When your gym is packed and there’s no way to use your usual equipment, head to the pull-up bar. This essential, but often overlooked, tool is perfect for getting a strength workout that requires minimal space. Follow the three-part workout below to build strength in your back, chest, arms, and abs.
Part 1: The Inverse Ladder
Alternate between pull-ups and push-ups, starting by performing 10 pull-ups and 1 push-up, and resting for 30 seconds. Then, perform 9 pull-ups and 2 push-ups, and rest for 30 seconds. Then 8 and 3, and 7 and 4, continuing until you’ve reached 1 pull-up and 10 push-ups. If you’re still feeling strong, reverse the ladder after your first pass and go all the way backwards from 1 pull-up and 10 push-ups. Your ultimate goal should be to go up and down the ladder a total of three times.
To ensure your arms don’t tire too quickly and stunt your workout, you need to use your back to do the work. From a hanging position, the back is engaged by depressing the shoulder blades, which should cause an arch in the back. (Remaining straight as an arrow will transfer the load to the biceps and tire you out much more quickly.) This video demonstration explains how to properly pull.
Part 2: The Negative Reps
Switching your hands from an overhand grip to a chin-up grip is the perfect change to tap into more of the upper back muscles compared to the lat-heavy pull-up. Using this reverse grip, perform 4 sets of 6 to 8 negative reps. Use a box or bench to step up to the top of the chin-up position (eyes over bar), and slowly descend for 10 seconds until your arms are straight overhead. This movement trains your strongest muscle fibers (eccentric strength) and can translate into much more general strength when performing the movement. Chin-ups are very difficult to do when fatigued, but negative reps are a great way to extend your set or your workout. Focus on maintaining a strong, stable torso, with the shoulder blades down and back.
Part 3: Hanging Knee Raises
Rest the hands and forearms by taking a four-minute break after the first two exercises. When you’re ready, perform 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps of hanging knee raises with legs bent at a 90-degree angle and an overhand grip on the pull-up bar. Avoid swinging by controlling your legs and torso on the way down.
When performing knee raises, slightly round your back. It’s the only way to make sure the abs fully engage, because one of their roles is to give the pelvis a posterior tilt. Many lifters will flex at the hip and negate the function of the abs. Instead, get rid of your back arch and pull your knees up as high as possible, trying to make the bottom of your shoes face in front of you, and your thighs touch your chest.