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How to Perform Grappler Pull-ups

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How to Perform Grappler Pull-ups

In today’s quick post I will show you a very unique pull-up variation that we have been doing for years.  I call them grappling pull-ups and they are amazing.  I saw them years ago in an old MMA training video with Jens Pulver.  At the bottom of this article, you’ll find an article I did years ago showing a simple progression you can use to get better at pull-ups.

With grappling pull-ups you’ll use two lacrosse balls or two tennis balls.

Grip Strength / Wrist Strength

Using these is exactly what makes this pull-up variation a beast.  By holding a tennis / lacrosse ball in each hand, you’ll have to keep your wrist flexed the entire time.  The tension created in the wrists and into the forearms helps develop serious pulling strength.

Great Tension

You’ll instantly notice the tension created in your hands is carried across your arms into your upper back.  You’ll create much more stability and contraction throughout the movement.

The Setup

With the wrist flexed, the balls will be sandwiched between the hands and the bar and the athlete’s entire bodyweight will be held on top of this setup.  You’ll actually feel the balls compress under the weight.  If tension is lost just for a moment in the wrists, the athlete will fall.

For an additonal reference, here is a portion of an article I wrote for an “Ultimate Pull-ups” video that shows you how to progress from not being able to do a single pull-ups, to hitting them like a pro.

Ultimate Pull-up Progression

Pull-up Modifications:

1. Change the Grip
wide, narrow, alternated, one arm
2. Change the Grip Again
towels, thick ropes, two fingers, three fingers, gloves, Rolling Thunder
3. Overloaded
dip belt, med ball, sandbag, dumbbell, kettlebell, chains
4. Change the Movement
side-to-side, slow negatives, isometric holds, explosive

Unfortunately before you start modifying the pull-up, you must become proficient at doing the pull-up. This means you should be able to hit some solid volume and control your bodyweight during the exercise.  Many people can’t and that is ok. There is always a way to train and there is always a starting point. Pick your goal and work until you hit that goal.

Do NOT make the goal too big or too far away because you will be discouraged before reaching it. Make small goals and hit this goal everyday or every week. Pretty soon these small goals will get you to the end point; the larger goal.

Progression of the Pull-up

Level 1

Barbell, Dumbbell, Kettlebell, Sandbag and Cable Training – movements such rows, pull downs and face pulls can be done from multiple angles to target weaknesses, build a solid strength and joint integrity foundation and develop a solid work capacity.

Level 2

Deloading the Movement / Isolating One Phase of the Pull-up – you can target the eccentric phase, concentric phase or mid-point (chin over the bar) with movements such as negatives and isometric holds. You can also deload the movement with an elastic band which can be anchored to provide more or less help.

Level 3

Increasing the Difficulty of the Lift – once proficiency is developed, the movement’s difficulty can be increased. Variations like muscle ups, modifying the grip component (see above) and performing a side to side movement can be done.

Pull-up Progressions and Movements Seen in the Video

*Movements are shown in order of increasing difficulty

1. One Arm Lat Pulls
2. Narrow Lat Pulls
3. Wide Lat Pulls
4. Seated Rows
5. Low Cable Rows
6. W’s
7. DB Rows
8. High DB Rows
9. Full Range Straight Arm Pull-downs
10. Barbell Bent Over Rows
11. DB Bent Over Rows
12. Inverted Rows – Overhand
13. Inverted Rows – Underhand
14. Inverted Rows – Feet Elevated – Underhand
15. Inverted Rows – Feet Elevated – Overhand
16. Side to Side Inverted Rows
17. Prince Pull-ups (Game Blouses)
18. Banded Pull-ups
19. Less Banded Pull-ups
20. Jump Up – Slow Negative
21. Isometric Holds
22. Chin-ups
23. Pull-ups
24. Corner Pull-ups (great for those with elbow/wrist issues)
25. Corner Chin-ups (great for those with elbow/wrist issues)
26. Narrow Pull-ups Version 1
27. Narrow Pull-ups Version 2
28. Mixed Grip Pull-ups
29. Wide Grip Pull-ups
30. Side to Side Pull-ups
31. Pop Outs
32. Grappler Pull-ups
33. Pull-ups with Knee Raise
34. Gorilla Ups
35. L-sit Pull-ups
36. Reach Ups
37. Towel Pull-ups Version 1
38. Towel Pull-ups Version 2
39. Towel Chin-ups
40. See Saw Pull-ups
41. Revolving Thick Bar Pull-ups
42. Revolving Thick Bar Chin-ups
43. Climbing Pull-ups
44. Muscle Ups


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  • Brian

    How do these compare to softball grip pull ups?

  • http://starfactoryfitness.com/ Conor

    Love it James! Very informative stuff and helpful to anyone at any stage in their training. I’m definitely going to try the grappler pullup the next chance I get.

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  • Garner323

    Awesome. Really help everyone get to their next level ,wherever that May be. Right on Jim