Years ago (twelve? fourteen? too many!) I visited a middle school with a robust physical education program. Gesturing toward a whiteboard on which students' athletic stats were tracked, the gym teacher asked, "How many pullups can you do?"
Erm... I was there for work interests, not personal ones, but apparently my reputation as a "fitness type" had preceded me. The teacher's face was expectant. Of course I could do pullups.
Except, I couldn't.
I could, however, artfully dodge the question. It stuck with me, though, and that very afternoon, I set out to correct my deficiency.
I can't remember now how long it took me to get my first dead-hang pullup, but I can tell you this: I vowed then and there that I would never not be able to do pullups again. There's something undeniably empowering about them -- especially for women. (Here's a great video if you want to learn how.)
I've kept that vow for over a decade. I've gone through phases of doing exactly zero pullups for months at a time, but I've never lost the ability. Those dry stretches take a toll on capacity, though.
Take now, for instance. Since riding couple 50's at Top o' the World this summer, I've really slacked off my formal workouts. I'm feeling pretty wimpy. Ugh. Time to get my pull-up count back up!
To do it, I'm dragging out an old technique that I've used off and on over the years: Greasing the Groove.
Greasing the Groove is a term coined by Pavel -- you know, the guy who popularized kettlebells in the West -- in his book Power to the People. Basically, it involves repeating a movement frequently, but at a weight and number of repetitions that fall well short of your maximum capacity. The idea is to strengthen neural pathways, essentially training the body to perform the movement efficiently.
GtG is usually used for bodyweight work like pullups and pushups, not least because it isn't terribly convenient to get yourself to a barbell several times a day. The simplest version is to simply do the exercise periodically throughout the day, but only at 40-50% of your max number of reps. The goal is to build neuro-muscular connections, remember, not muscle per se.
Some people do their reps every hour, on the hour. Back before the house fire, I had a pullup bar in my main bathroom doorway (ah, the benefits of living alone) and did a few pullups every time I went pee.
This time, I'm going to try a new routine that builds GtG into my work-from-home weekdays. It's minimal, as GtG goes, but it's manageable. (In my world, not realistic = not done, so this will have to do!)
Here's the plan:
I generally work at my desk for 50 minutes, then take a 10 minute break. Each of my first three breaks will begin with GtG. My schedule makes sure I do each movement at least 3x per day, 3x per week.
Day 1: Pullups and pushups
Day 2: Pullups and chinups
Day 3: Chinups and pushups
Day 4: Pullups and pushups
Day 5: Chinups and pushups
What about max sets? Those are important too, but I'm handing them separately from GtG. They're a whole different concept that I'll work into my overall workout schedule.
The plan goes into action today. Wish me luck!
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Thanks for dropping by! I'm an endurance rider in the northwest region of the United States. This blog is about the practicalities of distance riding and the practice of being my best self for my horse. I hope you'll come along for the ride.
The Sweaty Equestrian