Explosive Pull Ups
Pull ups are a functional exercise and in my opinion are the best back exercise for upper back mass and strength.
But why stop there?
Once you've got the regular pull up down pat it's time to take a look at explosive pull ups.
Whether you're a rock climber, a boxer, an obstacle course racer or a bodybuilder the benefits of building explosive pulling strength will transfer across to your chosen discipline.
The only way to get better at pull ups is to do them! Don’t skip pull-ups simply and attempt to build explosive pulling strength through exercises such as the lat pulldown, you will not find a machine that replicates the power of the pull up. (I recall repping out sets of weighted dips with a 45lb plate before I could even perform 1 proper form wide grip pull up, so don’t get discouraged!).
Targets: Back & Biceps
Required: Pull Up Bar
Explosive Pull Ups Benefits
Your Explosive Pulling Strength Will Help Your Lifts
Slow and controlled pull ups have a hell of a lot of benefits, particularly if you're chasing hypertrophy.
On the other hand, if you're looking to increase your strength on movements such as the bent over row and pendlay row you're going to find the power you build performing explosive dead hang pull ups to transfer across to these movements.
You'll Be That Much Closer To Mastering The Muscle-Up
Explosive pull ups are in my eyes the #1 prerequisite before attempting the muscle up.
In order to get over the top of the bar to complete the muscle up you're going to need to explode upwards from a dead hang to get your torso in the right position to get over the top of the bar - you will not be able to reach this point with a slow and controlled hypertrophy oriented pull up.
Before you start hitting muscle up negatives and kipping to get above your bar I recommend mastering the explosive pull up!
Explosive Pull Ups Form
With Arms fully extended and slightly wider than shoulder-width grasp your pull-up bar and assume a dead hang position.
Tilt your head to look slightly upward and maintain a small arch in your back, this will create the slight angle you'll maintain in your torso for the duration of the set.
Drive your arms down and back, pulling through your lats until your chest is in line with your pull up bar, this should be occur in one fast and explosive pulling movement.
Lower yourself back down to the dead hang starting position.
Dead hang for a couple of seconds before proceeding with your next explosive repetition.
How Many Reps & Sets Should You Perform?
I personally never go beyond 8 reps on my explosive pull up sets.
Why? because when you're going high repetition they'll soon turn into regular pull ups!
Treat your explosive pull ups as you would a heavy compound lift such as your squats or bench press.
Opt to perform 4 - 5 sets of 8 reps or under (however many you're able to perform explosively) with 2 - 3 minutes rest between sets.
Throw your explosive pull ups in at the beginning of your back work (as you'll likely be too fatigued for the explosive nature of these repetitions after your bent over rows and deadlifts etc.) otherwise add them to the end of another workout such as your leg day.
Common Mistakes With Explosive Pull Ups
Poor Elbow Positioning
If your elbows are in front of you you're essentially replicating an overhand chin-up.
Your elbows should be tracking downwards and backwards, instead of remaining close together in front of your torso.
You'll find that incorrect elbow positioning makes the makeshift 'pull-up' that much easier as your biceps are able to muscle in and take over when your back begins to struggle.
To ensure you're pulling back and down widen your grip, a narrow grip makes it more preferential by default to position your elbows incorrectly.
Chin-ups are a fantastic exercise, there's no doubt they can be used to add mass and peak to the biceps, but when we're trying to build pull up strength, explosiveness and a wide cobra-esque back they're not ideal.
Not Contracting The Back Muscles
If you're pulling directly up you're pulling your body through your arms and you're not going to be able to contract your back muscles - rendering your weighted pull ups ineffective.
In order to ensure your squeezing your shoulder blades together your chest should be puffed forward and you should have a slight arch in your back - allowing you to pull back and down while squeezing your shoulder blades together.
Utilizing A Partial ROM
A pull up should start from a dead hang position. Your arms should be fully extended, no exceptions.
The pull-up ends when your shoulder blades are contracted and at least your chin clears the pull-up bar.
This is the absolute minimum range of motion you should be utilizing.
As your strength and mobility improves so should the height to which you're pulling yourself - aim to touch your upper chest on the pull-up bar.