Sunday, 22 September 2013

Keep your chin up about chin ups part 2, achieving a one arm chin up

I have just recently succeeded in hitting a goal I've had for a long time. Being able to do a one arm chin up. I'll outline how I trained to achieve this goal for what I feel is the ultimate in relative strength exercises.

First of all you need a good base of regular chin ups. I would suggest being able to do around 15+ reps with your bodyweight before you start thinking of training for OAC's. The best way to achieve this is greasing the groove as I outlined in part one.

Once you have 15+ bodyweight chins its time to start adding weight to them. As I wrote about in the first instalment chin ups should be trained heavy with low reps like you would train a major compound lift. Doing a bunch of high reps to failure is not the way forward. And don't even dare kipping your chin ups. Weighted chin ups are the foundation you must build in order to be able to do OACs. Moving straight onto the advanced one arm exercises before you have this foundation is a recipe for injury and stagnation. So when it comes to training weighted chin ups start with a basic strength protocol such as 5x5. Then progressively add a 1.25kg or 2.5kg plate to your weight belt each time you train chin ups. You can train chin ups in this fashion up to 2 times a week and I wouldn't exceed that frequency. If you are doing a 3 times a week full body plan have 2 chin up days and do some kind of rowing on the 3rd session. One arm rows compliment one arm chin training very well and get you used to pulling with one arm.

 Back to weighted chins start with your body weight +5kg for your first workout and continue to progress in this way until you stall. When you can no longer hit the same weight for all 5 sets reduce the number of sets to 2-3 and continue to keep progressing. Rest 3-5minutes between each set. You will find that you burn out fast with chin ups if you don't rest sufficiently between sets. This is strength training not bodybuilding embrace the long rest period. When you start to stall with 2x5 switch to 5x3 and use you 5 rep Max as the weight for the first workout. Continue progressing by adding 1.25kg to the weight belt each session. What should you be aiming to hit on weighted chins before you try some of the one arm stuff? I would suggest being able to do 5 reps with half your bodyweight attached to you before you begin trying the more difficult exercises. This will take a considerable amount of time to achieve but I feel its best as it reduces your chance of injury by slowly letting the muscles and tendons adjust to the heavy demands placed on them. When I first read up about one arm chins it seemed elbow tendinitis was very common when training for an OAC. I managed to achieve one without getting tendinitis or any injury the entire time. I believe this is because I spent a long time slowly building my weighted chins rather than jumping straight to one arm exercises. When you stall at 5x3 drop to 2x3 and keep going. When you hit your 3 rep Max and can't progress further go back to 2-3 sets of 5. Use your previous 5 rep Max and continue progressing. You will find that the strength you built during the 3's has allowed you to move past your previous weights for 5's. Continue to alternate between 5's and 3's each time you stall in that rep range until you achieve the 5 reps with half your bodyweight attached standard.

Is it possible to achieve a OAC from just doing weighted chins? Couldn't you just progress until you are chinning with your bodyweight in plates on the belt? Well that may be possible but a oac requires learning the technique to do so which you would miss out on developing with this method. Also a oac is actually easier once you've drilled the technique than doing a bodyweight weighted chin. I can a one arm chin at 81kg bodyweight but my Max weighted chin is 70kg.

Now its time to try a one arm chin. Try it from dead hang. Try it from half way through with your arm bent at 90 degrees. You may find you can get half way up from hanging but can't lock out. You now find you can finish it from half way to the top but can't do it dead hang or you may find you don't have the strength for either yet. This is just to give you an indication of where your weakness lie. There are two main exercises you can use to get a one arm chin. Rope assisted chins and one arm negatives. To do rope assisted chins tie a piece of rope to a chinning bar. Hold the rope with one hand and the bar with the other and perform chins. This with emphasis the none rope arm. I feel these are best done for singles while using as little assistance as possible from the rope arm. You can emphasise the chinning arm further by working the assisting arm lower and lower down the rope. Train between 5-10 singles and consciously strive to use as little assistance as possible. As you get stronger you can use this exercise to assist with the weakest part of the range of motion. Say you can pull from a hang but can't lockout with one arm then start the rep unassisted then grab the rope as you start to struggles to help you finish the rep. Of course the opposite also works where you can let go of the rope once you are out of the bottom if that is your weakest area.

The other main one arm exercise you can use are one arm negatives. This is where you pull yourself up with two arms let go of one hand at the top and slowly lower yourself down with one arm. The good thing about these is that they can give you a feel of what a one arm chin feels like and let's you learn to control the twisting of the body. The down sides with negatives is that they can put a lot of stress on the tendons and are the main exercise responsible for elbow tendinitis. Also you need to be quite close to a one are chin to begin with to be able to do these with enough control to build strength and avoid injury. Just plummeting from a chin up bar with one hand will lead you nowhere but injured. This is the main reason I feel it is important to have a strong base in weighted chins before doing exercises like this, so that you actually have the strength and control to do them properly. Again use singles for these and try to make each rep last around 10 seconds slowly lowering yourself down to deadhang. Negatives are good if you can't quite finish the top of the one arm chin as more emphasis is placed on that part of the range of motion. With me personally I never spent much time training negatives as my weakness was always pulling from the bottom. I spent much more time doing rope assisted chins and only really did negatives to get used to hanging by one arm. This may also have been why I managed to avoid injury. As get stronger with negatives you can perform Isometric holds along the way down. 5-10 second holds work well and do them in the range of motion where you are weakest.

An idea I've had recently which I feel may help with recovery and avoid injury when training for one arm chins is to follow each oac training session with a very high rep set of light bicep curls. I don't mean 3 sets of ten here but more like sets of 50-100 reps with a light weight. I think the the ideal thing might be the poundstone curl challenge. This is where you take an empty 20kg Olympic bar and attempt to do 100 reps with it in one set. You may not be able to do this right away but build up to it over time. Just do as many reps as you can. The idea of this is to pump as much blood into the elbow muscles and especially the tendons as possible and this can only be achieved with very high reps like this. The increased blood flow should help the tendons recovery quicker and reduce your chance of injury. I didn't use this technique where training for a one arm chin as it occurred to me after so it is yet untested but it makes sense that it would help injury prevention.

After some time training with these exercises you may feel you are ready to try one arm chinning again. Try them from dead hang, try them from near the top, try them from half way through. What I found was that I couldn't pull up from a dead hang but could chin myself with one arm from the half way point up. What I then did was to include these partial reps in my training for singles. This helped me get used to the feel of a one arm chin and taught me to control my body during the pull. Overtime I slowly increased the range of motion by pulling with a progressively straighter arm. Its good to use a smith machine for this so you can very the height of the bar to get an exact arm position. (Yay! I found a use for the smith machine) I eventually built up to doing them all the way from deadhang using this method.

When it comes to the technique of a one arm chin you will have to start in a semi supinates position to start the pull. As you start to move turn into the bar so you are now in the position of a regular chin up and finish the pull that way. This is a strong position than staying semi supinated the whole time. Some people call this a one arm pull up. I did begin changing to doing partials in this position rather than facing the bar. This was to help me build the strength for coming out of the bottom before you turn to the bar. This was in the last few months of training and it worked to help me get out of the bottom.

Try to create as much tension as possible throughout your entire body. Squeeze everything in your upper body like your abs and none working hand don't just pull with the chinning arm. By doing this you can actually increase the force produced from the prime movers making you stronger. I will expand on this technique in later posts but for now just tense everything other than your legs to help you.

The one arm chin is a pretty advanced bodyweight exercise. It takes a high level of relative strength to pull off. It is most commonly done by very light guys such as gymnasts and rock climbers. It is less common for heavier guys and even guys my bodyweight. But I have heard of a few guys up to 100kg who are capable of one arm chins. It is important to get as lean as possible. Any extra weight you have is weight you have to pull up with. I'm not suggesting you don't train your legs or muscles not involved in the pull but you do want to limit your bodyweight by reducing any excess fat. I'm around 12% body fat and I would have thought one arm chins are not possible if you have much more fat that this. In fact if you are plateaued in your training for OAC's losing some fat may just kick start your training again.

A few final tips. Use singles on the one arm exercises focus of quality reps with as much emphasise on the chinning arm as possible. Use 3-10 sets. Avoid failure.  You are not training for a pump you training to build strength. Treat it as learning a skill. If you hit failure you are done for that session or are progressing too fast. Train oacs twice a week and limit your other upper body pulling exercises. I did a full body workout 3 times a week with the other session being one arm rows for 3 sets of 5-10. I did no bicep curls during this time. If you start to feel pain in the elbows back off and rest. Be patient don't injure yourself further. Your tendons need to get stronger and adapted to the stress. This takes a long time so don't rush the progression. If you are having problems with your grip then add in some one arm deadhangs after your chins. If you are weak at the bottom focus on rope assisted chins and one arm partials. You you ate weak at the top focus on negatives and isometric holds at the top.

Stay dedicated to your goal and you will achieve it.

What to do once you can one arm chin? For now I'm treating it the same as the other exercises doing it twice a week  building up to 10x1. From there just let this picture be inspiration to you.