[Case Study] How to Go From ZERO to SEVEN Pull-Ups in 10-Weeks Even When You’re a Busy Mom of Four and Work Full-time
This is a fun blog to write today if I do say so myself.
I would like you all to meet Geni Ligday from Virginia, USA. She’s your typical everyday athlete. A busy mom of four, full-time employee, and devoted wife.
On May 4, 2019, she did seven pull-ups. Yes, that’s right, seven strict pull-ups.
Watch this video and witness this feat and marvel at the fruits of her labor.
Now, you may be thinking, “Seven pull-ups. Is that all?” Or “Seven pull-ups!Holy cow that’s awesome. I can’t even do one.” Either way, what you need to understand is that prior to this, Geni had NEVER done a single pull-up… EVER.
Not one. And she managed to achieve this in less than ten weeks of actual pull-up training.
Today’s blog is about giving hope to every single one of you who wants to achieve that elusive pull-up.Building strength through pull-ups transfers directly to other strength and sporting activities. It’s one of the most expressive forms of athleticism.Click To Tweet
What Are the Benefits of Doing Pull-Ups?
Pulling is one of the fundamental human movements (If you’d like to learn more about the seven human movements, click here).
And for good reason. Nothing expresses this movement more than a good old-fashioned pull-up.
We use pulling movements every single day. Opening doors. Picking something up from the floor. Pulling yourself up onto something, or even climbing or hanging from a ledge.
It’s a fundamental human movement. The stronger you are at this movement, well, the easier life becomes. It’s as simple as that.
It is a compound exercise, meaning you use more than one muscle group, thus allowing you to recruit a maximal amount of muscle fibers to help you put on muscle size and mass. They develop wicked powerful forearms and a vice-like grip.
Building strength through pull-ups transfers directly to other strength and sporting activities. It’s one of the most expressive forms of athleticism. Nothing is quite as empowering as a really good, strong, powerful pull-up, and it makes you look bad-ass!
Oh, and it just happens to be one of the fastest ways to help change your body composition.
How does having a strong, nicely defined back and shoulders sound to you all while helping you define and shape your whole body?
Pretty great, right? That’s the beauty of pull-ups.Nothing is quite as empowering as a really good, strong, powerful pull-up, and it makes you look bad-ass!Click To Tweet
How Do I Start My Quest for Pull-Up Success?
As we say about nearly everything we do here at Strength Matters, we need to know the score before we can get into the game. And that means we need to assess and see what your starting point is.
There are a number of key factors that go into helping someone do their first pull-up.
Here are the four most important aspects that you need to address before you can even get into pull-up specifics:
- Body composition
- Basic fundamental strength
- Scapular health
- Postural control
Let’s look at each of these a bit more in depth, as well as the basic assessments you need to do to see where you are right now.
#1 Body Composition
Sorry to break it to you, but if your waist is more than half the length of your height, the path to completing your first pull-up will be long and frustrating. The best thing we can do for your health is to help you achieve this number. By doing this, your path to pull-up success will be that much easier.
In all athletic feats and sports, body composition plays a significant role in performance. It’s the same with the pull-up. If you score greater than 0.5 on this test, then we must first address this area. It’s really that important.
If you’d like to learn more about the health implications of the waist/height ratio and how to perform this test, we highly recommend reading this blog here.
But essentially, measure your waist above the naval and divide by your height.
#2 Basic Fundamental Strength
The pull-up requires a significant amount of strength. It recruits a large number of muscles, and it doesn’t use muscles in isolation as many people are led to believe. Pull-up success is about using the entire body as one solid unit. That means the entire body must be strong, tight, and locked together to initiate the pull-up.
So, what are the basic strength requirements needed before you even attempt a pull-up?
Here are our foundational strength tests:
- Can you hold a two-minute straight arm plank hold?
- Can you hold a two-minute glute bridge hold (hips high)?
- Can you hang from a pull-up bar (overhand grip) for sixty seconds?
If the answer is NO to any of these tests above, we need to address these issues first and foremost.
A strong straight arm plank is the foundation of core strength and the basic muscular endurance needed to do a pull-up.
The glute bridge test is a great test for stability in the pelvis, lumbar spine, core, and gluteal muscles. The bar hang highlights the necessary grip strength required to perform a pull-up while giving us an insight into the potential health of your shoulders.
You should be aware that, frequently, unstable or painful shoulders will cause weak grip in order to protect the shoulder.Struggling with a pull-up? Attempt these strength requirements first and watch...Click To Tweet
#3 Scapular Health
Pull-ups and chin-ups are all about scapular stability.
For the mobile shoulder joints to stay mobile and healthy, they rely almost entirely on the proper function of the scapula. The true key to shoulder mobility is scapular stability. You need to have strong shoulder blades. You need a foundation.
There are many ways to test the health of your scapular; however, over the years, in fit and healthy everyday athletes (like your good self) the flexed arm hang test is one of the simplest scapular health tests that we do.
Quite simply, can you perform the following?
- With an over hand grip, how long can you hang from the bar with your chin clearly above the bar itself.
We’re looking for a time of no less than sixty seconds for men and forty seconds for women.
This test should only be applied if you own the foundational strength elements and have addressed the basic body composition outline above. You can try it; however, you may find yourself extremely frustrated if you can’t achieve it. This is why it is the third step in the process.
#4 Postural Control
Once we have addressed steps one and two, we can work on steps three and four simultaneously. We’ve already tested basic grip strength. Now we need to determine if you can maintain postural alignment under load.
Here is our test and the standards that you need to achieve:
- The 75% Bodyweight Farmers Carry (90 Seconds Total)
The Farmers Carry test determines whether you can maintain alignment with integrity under load. We are targeting your postural stabilizers here. If they don’t have the fundamental endurance, this will lead to poor alignment, poor proprioception, and poor stability.
We sometimes focus so much on the main lifts that we sometimes forget to train our postural muscles and stabilizers. The ability to maintain integrity under load is more important than the ability to lift load, and it is fundamental for the proper movement of the load.
Postural stabilizer endurance should far surpass the prime mover endurance. In this case, all the muscles involved with helping you achieve that pull-up.
Case Study: How We Trained Geni for Pull-Up Success and Glory
Now that you know some of the key things we look for prior to helping someone achieve their first pull-up, here’s Geni’s starting point:
Geni, November 2018:
- Body Composition – Check. All in order.
- Basic Fundamental Strength – Check. All in order.
- Scapular Health – Uh oh. Flexed-arm hang only 12 seconds.
- Postural Control – Check. All in order.
This allowed us to pinpoint the one area that we needed to work on—the health of her shoulders and muscular endurance.
Geni was already strong enough in all the vital areas, but she needed improved scapular stability, mobility, and muscular endurance.
Stage one was about re-building and working on her scapular health with the bigger picture leading to pull-ups once we had established the basics.
She was prescribed a lot of scapular push-ups and forearm scapular rolls.
In fact, she had one entire workout once a week dedicated to rowing and scapular work.
Here’s what she did on that day:
Row + Scap Workout
- 10 sets. 500m row @2:20 pace (Feet out the straps). 1 Minute Rest. Repeat.
- During the one-minute rest perform:
- 10 scapular push-ups
- 5/5 scapular plank rolls
On other days, we’d start focusing on scapular health with isometric and core strength to integrate everything. The goal was to get her new mobile shoulders to explore these new ranges of strength.
Here’s what this second day looked like:
- Three Sets. 1 minute between rounds.
- A1) Scap circles, legs resting, 5 each way
- A2) Scap circles plank, 5 each way
- A3) Hanging knee raise, 5 reps with a 1 second pause at the top
- Four Sets. 1 minute between rounds.
- A1) Flexed arm hang, as long as possible
- A2) One arm/one leg plank hold, both sides, as long as possible
- A3) Push-ups, or inclined push-ups, 5-10 reps
As you can see, we’re priming the scapula and then integrating them with isometric work in the main circuit. This was the key for Geni. Muscular endurance, scapular health, isometric work, and a strong core, all working together.
This was a primer for Geni’s main pull-up program. We worked on the foundation first before we went anywhere near doing actual pull-ups.
She went from ZERO to seven pull-ups in ten weeks because she spent a solid EIGHT weeks doing the prep work necessary.
During this time, Geni’s flexed arm hang went from 12 seconds to 1 minute 10 seconds.
The power of getting the basics right.
Stage two of the plan was to work towards an actual pull-up. Now that Geni was able to hold a flexed arm hang for well over the 40-second mark, it was time to focus on the strength needed to perform a pull-up.
Twice a week, while working on her deadlift (which went from 235lbs to 270lbs, but that’s another story at 127lbs bodyweight), we focused on volume building and working the negative of the pull-up. She could successfully hold a flexed arm hang for over a minute, but we needed to work on the negative aspect of the pull-up, another often forgotten tip to winning the pull-up game.
Here’s what she did twice a week during this time:
Negative Pull-Up Training
- 10 Minutes. 10 Sets. 1 Rep. EMOM.
- @31A0 Tempo (3 Sec Descent – learn more about tempo training here)
- Immediately at the end of 10 min:
- 1 x max flexed arm hang
As the weeks went on, we manipulated the time of descent. What started at 3 seconds became 10 seconds over four weeks, increasing by two seconds each time. As the weeks went by,
Geni began to see that the more she did this, the more she was initiating the flexed arm hang by pulling herself up over the bar.
It was at this point that we changed the workouts from negative pull-ups to actual pull-ups.
- 10 Minutes. 10 Sets. 1 Rep. EMOM.
- @51X0 Tempo (5 Sec Descent – learn more about tempo training here)
- Immediately at the end of 10 min:
- 1 x max flexed arm hang
She could now effortlessly do one pull-up—on the minute, EVERY minute—followed by a flexed arm hang for over 30 seconds at the finish.
We then extended the time out to 12 minutes, and then eventually 20 full minutes!
Here’s the important factor to remember. NEVER ONCE did Geni do more than one pull-up in a row. She followed our principle of “growth comes in comfort and flirt with failure.”
And when she did attempt it, she banged out seven in a row. And not just seven pull-ups. Seven perfect pull-ups with exceptional technique and postural control.
Here’s the video again if you need reminding:
The pull-up is a wonderful expression of athleticism; however, training to achieve one is often very misunderstood. It’s a far more complex process that involves great shoulder health, core control, and postural stability.
We’ve outlined the pre-requisites needed before even attempting to do a pull-up, and we can assure you that from professional experience, this is the fastest way to achieve that pull-up.
Geni is an excellent role model for any busy mother out there. She shows that it’s possible to achieve this at any age and with four kids and a stressful full-time job.
It’s just about knowing where to start.
Here’s to your pull-up success.
Life is now pain-free, and that is a big statement by Geni Ligday
Two and a half years ago I transitioned from working part-time as a personal trainer to working full time in an office. I have four kids, ages 7-14, that keep my life and schedule very full.
Over the course of the last two and a half years, I started to experience a lot of unexplainable joint pain, everywhere from hips, shoulders, elbows, and neck and my back was riddled with trigger points and spasms.
I now had a desk job that felt like it was going to kill me. And of course with the now chronic pain came a host of emotions, frustrations and a lot of unanswered questions.
In November 2018, I finally hit a low point and came to the realization that I could not fix this on my own and I had eliminated all the medical explanations for the pain I was having. And in walks Strength Matters.
As a trainer, I have been following SM for several years so I knew the philosophy and knew they had great content, I was confident I was in pretty good hands. What I did not know was the incredible transformation that would happen in 6 weeks and the amazing journey that has begun.
Within the first six weeks, I went from struggling to walk or stand for any length of time to 100% pain-free. It was amazing, to finally be free to move again. Ranges of motion I had not had for more than a year were beginning to open up again.
The progression was so steady, not once did I feel like “I can’t do this”, it was perfection. Every day felt like progress, every day felt like I was one step closer to feeling better, every day felt like we can fix this mess.
The past couple of weeks have been more focused on building a stronger foundation and again, I am amazed at the programming. It is so spot on for my needs and I still feel like every day is progress.
For me, the daily encouragement, genuine support and brilliant programming are beyond measure. It has fixed me, it has given my daily life back to me.
It has made me better at everything, not just moving. Forever grateful! Geni.
Every Journey Begins With a Single Step
In every great movie, the hero embarks on a path that promises adventure, challenges, and finally, achievement. Often, the hero finds a guide that takes the hero under their wing and pushes him or her to the limit. Just think, where would Luke be without Yoda? We are the stars of our own movies. And we all need that guide.
When it comes to fitness, a coach can be your guide to movie hero-type success, and your secret weapon. There are so many benefits to having a personal coach. I would go so far as to say that coaching is a prerequisite for achievement. Period.
Applying the Strength Matters System of Athletic Development to achieve a pain-free athletic lifestyle won’t be easy but it’s guaranteed to work if you follow it. And we’re here to guide you every step of the way.
Are you ready to take that first step?
Life’s better as an everyday athlete. ~ James Breese