A few hours ago I wrapped up my Saturday morning back workout, every now and then a few of the exercises and the order that they're performed in during my workout change, one thing that remains the same is the opening exercise.
Wide grip weighted pull-ups.
The king of all upper-body exercises in my eyes.
Performed often they'll total transform your physique, you'll build a colossal V taper, you'll pack on thickness to your back and your biceps will blow up too.
Every now and then someone in the gym will see me with a 55lbs weight vest on between sets and they'll make a comment...
"Wow! your back is SO strong, I can't even do a single bodyweight pull-up!"
Then they proceed to go back to the lat pulldown and smash out 3 sets of 15 reps with a relatively light weight, while I think to myself "Neither could I a few years ago..."
It's not overly uncommon for an untrained individual or a newbie to the gym to be able to smash out a decent set of push-ups or two, hell maybe even a few dips on parallel bars.
It's VERY uncommon to find an untrained individual or newbie to the gym that can perform legitimate dead hang pull-ups with correct form.
I vividly remember spending months in the gym working on my eccentric pull-ups before I was able to muster up the strength to perform my first bodyweight pull-up.
We all have to start from the beginning and when it comes to smashing out wide grip weighted pull-ups eccentric pull-ups are that beginning.
Understanding The Importance Of The Eccentric
"SJ, first of all what is eccentric repetition?"
Rather than only mention eccentric let's quickly delve into the three forms of muscle contractions (with eccentric being one of them!).
The Concentric Muscle Contraction
The concentric contraction is when a muscle is under load while it is shortening - this is also known as the 'positive' portion of a repetition when we're referring to exercises.
The act of curling a dumbbell is a concentric contraction because the biceps is shortening as your curl the weight up towards your shoulder.
In the instance of a pull-up the act of pulling yourself up from a dead hang until your chin clears the bar is the concentric muscle contraction of this exercise, as your muscles are shortening while under the load of your own bodyweight.
You'll find in the gym the majority of gym-goers focus on the concentric portion of each exercise and repetition they perform, however fail to place much focus on the eccentric and isometric contractions (flexing your muscle in the mirror at the gym is technically a concentric contraction!).
The Eccentric Muscle Contraction
The eccentric contraction is when a muscle is under load while it is lengthening - this is also known as the 'negative' portion of a repetition when we're referring to exercises.
The act of lowering a dumbbell back down to your side after performing a dumbbbell curl is an ecctric contraction because the biceps is lengthening as your the weight return back to your side.
In the instance of a pull-up the act of lowering yourself back down after your chin has cleared the bar until you're at a dead hang once again is the eccentric muscle contraction of this exercise, as your muscles are lengthening while under the load of your own bodyweight.
Studies have shown your muscles are able to withstand 20%~ more force on the eccentric contraction when compared to the concentric contraction.
The Isometric Muscle Contraction
An isometric contraction is when a muscle is placed under load while it remains the same (isn't shortened or lengthened).
Isometric holds are a technique many bodybuilders use often to break through plateaus and to take their pumps to the next level as the muscle fills with blood.
Training Specificity & Eccentric Pull-Ups
Eccentric pull-ups burn.
I'll be honest, they work VERY well but they are not particularly fun to perform, particularly your later sets and reps, but if bodyweight (and weighted!) pull-ups are your goal smashing out eccentric pull-ups is a necessary evil.
This comes down to training specificity.
To get good at X you must do X.
You will not get good at pull-ups by doing lat pulldowns.
You will not get good at pull-ups by doing seated rows.
You must spend the time in the trenches working to get the results.
Incorporate 4 sets of eccentric pull-ups into your routine 3 times a week. Perform each set until failure.
Remember, you don't get better at something by not doing it.
How To Perform Eccentric Pull-Ups Correctly
Set a box or step up so you're easily able to raise yourself up to your pull-up bar.
Your starting position will be with your lats squeezed together while your chin is slightly above your pull-up bar (right side of photo of me above).
From here slowly lower yourself down until your arms are at a dead hang (left side of photo of me above) you should aim for each repetition to take 4 - 5 seconds, slow and controlled.
Immediately step onto your box/step and raise yourself back up to the starting position with your chin clearing the pull-up bar and your lats squeezed together.
Repeat until failure. That is one set.
Once you're able to perform 10~ reps for 4 sets it's time to move onto the next progression!