Have you had enough of personal finance bloggers coming at you with their physical fitness makeovers? No? Well fine then. Cuz I’m about to fire up a few paragraphs on how to do more pull ups. After all, they are the end-all and be-all of strength exercises. And as a bonus, yours truly is going to be pulling another stunt (i.e., experiment) over the next several months. Let’s get ready to pull our weight, slackers!!!
Pull-ups are good for you, if done with good form
If you’re a parent with small children, the first thing that comes to mind is a diaper that’s a single piece you can pull on without having to fasten anything. They are the most wretched environmental calamities ever, but boy, are they ever handy!
Not those kind of pull-ups. No. we’re here to talk about the art of hoisting ones body by gripping and pulling on a bar, until the chin is over the bar from which one hoists. Something like that. Okay, here’s an example:
(Thanks, Senor GIF. Ole!)
Why pull-ups are good for you
Pull-ups strengthen your top half. It’s the exercise that puts the V shape on ya. They hit the lats, biceps, even your abs, while strengthening your grip. It’s a compound maneuver that works multiple muscles at the same time. Also, they are hard to do.
Here’s what it looks like, when the bar doesn’t come loose in the door jamb:
Additionally, if you’re like me and back pain is an occasional issue, pull-ups can help a lot. Imagine what sheer gravity does to your spine, day in and day out. Well, when you’re hanging off a bar, gravity has the opposite effect of stretching your spine, rather than compressing it. I wouldn’t argue that pull-ups will keep you from shrinking with age, but I might just keep this experiment around for a while to see how this 6 footer fares…
Pull-ups strengthen your grip. This is important for all sorts of reasons. If you’re like me, on occasion you’re handling heavy equipment or power tools. Working on a remodeling project, hauling lots of stuff. Heck, being able to open a jar of pickles comes in handy sometimes. But also later in life, as your ability to kick ass diminishes somewhat, strength exercises can keep you in the race a lot longer.
Experiment? Did I mention another experiment?
I sure did. But don’t worry, I’ve recently decided to shitcan the “renting out our home on Airbnb” experiment. No bites. And I wasn’t about to lower the nightly rate to $25.00. So here we are, with the newly inaugurated Pull-up Experiment! Trumpets! Or crickets, whatevs…
This is somewhat inspired by my little brother Carl out in Longmont. Little brother only in age, as I’m a year or two his senior. Carl is on a mission to improve both his strength and endurance. Pull-ups, push-ups, running 10Ks and half marathons. The guy is your quintessential early retiree: Showing off what you can accomplish with all that free time!
I figure if Carl can get to 10 pull-ups, I can too. Where am I at now? 6. Last week I was at 5 when I started this ambitious new venture. My goal is to get to 20 pull-ups in a single, uninterrupted set by the end of 2018. Steroids, here I come, baby!!!!!
Seriously though, the tactic I hope to employ is pretty simple. I’m taking a page out of the book of Mike Joplin. Dude got a massive upper body over a lifetime of mainly doing one set of pull-ups, each and EVERY day. The story in that link is a hoot. No. I do not plan to take up the boozing and overeating he did as a young enlisted navy man living at the barracks. I’m not in my 20s anymore.
The personal finance connection (in case you missed it?)
Physical fitness is a cornerstone for ensuring better odds at longevity without ailments. It isn’t a cure-all, but for folks like yours-truly, whom have irritating inflammation issues from time to time, exercise is non-negotiable. In early retirement, you’re no longer covered by an employer sponsored health plan. And Medicare coverage, weak as it is, is years away.
I already have the biking thing down. And I’ll sneak in an occasional 2.5 mile run. So cardio? Got you covered. This post is all about strength training. Study after study have proven the effectiveness of hoisting heavy weights in living a longer, healthier life. If you’re a finance geek and really like money, then avoiding Rx and medical deductibles via rigorous and consistent exercise ought to be a priority NOW.
Enough preaching. Pull ups are friggin’ hard. How to make them easier?
One of the things I love about the gym I go to in the wintertime is the elastic bands they keep hung from the pull-up bar. There are four bands with varying thicknesses. The thicker the band, the easier the pull-up. You simply put one foot in the band loop, and start hoisting away.
Simple, elegant, and cheap technology. You simply work your way down to the skinnier bands as your strength improves. Eventually you’ll use the bands only for special drills – like grooving a 50 rep set of pull-ups!
My equipment (pull-up bar, that is)
A long time back I had one of those el-cheapo bars you install in a door frame. Not like the one Senor GIF shared above – that’s a tension rod for Pete’s sake! These deals have anchors that get screwed into the jamb. A good solution, if you have a door you don’t need to keep closed. For those of us in small houses however, gotta get creative.
My solution? I went for something SOLID. For Christmas a few years back I asked for, and received, the sweetest damn pull up bar you can get for home use. Bad boy is joist-mounted! Check it out:
The bar I got came from Amazon I think? Cost is around 50 bucks. Once installed, that thing ain’t movin, senoritas. Admittedly, it was a bit of a workout just to drill the holes through that 1946 timber. But now I can do pull-ups from home on a gym-worthy bar. AND bonus, we can hang stuff from it to dry when it’s not in use.
So there you have it. Another day, another life experiment fired up. Every morning on my way down to the basement office to write these edifying posts for y’all, I make a pit stop into the laundry room to get in a set of pull-ups. On the way upstairs an hour and a half later, I stop to do a single set of chin-ups.
We’ll see if the chin-up count keeps up with the pull-up count, but right now, the chin-ups are a little easier for me. Chin-ups isolate the biceps a bit more, while still hitting the lats. Pull-ups, with the overhand grip, are still a better overall compound exercise.
Feeling pumped up? Ready to join me on this latest knucklehead experiment and propose a mutual challenge? Let’s see if fully employed Cubert can keep up with that notorious early retired guy out west. Not putting any money on it just yet, but it’ll be a fun test. And the health benefits? Can’t argue with that.
Speaking of fitness in early retirement: My friend Fritz has quite a thing going with his habit of swimming across giant bodies of water. I’m going to give myself a few years before I try tackling anything close to that! For now, pull-ups will do just fine.
Here’s the Scorecard!
- Single set max June 1: 6
- Single set max July 1: 7
- Single set max Aug 1: 10
- Single set max Sept 1: 12
- Single set max Oct 1: 14
- Single set max Nov 1: 15
- Goal for Jan 1: 20!
I’ve noticed the best results from doing pull-ups every other day, rather than every single day, since reaching the 10 max set in August. Since then, I’ve focused on “greasing the groove”, where I’ll do approximately one-third of my all out max for three or four sets tops, with a day of rest in between. So far so good. If I can keep adding two to my max each month, I’ll hit 20 right on Jan. 1!
Nov. 1 Update: D’oh! Couldn’t quite get above the bar on attempt #16 this morning. I got a bit lax in my training routine in October. Time to double-down in November and try to stay consistent with my number of reps on alternating days. I’ll probably stick with 5 rep max sets, but target 60 total pull-ups on days I train. On to December 1!