Pull-ups are one of the best exercises that you can do, but so many people don’t do them because they can’t do them.  Is Yogi Berra in the hiz-ouse?

Nevertheless, here’s a strategy that will help you do that first, key pull up. And once you can do one pull up you’ll be amazed at the progress that you will make…

The pull up is one of the top-5 exercises and everyone should strive to do them.  Pull-ups can be used to determine, and are an indicator of, a persons’ physical fitness level, as the service academies expect that all applicants be able to perform 8 pull-ups.

The problem is that because some people have a problem doing them, they don’t do them and don’t even try.  Pull-ups are hard and a lot of people who can’t do one – even if they want to be able to do them – don’t know how to go about developing their strength and technique.

First let’s get some terminology straight.  A pull up is done when you grip the bar with a “palms away” grip and chin-ups are done with a “palms facing” grip.  Chins are a bit easier because this grip allows for more biceps involvement.  For the sake of this discussion I will refer to pull ups.  However, you can apply this fitness tip to either variation.  Work on the pull up; they’re harder and ultimately do more for you.

If you can’t do one pull up there are two very effective variations to use; the flexed arm hang and negative pull-ups.

For the flexed arm hang boost yourself up – either have a friend spot you or step up on a bench – so that your chin is above the bar.  Once in this position, pull the elbows down and slightly back, keep your chest up and tighten your lats before you take your feet off the bench. The idea here is to hold yourself in this “chin over the bar” position for as long as possible.  At first shoot for a 15 second hold and take a 2-minute rest before your next hold.  Four sets of holds is a good place to start.  Add time as your strength increases.

When you are hanging, bend your knees so that your feet are behind you and your torso and thighs form a straight line.  Don’t lift your knees up in front as this will develop a bad habit that will retard your progress.  Work to minimize or eliminate the body from swinging as this wastes precious strength.

Negative pull-ups will help develop the strength necessary to perform pull-ups.  Get into the “chin over the bar” position but instead of staying in the flexed arm position, you will lower yourself down to the “dead hang” position.  Try to lower your body on a 5-count and don’t just drop and flop.  There will be a point just before the dead hang position where there’s the urge to relax, but continue to exert control.

Use the same initial position and form doing the negative pull up that’s used in the flexed arm hang.  Lock in with your lats, bend your knees and keep your feet behind you.  Maintain control as you start your decent and keep your lats tight.  If you have a spotter they can help steady you before the drop.

The goal should be to do four single 5-count negative pull-ups with 2-minutes rest in between each.  As you progress – and as your confidence grows – add reps to the routine.

There’s no hard and fast rule as to when you’ll be able to crank out your first pull-up, as the mental component of getting to this point is huge.  You have to be able to make a complete, 100% effort, from both the mental and physical standpoints, to perform a pull-up. Employ both of these strategies in the effort to be able to perform that first, elusive pull-up.

Don’t get psyched out by the pull-up. Be patient and make use of this approach and you will be able to do pull-ups, and improve your level of physical fitness and health – before you know it.

After you’ve completed the first level of the HealthAndFitnessAdvice.com Conditioning Gauntlet for men, give level 2 a try.

If you’ve been around the site you should know that I don’t care if how much someone can bench press or if they do Zottman curls. The scale can’t measure a person’s fitness level and weight loss isn’t an indication of improvement of any kind.  Performance and capability rules the day and is what matters when measuring the success of a fitness program and a person’s progress.

I have developed a “Conditioning Gauntlet” that I use with clients and kids on the teams I coach, and have guidelines for both men and women.  The Gauntlet is split into 2 sections.  The first section consists of pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, 60-yard shuttle runs and the broad jump and the second section consists of the split jerk, squat, military press, dead lift and snatch.

There are no body building exercises – did I mention that Zottman curls don’t matter? – and as a matter of fact, there aren’t any weight lifting exercises.

There are 2 levels for each section that reflect difficulty and conditioning level.

Here’s level 2 of the HealthAndFitnessAdvice.com Conditioning Gauntlet for men.

  • Pull-ups – 1 set of 15 repetitions
  • Push-ups – 1 set of 75 repetitions
  • Sit-ups – 1 set of 70 repetitions
  • Broad jump – 9 feet (best of 3 jumps)
  • 60-yard shuttle runs – complete 12 in 12 seconds (or under) each taking 48 seconds rest in between shuttles

If you can do any one of these tasks you’re probably in pretty good shape, especially the shuttle runs.  However, being able complete these level 2 tasks consecutively, means you are in fantastic shape.

Just as you would do before any training session, allow plenty of time to warm up.  Do a set of each “event” and give yourself no more than 3-minutes in between exercises before running the Gauntlet.  You cannot try to complete this test until you have worked on these events and completed level 1 of the Gauntlet.  The shuttle runs alone are much more than most people can handle.

Level 2 of the HealthAndFitnessAdvice.com Conditioning Gauntlet for men provides an accurate measure of your fitness level and anyone who can complete this test is in fantastic shape, no matter what the numbers on the scale say.

We all remember having to do pull-ups on the pull up bar in gym class, and many of us hated them.  The truth is, however, that all of our gym instructors were right – pull-ups are one of the best ways to build and strengthen your muscles.  However, as an adult we tend to forget about things like exercise – and for those of us who do like to stay in shape and keep fit, pull-ups are often overlooked because it can be such a hassle to find the right place to do the exercise.

You can purchase an above the door chin up bar in order to perform the door chin up, and if your ceilings are high enough your above door chin up bar can even be used as a pull up chin up bar.  For those of you with lower ceilings in your home, a door gym chin up bar can be of great use.  However, this is not a viable option in all cases; some homes have ceilings that are low for pull-ups or chin ups, and some have doorways that are just too narrow to perform the exercise comfortably.  In addition, let’s not forget that a chin up done on a chin pull up bar is still not quite as effective as a full-on pull up.

For those who are looking to include pull ups in their regular exercise routine, your best choice may be the doorway pull up bar. With a doorway pull up bar, you can set up your ideal pull up location in nearly any size doorframe in any house. Using a doorway pull up bar in this manner will not only save you money on having to go to a gym or an exercise class, but it will help you achieve the look and level of fitness that you desire, all while being able to perform complete pull ups in a safe and healthy manner in the comfort of your very own home.

Moreover, thanks to the growing popularity of the doorway pull up bar, they can be purchased at nearly any sporting goods store in a variety of different shapes, sizes, and even colors.  But the best part of all is the fact that the doorway pull up bar has become so inexpensive that it can be fit into nearly anyone’s budget, making it a practical piece of exercise equipment for any home.

Level 2 of the HealthAndFitnessAdvice.com Conditioning Gauntlet can serve as a real challenge for even the fittest women.

Last month I posted an item detailing the first level of a conditioning test that I use with both my athletes and regular clients. If you’ve tried it and aced it, or looked at it and thought it was too easy for you, level 2 of the gauntlet is worth of your consideration.

Regular visitors to the site should know I don’t believe in using the scale as a measure of a person’s fitness and don’t care how much someone weighs. Weight loss is a bogus way to measure “improvements” in a person’s fitness level.

For professional or college athletes, competitive weekend warriors or gym rats performance and capability is what rules the day and is all that matters when measuring the success of a fitness program.

The “Conditioning Gauntlet” I use with my clients and kids on my team is split into 2 sections; the section one consists of pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, 60-yard shuttle runs and the broad jump, the section two consists of the split jerk, squat, military press, dead lift and snatch.

I use different guidelines for men and women, and there are 2 levels for each section that reflect difficulty and conditioning level.

Here’s level 2 of the HealthAndFitnessAdvice.com Conditioning Gauntlet for women.

  • Pull-ups – 1 set of 7 repetitions
  • Push-ups – 1 set of 40 repetitions
  • Sit-ups – 1 set of 65 repetitions
  • Broad jump – 7 feet, 8 inches (best of 3 jumps)
  • 60-yard shuttle runs – complete 12 in 14 seconds (or under) each taking 46 seconds rest in between shuttles

No doubt about it, if you are able to perform any of these tasks you are in very good shape.  However, anyone woman, of any age, who can complete these tasks consecutively, is in phenomenal shape, and can be considered a stud!

If you’ve taken a shot at the first level you know how you need to prepare; allow plenty of time for a general warm up, do an abbreviated set of each “event” and give yourself no more than 3-minutes in between exercises.

And please do not try to complete this test if you haven’t completed the first level of the gauntlet and until you have actually worked on these events.  The shuttle runs aren’t for newbies – even for people who do regular cardiovascular exercise.  Unless you’ve worked on running full-effort shuttles you should not try this test.

The HealthAndFitnessAdvice.com Conditioning Gauntlet provides an accurate measure of your fitness level and if you can complete this test – regardless of what the scale says – you are in top-level shape.

Guys, try to complete the first level of the HealthAndFitnessAdvice.com Conditioning Gauntlet for men.

I don’t care if how much a person can bench press, or if they know what Zottman curls are and I don’t use the scale to measure a person’s fitness level.  I don’t think weight loss is an indication of improvement in a client’s fitness level.  Performance and capability rules the day and is what matters when measuring the success of a fitness program.

Over 20 years as a personal trainer and coach I have developed a “Conditioning Gauntlet” that I use with my clients and kids on my team, and I have guidelines for both men and women.  If you read my article about the women’s level 1, the Gauntlet is split into 2 sections.  The first section consists of pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, 60-yard shuttle runs and the broad jump and the second section consists of the split jerk, squat, military press, dead lift and snatch.

There are no body building exercises – did I mention that Zottman curls don’t matter? – and, as a matter of fact, there aren’t any weight lifting exercises.

There are 2 levels for each section that reflect difficulty and conditioning level.

Here’s level 1 of the HealthAndFitnessAdvice.com Conditioning Gauntlet for men.

  • Pull-ups – 1 set of 9 repetitions
  • Push-ups – 1 set of 55 repetitions
  • Sit-ups – 1 set of 50 repetitions
  • Broad jump – 8 feet (best of 3 jumps)
  • 60-yard shuttle runs – complete 8 in 12 seconds (or under) each taking 48 seconds rest in between shuttles

Being able to perform any one of these tasks means you’re probably in pretty good shape, especially the shuttle runs.  However, anyone, of any age, who can complete these tasks consecutively, is in very good shape.

Allow plenty of time to warm up, do a set of each “event” and give yourself no more than 3-minutes in between exercises before running the Gauntlet.  Do yourself a favor; don’t try to complete this test until you have worked on these events.  The shuttle runs are extremely difficult – even for people in pretty good cardiovascular shape – and unless you’ve taken time and worked up to the 8 shuttles, don’t try this.

Level 1 of the HealthAndFitnessAdvice.com Conditioning Gauntlet for men provides an accurate measure of your fitness level and anyone who can complete this test is in very good shape, no matter how much you weigh.

Is Jihadi Joe a match for G.I. Joe? No, considering the fitness information, published in a pro-al Qaeda magazine, being given to jihadists who want to attack Americans in Afghanistan.

According to a story on posted on ABC News’ web site, the article in the English language e-zine titled, “Jihad Recollections” encourages fit minded terrorists in training “to train as hard as possible in order to damage the enemies of Allah as much as possible.”  Jihadi Joe’s are told to do pull-ups, walk on their hands, crawl long distances, workout to the point of exhaustion, advised to avoid weight training and told to avoid the gym due to un-Islamic music and semi-naked women.

Some of the good terrorist fitness advice is to engage in cardiovascular training and told to strengthen their legs so they can carry weapons and equipment.  Given that these folks have been encouraged to not lift weights and avoid the gym, they will have to be creative to meet these goals.

On the other hand members of the United States Military have redefined the way they condition and include combat specific training, power, strength flexibility, speed and agility work, less aerobic training and more anaerobic work.  These methods are designed to produce a better combat athlete.

When it comes to physical preparedness G.I. Joe beats Jihadi Joe.

 If you use the coming of spring and summer as an incentive to get into shape, you better get started.

I don’t think that people should just get into shape just because the warm weather is coming.  However, I do recognize that people use the change of seasons as motivation for starting to exercise or for making changes to their existing routines.

So I’ll get the “you-should-know-better” part of this piece out of the way and tell you that taking care of yourself is a 12-month proposition.  If you are consistent all year round with your workouts and nutritional habits, you won’t have to worry that bathing suit weather is right around the corner.  I know all some of you hear is, “Blah, blah, blah,” but I speak truth.

Okay, so now that I’ve told you that you shouldn’t look at following a healthy lifestyle as a seasonal pursuit and recognize that real life indicates that people do this, I’ll try to help you get into shape for the spring.

First of all, you need to start making this change right now.  Not in March, April or (certainly not!) May, but in February.  This means those of us who live in places where Old Man Winter has us in his grip cannot wait until it gets a little nicer outside to make additions or changes to our activity routine.  If you live in the Northeast or Midwest and wait until it starts to get less horrible our, it’s too late.  You can’t depend on outside exercise to get you into shape.

Making changes to your routine and fitness level takes time.  Despite what television shows like “The Biggest Loser” preach, you cannot cram five or six months of exercise into 6 weeks.

That being said, even where I live in New Jersey the weather is rarely that bad for a long enough period of time where I cannot get outside for a 20-30 minute workout at least once per week.  I’m not a crazy person who heads out in the foulest of weather to workout.  Not me.  But I recognize that exercising in the cold winter air is a great way to shake off the winter doldrums.

Those of you who are regular visitors to HealthAndFitnessAdvice.com have seen my outdoor videos and know that I practice what I preach.  Do yourself a favor and practice what I preach.  Throw on some gloves, a hat, sweatshirt and whatever else you need to keep you comfortable on a cold, sunny day, and go for a walk, do some sprints, calisthenics or Kettlebell swings.  Your neighbors might think you’re a bit odd, but we’ll know you’re cool.

Price reduction on Kettlebells, Buy now and SAVE!

Anyway, if you’re afraid of or unwilling to deal with the cold – even though cardiovascular equipment is not my favorite kind of aerobic activity – given the alternative of doing nothing to walking on a treadmill or elliptical-ing on an elliptical trainer, choose the machine-based activity.

If you don’t have access to cardio equipment, calisthenics can provide you with an effective means to develop and improve your fitness level.  Actually, calisthenics are preferable to any machine-based cardiovascular exercise, but I’m not going to make that argument now.  I’ll just leave it at this; if you want to get into great cardiovascular shape you will choose to do jumping jacks, squat thrusts, leg drives, grasshoppers, push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups.

So if you want to get into shape for spring, start now.

Yoga enthusiasts who want to get the most out of their lessons should include strength training in their routine.

Yoga’s popularity has exploded over the past decade and many people have dropped traditional forms of exercises, like strength training and running, so that they can devote their energy to yoga exercises.  However, people who want to improve their yoga should engage in a regular strength training routine.

You don’t have to have a full-time personal trainer to enjoy the benefits of strength training, as you only have to be familiar with a relative handful of strength training exercises to reap benefits.

Body weight strength training exercises like push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups can assist yoga fans that want to improve their Arm Balance Poses.  A yoga student who can perform proper push-ups will improve their performance of the Plank pose (and other variations), the Four-Limbed Staff, the Feathered Peacock and Side Crane Poses.  Being able to do multiple sets of 10-15 repetitions of push-ups will develop strength in the arms as well as in the core, thereby enabling people to perform better yoga Arm Balance Poses.

Pull-ups will develop the strength necessary to properly perform Backbend Poses such as the Bow, Bridge, Cobra, Fish and the Upward Wheel, as well as help with the arm balance poses and standing poses like the Downward-Facing Dog and the Dolphin.  Pull-ups also can be a great aid to those looking to improve performance with Inversion Poses.

Good old fashion sit-ups are another body weight strength training exercises that can build strength and stability that will contribute to better form in a wide variety of yoga poses.

Strength training exercises like the squat and lunge will help yoga enthusiasts with other Standing Poses such as the Chair, Garland, Gate, Tree and Warrior poses, and help with a variety of Core Poses as well.

Yoga training can be greatly enhanced when complimented with strength training.  In addition to the strength training exercises already mentioned and with the specific yoga poses they can help, strength training exercises such as the overhead dumbbell press, dumbbell row, straight leg dead lift and dumbbell pullover can help yoga students improve their performance.

In no more than a total of 40-60 minutes per week yoga performance can be improved by incorporating these basic strength training exercises.

Every exercise and diet plan, personal trainer and nutritional guru, promises to get people into better shape but just what constitutes this amorphous concept?

There’s no doubt that for the consumer and the personal trainer/fitness professional getting into shape, better shape or the best shape possible can all mean different things.  Strength training, body building, aerobics classes and spinning all may contribute to getting into better shape but by themselves, or without support from a healthful eating routine, the effects of these activities are limited.

Depending on who is making the promise – personal trainer, diet guru, celebrity – this notion of improvement can mean different things as well.  For as much as people would like to believe that every strength coach and personal trainer knows what they are talking about, the reality is that there are a lot of bad ideas, theories and practices floating around out there that come from fitness professionals.  There are also some good ideas that can be debated; schools of thought that aren’t flat-out wrong but that there is disagreement about.

Strength training principles – a good thing – can be improperly applied, thus canceling/eliminating their positive effects.  Aerobic activities are frequently over-used, which can lead to a whole host of negatives.

Here’s what I think getting into good/better/best shape means and should be.

Actually, check that. I’ll give you a few ideas of what getting fit shouldn’t be about.  Getting into shape shouldn’t be about attaining a certain weight or a clothes size.  The emphasis and/or motivation of a strength-training program should not be to transform one’s body.  Being in good shape or improving your conditioning has nothing to do with attaining bigger arms, a slimmer waist, and/or “longer” muscles.

Getting into shape isn’t about appearance, working out like a slave 5 days a week and following a regimen as if you were a cloistered monk.

Now back to how I define getting into better shape.

I feel that my approach is the best approach; improve your capability, work hard, work smart, eat a balanced meal, get enough down time and rest and everything will take care of itself.  You can’t change your genetics no matter how many hours a week you train.  Forget about the scale and the tape measurer and how the media promotes Hollywood’s ideal of health and fitness.

Over the past 30-plus years I have seen the problems associated with worrying about appearance and how this creates a situation of form over function.  This philosophy is a recipe for failure and disappointment.

The bottom line is that if you want to be able to do more and fit into your clothes better, spend less time exercising but train a little harder. Hang around and bookmark this site.

Do you want to be able to get down on the floor and play with your kids or grandkids and then be able to get back up on your own?  Do you want to learn how to do real push-ups and pull-ups?  As an aside, a person who can’t do multiple sets of real push-ups in sets of at least 10 repetitions is not truly in shape no matter what else they can do.  There’s no age barrier to being able to accomplish this.

If you want to learn how to take care of yourself and improve with every workout than you need to be here.

If you’re hung up on what the scale reads, getting six-pack abs or on killing yourself in the gym what I have to say isn’t for you.  I don’t really want to spend my time trying to change people’s minds; I’m here to help the folks who realize the popular concept of fitness isn’t for them and might be wrong.  I want people who are frustrated by the message that’s been shoved down their throats that thin is in, fitness equals appearance and that living a healthy lifestyle needs to be a full-time job.

Don’t be a victim of the fitness media and their diet/exercise program/health tip of the month mentality.  Embark on a program of enlightenment and I’ll teach you how to take care of yourself and how to feel better about it.  You will be empowered and won’t waste time, money and effort pursuing an unattainable and unrealistic goal.

You can’t do all of this overnight.  Be patient and be willing to learn and you will reap the benefits.  The old saying, “Give someone a fish and you feed them for a day, but teach someone how to fish and you feed them for a lifetime,” pertains here.  I’m going to teach you how to fish.

Getting into shape means different things to different people, and now that I’ve told you where I stand, I hope you decide to join me.

If you want to learn how to do exercises and workouts that you never thought that you’d be able to do, become part of what I’m doing here.  If you’re sick of hearing from so-called experts that you can’t eat this, you have to eat that, that your Body Mass Index is too high, or that you weigh too much, I’m here to tell you that you’ve found a home.

Sledgehammer strength training offers a unique and challenging way to improve your level of conditioning and personal trainers and do-it-yourself weekend warriors will benefit from strength training the sledgehammer way.

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For this workout I combined sledgehammer swings with a non-traditional exercise that I call “Cliffhangers,” and pull-ups.  As you can see in the video clip my deck plays a big part in the workout.  The Cliffhangers are a great example of a non-traditional strength training exercise that will improve the strength of your entire upper body.

You should all be familiar with sledgehammer swings and pull-ups by now.

Cliffhangers are something that I’ve been toying with for a while, and have just recently started to include in my strength training sessions and using them in combination with other strength training exercises.  The Cliffhangers, as I do them on my deck, place a great deal of stress on the fingers, hands and forearms as there is nothing to actually grab on to as in traditional pull-ups, minimizing the help that you get from the thumb.

Using the surface of the deck requires that the hands work in an upside down “L-shape,” where the fingers at the base where they meet the hand and the thumb is held tightly against the hand, as there is nothing for it to wrap around.  Once the grip is established, from the hanging position tighten your upper back, shoulders and abdominal muscles and slightly – slightly – bring your knees forward as you attempt to traverse the surface.  Use short movements and don’t let your hands get any wider than your shoulders at any time.

As you can see in the video clip, my hands give out after about 12 feet and 10 seconds.  Working the Cliffhangers in with the sledgehammer swings results in the arms fatiguing a lot sooner than when doing either exercise alone.  However, this is all part of the training stimulus and you will see that your strength and performance of these moves will improve by working them together.

The deck pull-ups are a great finish to the circuit. Given the massive amount of work that the arms are doing with the swings and Cliffhangers, the pull-ups are very difficult to perform.  Since I do pull-ups and variations at least twice per week, 3 pull-ups in this circuit is sufficient for me.

The entire workout took 25 minutes to complete.  I warmed up for approximately 5 minutes and performed 5 circuits.  The first 2 circuits I used the 10-pound sledgehammer for 60 swings, did the Cliffhangers for 12 feet/10 seconds and performed 3 pull-ups. For circuits 3 and 4 I used the 20-pound sledgehammer for 40 swings with the same routine for the other moves.  For the final circuit I used the 20-pounder for 40, completed the other moves and finished off with 40 swings with the 10-pounder.

Each circuit took approximately 2 minutes to complete and I rested for 2 minutes in between each circuit.

Give the circuit a try and also try to find a place either around the house or at the gym where you can try the Cliffhangers.