’s Why…

Make Your Body Work For You

For some reason I can lift heavy stuff and spent years using my body to make a living while engaged in laborious work. It always seemed like it was a reasonable expectation to be able to do pull-ups without to much trouble until I set myself to try and I was always very disappointed in the out-come. How could that be? I was clearly quite strong in so many other ways but pull-ups? Meh…not so much. Here’s a little insight from Men’s Journal and a couple things you can do about.

Dial In Your Pull-Ups & Your Next OCR Competition Read This…


The Problem
Pull-ups are one of those ubiquitous tests of strength, but a move that can humble even the toughest of men. Most who are unable to do this particular feat think the answer lies in more weights. And while your lats, biceps, and traps are doing work during this move, the real answer lies in your serratus anterior (SA), the muscle that holds your shoulder blade against your rib cage. If your SA isn’t working correctly, you are setting up the other 17 muscles that attach to your scapula to fail. When the scapula is out of position, you are putting yourself at a mechanical disadvantage. In other words, it’s not strength, it’s positioning.

As a physical therapist, I am always amazed to see how much strength is trapped in the body because bones are out of position. When I put the bones back in to the right position, the muscles are at the right length, and all of a sudden, the body moves better. You may be strong, but you are always stronger in balance and in alignment.

This is especially true for the strength and balance required to do a pull-up. Put the scapula in the right position, and your lower trap, biceps, and lats will work much better. With the scapula out of position, you are asking your teres major and minor (which are tiny muscles) and only a portion of your lat to lift your entire body. No wonder you can’t get your chin up to the bar.

The Solution
You need to start releasing muscles that attach to your shoulder. Modern life is about texting, working on the computer, and stuffing yourself into airplane seats built for 12 year old kids. The result is a forward head and rounded shoulders and ultimately, a shoulder blade that is constantly drifting forward and up. Gravity exacerbates the situation, pulling you down and further out of position.

Here’s what you need to do. Get a lacrosse ball and then get to work. First release your pec muscles, then the teres (those little guys on the outside of your scapula that are working so hard to get you over that bar), and finally the upper trap. For the pec and teres, place the lacrosse ball on a tender spot and lean up against a wall. Lean a tolerable amount of weight onto the ball, then move your arm back and forth. For the trap, you want to find a bar bell, get underneath it so your upper trap is, well, trapped underneath it, shrug up and depress your shoulder. For each release, you will know it is working when your body starts to melt into the lacrosse ball or barbell.

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