As luck would have it, it’s Cinco de Mayo, and I couldn’t let it pass without introducing the fifth edition of Move of the Week. So here it is, #5 on 5/5: the Eccentric Pull-up!
THE MOVE: Eccentric Pull-up
MOVEMENT PATTERN AND MUSCLES WORKED: Vertical pulling pattern: shoulders, lats, and upper back.
WHY DO IT: With warm weather right around the corner, now might be the perfect time to talk about pull-ups and why they are great–as an exercise that primarily targets the lats, they help build the back like few other exercises can. Along with horizontal pulling exercises, like rows, they are great to balance out all the benching you’ve proooobably been doing in preparation to take off your shirt regularly during the summer. As such, the pull-up is one of the few essential exercises, like the squat, deadlift, and bench press, that are great for 95% of people in search of a stronger, leaner body.
This is true, but only if they are incorporated appropriately! Like the push-up we discussed last week, the pull-up is actually quite difficult, namely because a lot of people would have trouble doing just one.
This is where a regression like the eccentric pull-up comes in. It’s a “cheat” that actually makes you better at the pull-up itself. Pulling your head above the bar is often the part of the pull-up that most people have trouble with, so why not eliminate it entirely? That’s the idea here, but the good thing is that focusing on the lowering portion of the movement, the eccentric, actually helps you accomplish the hard part, too.
HOW TO DO IT: The eccentric pull-up will help you build the strength you need to do real pull-ups eventually. Because of this, I would recommend incorporating them using 3-4 sets of 6 reps during a workout. The devil is in the details though. In order to make these truly effective, these eccentrics should be done as slowly and with as much control as you can muster. A good baseline for this is to take 4 seconds to lower yourself from the very top of the rep. I know, those 6 reps I’m recommending don’t look so easy anymore.
Set-up a bench or a box underneath a pull-up bar so that you are able to grab a pull-up bar and comfortably jump up to the top position of a standard pull-up. In this position, try to bring as much of your head above the bar as possible, and think about pulling your shoulder blades down and back and pulling your elbows into your pockets. This will help you get a feel for using the bigger muscles of your back–the lats especially–instead of just using your arms to perform pull-ups. Using a 4-second count, slowly lower yourself down to the bottom position of a pull-up so that your arms are fully straight. You should feel a good, gentle shoulder stretch along the back of your shoulder complex. Reset your feet on the bench and prepare for the next rep.
During this exercise, you’ll find that your body has to work overtime to prevent you from dangling like a swing. This required a ton of reflexive core control, and I would not be surprised if your abs are sore in addition to your lats and upper back the day after, too!
For anyone who struggles with pull-ups, whether because they can’t do one or because they have trouble with the few that they can do, taking a step back and using these eccentrics will put you on the road to master them. Let us know what you think on Twitter or Instagram @halevylife !
by Jeremy Lau
Jeremy Lau is a Staff Coach at Halevy Life.
Jeremy graduated cum laude from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BSc. in Biomedical Engineering and is currently pursuing his M.Ed. in Exercise Physiology at Columbia University. In addition to his academic accolades, Jeremy is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
Prior to joining the team at Halevy Life, Jeremy completed a coaching internship at Cressey Sports Performance, where he coached both amateur and professional athletes, among whom were many professional MLB baseball players.
As an athlete, Jeremy has played baseball competitively for most of his life.