Where is your pullup god on PR Friday?

The following post is by Gant.
When you have to load four Atlas Stones on a trailer, the heaviest weighing over 400 pounds, your pullup God will not be able to save you.
-Dave Van Skike

There have been a lot of positive steps in the exercise industry in the last few years. While corporate “health centers” and machines still dominate the fitness landscape, a growing percentage of people are getting theirs from the iron. Gyms are starting to look less like dance clubs and more like a place you can get some work done. Many people have been turned on to this kind of training because of CrossFit, RossTraining, Mountain Athlete, or some other iteration of full-body functional training.

Unfortunately in the quest to become functional/tactical/elite/hardstyle, we have tossed out quite a few babies with the bathwater. People are pressing overhead again, which is great. But the bench press has been scorned and, apparently from the bench numbers in last month’s challenge, largely forgotten.

The case against the bench press is usually made by some domestique-looking guy who tries to convince you that doing 92 snatch burpees with an empty bar is better than pressing your body weight overhead. The problem is that some of you people have listened.

But nothing has been vilified like the barbell curl. Somewhere we have been told that all isolation training is bad, that we don’t need to curl because we can get all the arm strength and size we need from swinging madly about on a pullup bar. If your training goals culminate in posting more shirtless pictures of yourself on Facebook, you probably don’t need curls. But if you participate in a sport, especially one of the strength sports, you might consider throwing in a couple sets of a week.

Why are they helpful? For the same reason any isolation work is helpful. Because you are limiting the number of joints involved in the exercise, you will be using lighter weights (and typically higher reps). This lets you focus on strengthening the connective tissue, which does not adapt to heavy loads as quickly as muscles. This comes in handy when lifting odd objects, fighting an arm bar (or an armed bear), or throwing a lead weight as far as you can. I have heard people use them for everything from stabilizing the rack position in a snatch to tossing small trees.

I couldn’t care less about my arm size, but I’m damn concerned about my tendons. I didn’t do curls for years for the same reasons you guys don’t do them. A few months ago, I added a few sets of drag curls or hammer curls in a few months ago (once every week or so). You feel like a douchebag at first, but then you start kissing your guns at the top of each rep and “checking the time” and it’s all good.

The best quote on curls came from one of CrossFit’s videos with Louie Simmons. They were doing a CrossFit powerlifting cert at Westside. As someone was trying to put PVC into a monolift, a CrossFitting male asked one of the Westsiders why he did curls. The guy shrugged his shoulders and, with big arms folded, replied, “The strongest guys in the world do curls. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.”


Training Opportunity: I am discussing topics like this (training myths) at a seminar in Brogue PA on July 17-18. I will also cover analyzing and programming for physical atrributes of single/multi-sport and GPP. Also presenting are Jack Reape (writer for T-nation, champion powerlifter) on powerlifting and programming for strength and sport, Matt Foreman (Olympic lifter, football and track coach, writer for Performance Menu) on Olympic lifting for strength development, and Jay Ashman (strongman, soon to be of Gorilla Pit, has published on EliteFTS) on strongman training and training and periodizing for team sports and GPP. It’s great for beginners or experienced trainees and athletes. If you want to get stronger and perform better, you don’t want to miss it.

Go here for more information.

80 thoughts on “Where is your pullup god on PR Friday?

  1. That seminar looks fucking sick. I’m in the area, I’ll check it out. Could be a good chance to connect with 70’s big brothers (and sisters).

  2. M/20/5’7″/195
    Snatch 110kg/242lbs (meet on June 26)
    Press 177.5×3

    Appeased the Pull-up god as well with,
    Pull-up: BW+50×11
    Dip: BW+100×3

  3. Gant i’m fucking confused. on a doug young post a while back you said one need not worry about curls before one benches 500 lbs??!!! wtf! haha

    Gant didn’t write that — I did. It was a while back, and I’ve changed my mind. I maintain that a skinny and weak person has other things to worry about.


  4. Gant, or whoever can provide a satisfactory answer, in regards to doing curls to strengthen connective tissue, would a slow moving “concentration” curl be any more useful than a “cheat” curl using some momentum?

    I feel “cheat” curls have more carry over to throwing events than the other, which would be more inline with my interests. Thoughts on one vs the other?

    You guys usually overthink things. Just do the damn exercise. Don’t get hurt doing it, but you have to get enough stress in which it’s going to strengthen the connective tissue.


  5. When should someone start doing curls? I’ve heard something like no direct arm work until you can squat over 400 lbs and deadlift over 500 lbs. Is that true? I don’t curl because I particularly don’t like it. My elbow has been acting up every now and then during bench pressing. If I need to curl to strengthen tendons, I will.

    age: 23
    height: 5’7″
    weight: 193

    PR for this week:
    Deadlift 475lbs x 2 x 3
    Then I tried a fourth set and only did a single

    Try the curls. See if it helps.


  6. For people I teach SS to I usually let them (re)introduce curls if they want when they’re 3×5 squating 225+ and have 12+ BW chins. Just a set or two per week like gant says.

  7. first day of starting strength-

    squat- 220x5x3
    bench- 130x5x3

    targets-500lb squat and deadlift, 300lb bench.
    BW of 300lbs @ under 20%BF.

  8. Leave tomorrow for Pathfinder school at Fort Benning, Georgia. I’ll have a 4 day weekend while I’m there. Anyone know of a cool place to train in the Fort Benning/Columbus area?

  9. Purchase PR:

    Just ordered my USAPL Membership and the Econo Prowler from EliteFTS…

    Will be heading to the gym shortly for my Intensity Day workout, lifting PRs to follow (hopefully)…

  10. Good day at the gym…

    SQ: 445×3 (rep PR)
    Press: 205×1 (10 lb PR)
    Bench: 305×1, 310×1 (both with pauses, both pause PRs, 310 absolute PR)
    Deads: 365, 385, 405×1 (flat-back PRs, pulled heavier before, but looked like a cobra, working on locking the lumbar in)

    1st PL meet in 3 weeks, time to get strong and drop a few lbs…

  11. BW up to 201 (granted that was after slamming a large pizza), hovering around 198, looking to close the gap to adult male status this week.

    Squat up to 298 3×5
    Press PR 171.5

  12. Drunk Deadlift 500X2
    Think I had could have had more, but I already did a set of 480. And I was drunk. Jacob made me do it.

    good job on the PL meet man

    I would have liked to see the build up to this.


  13. Damn good training week. Hit prs on all my lifts (i guess this will happen every week as im new for a while) and been getting enough protein without barely any supplements.

    Squat: 240 x 5 x 3
    Press: 125 x 5 x 3
    Bench: 190 x 4 x 1 (noone to spot me at gym on thursdays session so i played it safe and didnt do a full work set)
    Dead: 295 x 4 x 1… shouldve hit five but couldnt for whatever reason.

  14. DL 365 x 5

    Hey Justin, I don’t know if you are subscribed, but I have a Crossfit Journal subscription from awhile back and I noticed in a recent Bill Starr article about cleans, that Ben is the guy in the picture. Article came out the day before you posted your meet summary, thought that was kinda cool.

    I don’t have a subscription, but I saw his picture.


  15. Almost forgot about this- entered a powerlifting meet last weekend.
    Squat 420, bench 265, Deadlift 505. Good enough for a win in the 100kg junior class so you could call the lifts and the entering a meet PR’s

    Also, squatted 275 for 20 today. Probably could have done more but still decent.

  16. Kittensmash, sounds sweet. I just hope the lift didn’t start with, “Here hold my beer.” That’s never a good start to anything.

    Eligius, I see no point in doing them strict. I think getting them moving heavy stuff, quickly, is better and less stressful for the elbows. In my experience anyway. I just want the joint moving, and if I’m swinging them or rocking around
    to do it, so be it. It works for me. When I do them too slowly, the tingle, pop and crack (same with chins and pullups).

    Chin-up and pullup PRs: I’m out of the gym for a few weeks (exams) but I have a chin-up bar at home now. Never really done them before and I suck(ed) at them. I could barely do 2-3 strict chins a few weeks ago, and yesterday I did 8 strict dead-hang chins. Basically, at the moment I’m just doing insane volume for them. All day, everytime I walk by or remember, I bust out 3-5 chins. I was doing about 60-70 a day. That probably won’t be as productive soon, so I’ll start programming something, or adding weight.

  17. Hey Justin,

    Just curious, what’s your guys’ take on the westside method as far as a program for strength gain? Specifically, their ideas about coupling max effort with speed work vs more traditional programs (SS, 5/3/1, etc). I realize that there’s a distinction to be made between programs for beginners and advanced lifters, but then again Louie doesn’t seem to make this distinction (given a basic ability to do the movements).

  18. @ anybody that can answer. Before coming across 70sBig.com I was doing ass to grass squats. I switched to parallel depth like your videos show. I have only done this once so far, but my questions is, which depth do you feel is better for strength?

  19. @Ghandi

    Doing the squats as described by Rippetoe has you moving the weight over a shorter distance than A2G. By this logic alone, you’ll be able to move more weight when the distance is reduced. More weight = stronger. Obviously this does not apply to quarter and half squats — Starting Strength discusses why this particular range of motion gets you the superior results you desire.

  20. Pingback: Tuesday June 29th, 2010 « I just wanna tell you this one thing…

  21. You know, I used to snark on curls as much as the next enlightened S&C person. Until, one day, I complained about my elbows bothering me from snatching and my coach threw curls into the program. Amazing how much two sets every few weeks helps.

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