Puii Ups and Chin Ups Gravitron

If we were in jail and could have just one apparatus, we'd pine for a pull-up/chin-up bar. These simple exercises, which happen to be uncommonly difficult, are (along with the push-up and sit-up) very effective exercises when your access to equipment is limited. (By the way, what's up with exercises that end in up? They seem uncommonly arduous.) Here's the skinny on pull-ups: Don't try once or twice and give up. Pull-ups and chin-ups are hard for nearly everyone, so don't get discouraged. If you stick with it, you'll improve rapidly. The keys are effort and focus. Since pull-ups and chin-ups are among the most difficult exercises you'll do in the gym, this often discourages people, and that's a shame since it's such a thorough strength-building exercise. If weak arms and gravity have got you down, try doing an assisted chin-up or pull-up on a machine that allows you to lift only a percentage of your body weight. The Gravitron was the first of this type and is still the most popular, but many others can be found in gyms nowadays. To use them, you stand on a platform that pushes up to help you hoist your body weight. The directions are fairly simple; the rough equivalent of getting candy out of a vending machine—only much better for you.

Bar Talk

The Gravitron machine allows users to select either a percentage of their body weight or an amount of plated weight to assist them with the pull-up/chin-up. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you can set the machine to give you 50 percent assistance with the exercise so you'd be pulling or chinning 75 pounds. Or you can select plated weights to give you 70 pounds of assistance.

Here's how effective this exercise can be. Because a strong back is essential for a kayak paddler, Joe regularly does pull-ups as part of his strength-training regimen. (In fact, most paddlers do.) For years, he and a mate were running neck and neck in virtually every marathon race they did. However, one season Joe's paddling mate began whipping him regularly on the water. The difference? His friend had gone on a mad pull-up crusade, doing 20 sets of 10 repetitions regularly while Joe watched late-night TV.

Sound like a lot? It is; however, Joe has another friend who can do 100 consecutive pull-ups. This amazing specimen has a back as wide as a barn door and happens to be one of the best paddlers in Australia.

The point is that adhering to a regular pull-up regimen will have a major impact on your lats.

Assisted chin-up start position. Assisted chin-up finish position.

Here is how you properly perform an assisted chin-up:

1. Grab hold of the chin bar with your hands several inches wider apart than shoulder width.

2. Keep your palms facing away from the body. Lift your feet off the floor and cross your legs at the ankles.

3. Pull your body to the heavens and touch the upper chest to the bar. (Most people try to inch their chin over the top. By focusing on your chest you ensure you really work your back.)

4. Pause briefly and return gradually (don't drop down) to the initial starting position with your arms fully extended to get a good stretch.

Concentrating on your breathing is extremely helpful. Remember on the positive or upward phase to exhale smoothly; reverse on the way down.

The following is a list of don'ts:

> Arch your back as you lift your body.

> Swing your legs or pull your knees up to help you reach the bar.

> Drop from the top position.

The following is a list of do's:

> Keep your abdominals tight.

> Perform all repetitions in a slow, controlled manner.

> Breathe, breathe, breathe.

Spot Me

The difference between the pull-up and the chin-up is the hand position. For pull-ups, palms face away from the body. For chin-ups, palms face toward the body. The underhand grip tends to stress the biceps muscles more, while the overhand emphasizes the muscles of the back more.

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