Speed & Agility Training Zone!

The Power of The Pull-Up for Increasing Game Speed

By: Bill Parisi, Founder & CEO Parisi Speed Schools

When you ask most male high school athletes to describe their off-season workouts, many will steer the conversation towards the bench press and how much weight they are putting up. Many male high school and even college athletes are infatuated with the bench press. Let's face it; a big chest and powerful arms are what most guys desire.

The story is a little different with females. They typically do not have the same structured off-season programs, and if they do, it is usually not at the intensity level it needs to be. Off-season weight training is now commonly accepted by coaches in just about every sport. This was not the case 20 years ago. Today, even swimmers and golfers realize the benefits of strength training. The ultimate goal of any strength-training program is to reduce the chance of injury and enhance performance. The pull-up provides both of these benefits in a big way.

When I am asked about upper body strength training exercises, I do not hesitate to say that the pull-up is my number one choice. First, the pull-up motion is a shoulder extension action. This is a movement that counters the pushing motion of many exercises, such as the bench press and shoulder press. When training you need to create symmetry and balance throughout the joints and musculature, especially the shoulder. Many athletes love to bench and many sports utilize throwing, swinging, shooting etc. These skills require upper body movement that use those same muscles. All these motions recruit some aspect of the anterior shoulder muscles. With all this activity for these specific muscles, they tend to become over-developed compared to the opposing posterior shoulder and back muscles. This causes many athletes to have muscle imbalances. Their anterior shoulder and chest become more developed and stronger in relation to their posterior shoulder and back. Muscle imbalances result in a greater chance for injury, especially at the shoulder. This is one of the main reasons why I feel the pull-up is an important exercise.

There are a few variations to the pull-up, with your grip being the determining factor. First, there is the supine grip, which is commonly called the chin-up. This action will involve more of the bicep and the lat muscles. Next is the prone grip. This grip has the palms down and is more commonly known as the pull-up. This action recruits less of the bicep and more of the lat and upper back muscles. The third grip is called the neutral grip and it is when your hands are in between the supine and prone grip. For most people, this is usually the most comfortable. You should have your athletes perform all three variations of the pull-up. The goal is for male athletes to perform 12 reps or more and females 8 reps of more.

You have to have your athletes work up to these numbers. If you have athletes that can achieve these goals, they should try to increase their performance by 1 to 3 reps over a 2-8 week period. If you have athletes that cannot perform any pull-ups, they should start with assisted pull-ups. They can have another athlete hold their legs or they can use get some of the great products offered at PB to assist this movement.

Another important benefit your athlete can derive from pull-ups is an increase in gamespeed. Now many coaches must be thinking, "How can pull-ups increase gamespeed?" Without getting too deep into running mechanics, I will explain this theory. When an athlete strides forward they are firing one leg backward (hip extension) and the opposite arm backward (shoulder extension). At the same time the opposing arm and leg are fired forward (hip & shoulder flexion). A more powerful backward arm strike helps to generate a more forceful backward leg strike. 

This concept is better understood when thinking about a martial arts movement. Imagine a white belt Taekwondo athlete throwing a front punch with his right hand. The force generated is minimal compared to a black belt athlete. The difference is the black belt athlete has mastered the technique, which increases power and the ability to generate a greater force. An important aspect of this example is the role the opposite retracting arm plays. A greater force with a right hand front punch is enhanced by the opposite arm retracting back at a faster rate, stabilizing and "blocking" the opposite side of the body. The opposite arm, or left arm in this case, plays a critical role in generating force with the right front punch. Not only is the speed of the retracting left arm important but the ability to "block" or stop that arm is critical. Similar biomotor qualities occur when retracting the arms during sprinting.

When an athlete is sprinting and has a powerful and stable backward arm strike, they have the ability to generate greater force with the opposite leg (hip extension) going backward into the ground. Physics tells us that the faster a force is generated, the greater the power. That translates to a faster athlete.

A more powerful shoulder extension action should also help create a greater range of motion with the upper body. A greater range of motion with the upper body can lead to a greater hip extension range of motion. This equates to a more powerful and longer stride length, by applying more force into the ground as the hip extends backward.

The concept of martial arts and gamespeed go hand in hand. The martial art athlete refines specific techniques and enhances specific power patterns. Gamespeed is an art and there are specific techniques that can enhance it dramatically. Look for more articles on this concept as I continue to share how you can enhance your athletes' and teams' Gamespeed.

Bill Parisi is the Founder and CEO of Parisi Speed School. To learn more about speed training and the business of sports performance check out www.parisischool.com/businessopportunity

(May 2015)