Fitness Communism and the End of Pull-ups?
By Nick Barringer, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS (EIEIO)
The first time you achieve a pull-up is a substantial milestone in one’s life but today my friends that milestone is being threatened…
I remember it like it was yesterday: I was in the 4th grade and we were doing the presidential fitness test for PE class. I thought I was a pretty strong kid since I played pop warner football and regularly reenacted the moves of the WWF greats on the playground. That is why what happened next was the most humbling experience of my childhood.
We were lined up to do pull-ups and the boys in front of me seemed to be having difficulty in what I perceived as a simple task. One after another were defeated by the metal bar.
I proudly stepped up ready to slay this proverbial dragon so I grasped the bar with authority and pulled with all my might. I pulled harder….and harder…yet nothing was happening…I pulled so hard that I thought if I could not make it to the bar surely I would pull the bar down to me…yet still nothing.
I left the line defeated like the others in front of me and then the scrawniest kid in our class went and knocked out not one but four pull-ups! It was that very day that I made a vow to train so one day I could proudly see the world with my head over the bar.
I achieved my pull-up goal a year later and was able to join the relatively elite club of those who have seen the other side of the bar. Granted, it looks a lot like the underside—but that knowledge should be earned.
Today that accomplishment is sullied by a dastardly piece of equipment that once was a fitness friend but now has turned into a fitness foe…the rubber band. You see my friends what once was a crowning achievement that had to be paid with blood, sweat, and tears now can be achieved with a quick trip to your local sporting goods store. No longer do you have to worry about bracing your core and squeezing your lats to achieve the gravity defying movement that makes your body feel as though it is ascending into the heavens. Nope, now all you need is a strong enough rubber band to launch your body mass over the bar while you feint maximal effort.
What used to require calculated judgments like losing a certain amount of weight while maintaining a certain amount of strength in order to get a ticket to the pull-up Promised Land can quickly be solved by just buying a thicker band. Now I don’t lay the blame on the rubber bands because I remember when they all were rightfully called “Resistance Bands” and were used to make something hard even harder. Resistance bands are great because they matched the human strength curve so as you get stronger at the peak of a movement the band provides more resistance. Great strength coaches like the legendary Louie Simmons have used tools like resistance bands to produce some of the strongest male and females to ever walk the planet.
But then there was that guy…let’s call him Steve… who thought “if bands make things harder if I reverse them it should make things easier.” (Author is not sure if this is historically accurate but that is the way it happened in his head.) The rest is history.
Some of the readers at this point might be thinking, “Well it can’t be all bad if rubber bands have more people doing pull-ups right?” Wrong. I equate this line of thinking to fitness communism. On the surface it might appear like equality but all it is truly doing is lowering the standard so we accept the fitness equivalent of porridge, the banded pull-up, versus striving to feast on the fitness filet mignon of true pull-ups.
Now if you currently are doing banded pull-ups or have a friend who does banded pull-ups, don’t worry; all is not lost. I’m going to lay out a simple 4 step program for banded pull-up recovery:
Step 1: Repeat the following phrase every morning five times upon waking: “Bands are for resistance, not assistance.”
Step 2: Turn a positive into a negative (yes, I said that correctly). Try utilizing eccentric pull-ups in your program. Use a box or simply jump-up to the top position of the pull-up and slowly lower yourself down for an 8-count. Substitute those for banded pull-ups.
Step 3: Ensure you are including plenty of other pulling movements into your exercise program. Most people tend to press much more than they pull so ensure you are hitting a 50/50 balance.
Step 4: Insert hard work here.
There you go, the road to pull-up glory is laid out for you so let the journey begin.
But before I leave you I will provide a quick word about “kipping” pull-ups. If you are kipping to get a few more reps out of a set, cool. But if your entire set looks like you are having a seizure, that falls into the banded pull-up category—so please stop it. Pull-ups are a fitness treasure that, given the current rubber band infestation, we could easily lose. Do your part to protect the pull-up by say no to rubber bands.
Because if we lose the pull-up to extruded rubber the communists win…