What Would Alvin Do? Pull up Edition

This will be another stream of consciousness post. Today, due to the athletics weight room having three teams training in their room at the same time I had to go over to the student rec center to train. It was a deload bench workout with rowing work so I wasn’t too concerned with the change of venues. I get over there and as per the usual it is bro o’ clock and curls are on the menu. In reality lots of kids doing good work pushing themselves, technique optional, and not always with the best (Read rational) programming.

I go about my work and let me say thanks to the football player for spotting me on a burn out set on the bench press. A bit past halfway through my workout a student of mine asks me for a back exercise. The exchange goes like this:

“What should I do for back?”

“Pull ups”

“But I’m bad at pull ups”

“Then what will help you get better at them?”


I stare at him. He then smiles and says:

“Doing pull ups”

“Yup, and I’ll join you”

“I can’t do that many”

“No problem, we’ll do an empathy day”

Empathy training

The idea here started from training with Big Mike, Jeremy, and Max at Eagle gym in Saint Louis many years ago. What you do is take the weight of the heaviest guy (Big Mike was about 390 I believe) and we did a grip competition for who can hang on to the bar the longest at his body weight. Hanging that dumbbell (190lbs. at the time) from me I think actually made me taller by the time that I was done. This is something since that I do for fun in training where you try and do a body weight exercise or such at the weight of your heaviest training partner. You can use a weight vest, ankle weights, dip belts, chains, really anything that adds weight that will stay on you and not move around too much for the movement you are doing.

Back to the workout

He then looks at me quizzically and we walk over to the pull up bar and I ask him how much he weighs. This turns out to be 270, (this is gonna be a party) so I grab 55 lbs. of kettlebells and strap them to my dip belt. With that we start doing a ladder.


The basic idea here is your partner does one rep and then you do one rep. The partner then does two, and then you do two. Build this up until someone fails and then you can either call it or start back over at zero. This is a good idea I took from both Dan John and Pavel Tsatsouline. By training movements (specifically body weight movements) in this many you can get in a great deal of quality volume in a short period of time.

So we get set up and then two other guys I know from the power lifting team join in. We then start at each of us doing one. Now one guy can’t do one pull up so he simply does controlled negatives on each of his turns (brutal but effective), one guy gets to three and fails at four, then gets to two and fails at three and then the final round gets one. The third guy builds all the way up to eight. I work in with them and we follow a simple order here (1st guy, 2nd guy, 3rd guy, 4th guy, back to 1st guy) so rest is relatively short. The nice thing is by doing this with a group as the reps gets higher so does your amount of rest.

The two guys from the power lifting team that were nice enough to hop in with us on the pull ups.
The two guys from the power lifting team that were nice enough to hop in with us on the pull ups.

All in all the final amount of reps breaks down to one guy does 8 negatives, one guy does 14 good reps, and the final one does a total of 36 reps. This is a solid amount of work for each relative to their ability. If we look at this from the perspective of Prilipen work (google it) the two lowest performers did a high volume of reps in the 90% range, and then guy that worked up to eight reps was still high volume in probably the 70% range for his ability.


I was then getting ready to go and I see a group of guys (5 or so) doing deadlifts together. These guys are actually going for it with the strongest guy in the group hitting 4 plates. I stopped and chatted with them for a moment since they all seemed to be making the same mistake of gripping too wide on the bar and standing with their feet too fat apart to have a strong start. So I point this out to them and help some guys sit back on the deadlift to help use their own weight to lift it. (I need to do a video this and put this online, maybe I will do that).

They did a good job and I failed to get a name of any of them, but I talked with them for a few more and headed on my merry way on out of there. Good training session for me, in the future I need to do a better job of learning names.


2 thoughts on “What Would Alvin Do? Pull up Edition

    1. Will, good to hear from you. I suggest lots of avoidance of any work so you get atrophy in the lower body and couple that with a low calorie diet so you can have less fat in that area. (Will is a friend and this is all said very sarcastically).


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