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. damn brent thats whatsup

    *The first few comments deal with a video of Brent lifting, which I eviscerated when I revised the post. Sorry for any confusion.


  2. lol nice fight on the bottom.

    no PRs :(

    *The first few comments deal with a video of Brent lifting, which I eviscerated when I revised the post. Sorry for any confusion.


  3. 380 1 X 7 Deadlift
    260 1 X 8 Bench

    I’m suddenly becoming a big fan of these “finishers.”

    Does anyone know how a person would acquire an old school Powerlifting USA magazine? I checked the website, but they only go back to the early 90s. For shame.

  4. Impressive, Brent! Way to go.

    *The first few comments deal with a video of Brent lifting, which I eviscerated when I revised the post. Sorry for any confusion.


  5. Great lift Brent.

    High Voltage, there are a ton of them for sale on Ebay all the time.

    *The first few comments deal with a video of Brent lifting, which I eviscerated when I revised the post. Sorry for any confusion.


  6. im more impressed he can wear shorts like that. well played, brent

    *The first few comments deal with a video of Brent lifting, which I eviscerated when I revised the post. Sorry for any confusion.


  7. You all look like fools now that Justin has removed Brent’s video. Justin, can we have it back up?

    Anyway, I agree about the curls. I started doing them after my elbows kept hurting after squats. I can say wholeheartedly, that they have helped. The pain goes away almost immediately and the more you do them, the longer the pain stays away.

    I haven’t really done a lot of volume, probably 3-4 sets of 5 heavy reps. Though I suppose it’s exercises like this that benefit from higher volume.

    We look like fools for other reasons. This is a very minor matter.


    Sami, I noted in the “pre-post” that it wasn’t the final post, you goon.


  8. PRs this week:

    Squat: 320#x2 (was going for a triple, but I’ll take the PR anyway)

    BP: 206# (paused)x1x3

    Press: 114#x5x3

    My first PL meet is in 3 weeks!

    M / 49 / 6’1″ / 208# / BF=sufficient

  9. PR’s
    Weight- 202 and growing
    Clothes PR- Had to toss my two pairs of “well fitting” pants, the waists were too large, and I couldn’t fit my quads in them.

    Compliment PR- Went on a date with a lovely girl, and was told that she really liked my “strong legs”

    Squat- 300x3x5(5RM before linear progression was 255)
    Deadlift- 385x1x5
    Press stalled out this week, time to reset, sadness.

    Excellent compliment.


  10. I agree with this article. Too many people have scorned very useful tools for the sake of doing “crossfit”. I wont scorn crossfit because it introduced me to olympic lifting, which i am not passionate about. I also started doing more arm work and am noticing a direct carry over to other things like pullups and deadlifts. stronger arms mean stronger lifts, in my opinion. and just like quote says “not only do i want to BE strong, but i want to LOOK strong”

  11. I’ve added some sets of Bicepticon curls and triceps work on my Friday lifts for a few weeks now usually just a few sets.

    No Pr’s this week tapering off SS either moving to an advanced novice program or moving to Texas method depending on the next few weeks workouts.

  12. What do you think would take priority – curls or chins? (or are they not mutually exclusive?) Started doing chins as an assistance exercise after reading SS. I am pretty weak in all areas, should i stick with the chins for a while until i’m a bit more advanced?

    Squat 3x5x82.5(181.5)

    Chins maintain precedence over curls for the reasons that Rip describes in the book (compound movement, more muscle mass, elbow flexion with shoulder extension).


  13. First post here, long time lurker. Have to agree with the curls, and arm work in general. I’ve been adding heavier curls and tricep work in, and my bench, push press, and clean numbers have been going up steadily. I think the thing to remember is that arm work is great as a finisher. I see way too many people starting their workout with curls, which is ridiculous.

    I’d be hard pressed to agree that ‘arm work’ has improved your clean.


  14. Long time lurker, first time poster :D

    Squat: 220x5x2
    Bench: 170x5x2

    M / 24 / 5’5″ / 160

    No other particular PR’s this week.

    enlightenedsnipe, my girlfriend claims my “strong legs” were what attracted her in the first place, haha. Squats work!

  15. Squat: 415 x 5 x 3

    Bench: Finally had to reset as I was never able to get my 5 x 3 @ 255.

    DL: Still progressing up nicely toward where I was… did a set of 5 @ 425 on Monday.

    Wife thinking she is funny PR: When my wife came home from some shopping after work on Wed. she tossed me a bag and said it was an early Father’s Day present. Inside was a mouth guard. In the past I’ve had trouble with getting my head out of the way during the press. This often leads to me biting my lip as the bar slams into my chin. I guess she figured she would help. As if people don’t already think I’m weird… putting in a mouth guard before I press will certain change that. haha

  16. Bodyweight Press! 242X1

    Having a 70’s Big shin-dig at my house today too. Barbells, beer, and beef. I will be going for a PR on deads.

    Nice job on the press. My goal is 250 soon, 300 eventually.


  17. “Once you get your squat above, say, 500 pounds, then you can worry about doing curls.” 02/15/2010. Any flaming bicepual caught doing curls in the squat rack will be choked-out.
    And yes. I have 70’s hair. Comb-overs are timeless.

    Good point — do not prevent someone from squatting by doing curls.


  18. Pingback: Well, if you were directly above him, how could you see him?… Because I was inverted… (Cough) Bullshit… « Old Country Strong

  19. Just thought I’d note that there are some amusing things that occur on the 70’s Big Facebook Fan Page.

    Especially if you like belligerent comments from Brent.

  20. Competed in first PL meet last weekend and had a blast! For those considering doing one, just do it. Even if you are not where you want to be everyone there will be supportive and cheer you on…regardless of what you are lifitng. The bottom line is you will have fun, you will meet some great folks and you will learn.

    Went 8 for 9 with a 402 squat, 265 bench and 435 deadlift for a 1102 total. I was shooting for a 400 squat and 1100 total going in so I was happy with the results…even if my bench sucks.

    If I may offer one bit of advice, practice the pause on the bench. I did not and it made a huge difference.

  21. 1) Cool there is a FB fan page!

    2) I like the curls idea, i havent done those in a while bc i was being an idiot i suppose. What should we shoot for as far as rep volume? Like 3 x 8 to 10?

    3) A few weeks ago I was feeling good and making progress (right now im trying to fix my tendonitis knee…) and my pops asks me one Sunday afternoon, “So what are you going to use all this strenght work for?” I told him for playing lacrosse but thats only a Men’s rec league (no big deal) and being prepared for life. Well life presented itself this week in the form of a stalled car on a busy feeder of 610 in houston. (dont know what 610 is, look up nascar) Anyway, i asked the guy if he wanted a push and he said “oh yes” in a silly jamiacan accent, so i hoped out my car and pushed his shit down the street a bit and up a slight incline into a parking lot. I felt pretty good about that.

    4)Ate 6 total tacos, beans, rice, guac, and a shit ton of pico and taco cabana with the wife last night after lacrosse practice. Super Sweet.

    5)League playoffs this weekend. Lookin to score a few goals and run my ass off!

  22. @crouton
    Curls helped me clear up and stave off some elbow tendonitis with my squats (in addition to getting the right rack position). I generally just to 3 sets to failure. When I get 10-15 reps on the first set, I add 5 pounds.

    Also, I have a powerlifting meet in a couple months. I’m practicing the paused bench for singles about once a week. It’s different quite different from the normal touch-and-go.

    Current Numbers:
    Squat: 265x5x3 (20 lbs from a PR)
    Bench: 195x5x2 (10 lbs from a PR)
    DL: 315x5x1 (20 lbs from a PR)
    Press: 127.5x3x3 (10 lbs from a PR)
    PC: 140x3x3 (45 lbs from a PR)
    Chins: BWx9 (1 rep from a PR)

    Can’t recover from squatting heavy three times a week anymore. Shifting to going heavy twice and light once. Power cleans are way too low.

  23. Ah, PR’s. A couple new 1RM’s this week.(actually tested, not estimated)
    Female, 35 yrs, 201 lbs.

    squat: 275 lbs
    bench: 175 lbs

  24. Can curls heal your elbows\forearms injuries from squatting wrong? has anyone tried isolating in order to heal an injury?

    Squatting right will “heal” this. You can use it to rehab injuries though. Depends on what’s hurt.


  25. From an Olympic weightlifting standpoint, I think that most coaches say NOT to squat as to distance the sport from what is commonly referred to as weightlifting as well as to show the new lifter what the MAIN focus should be on as far as improving the snatch and clean and jerk. I had a coach who told me that pull-ups and curls will negatively affect your pull from the ground. This is bullshit. If your pull sucks, it will suck whether you do curls afterwards or not.

    And in regards to the majority of Crossfitters and the benchpress, watch. Once the main site says it’s OK to benchpress again, watch them all flock back to the benchpress that they’ve worked so hard to distance themselves from.

  26. Curls would be very useful if you had someone with natural hyperextension in their elbows.

    This could range work with straight arm ring work or the lockout of a Snatch or Jerk.

    As well, just doing light curls helps get some bloodflow in the elbow joint.

    Curls seem to be a good assistance exercise for anyone grappling or even wrist or grip strength.

    I would say pronated or supinated pullups/chinups are more important as are pushups and dips for bent arm strength but curls are yet more assistance work.

  27. No PR’s to report from the Scottish Games 6/12, However I did Win the Farmers carry of 2 boulders with rings attached, by carrying them the farthest.. A bottle of Whiskey for the effort was well appreciated.
    I did split a pair of shorts working the landscape/mowing my lawn.
    Training/Lifting went well this past week. Surprised myself with Dips Body Weight(310)+45 lbs 4×15

  28. Greetings from Warwick University in England!

    Last PR Friday on the Texas Method before my 20th Birthday so went for some 1RM’s:

    Squat – 145kg / 320lbs
    Bench – 100kg / 225lbs
    Deadlift – 155kg / 340lbs

    BW – 84.7kg / 187lbs

    Pleased with all these lifts and hope to make sustained progress in the year to come, while racing against a friend to 90kg / 200lbs.

    Enjoy the site, looking forward to future posts.

  29. “The strongest guys in the world do curls. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.”

    Adding to that awesome quote by Louie Simmons. I would ask: “Since when lifting and holding an object in front of you is considered non-functional?”

    I don’t think Louie said that. It was one of his lifters.


  30. Good post. There is a Bill Starr article on isolation training that follows the same theme as this post, though I only saw the abstract and not the entire article. Thanks 70’s big for educating and improving the fitness world once again.


    DL 335×5
    Press 135x5x3

  31. Am I safe to think that curls are not necessary until you can honestly be considered “Damn strong”?

    If you’re skinny and weak, it’s gonna be unnecessary.


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