I’ve written about this exercise before, in broader strokes, but there are some finer points I was hoping to clarify. The Bulgarian Split-Squat is great for the buttocks and hamstrings, quadriceps and hip-flexors, for a few reasons. It stimulates muscles that often aren’t utilised for their potential to engage, and it stretches out other muscles that are often overworked or simply tight – but all of these benefits come down to leverage, angles and depth of squat rather than the exercise itself.
If you haven’t read the first post, it might be a good idea to do so, but hopefully this won’t be too technically focused that it doesn’t make sense. To summarise, this makes for such a good postural exercise because it engages and exercises the glutes and hamstrings of the front leg, while stretching out the quads and hip-flexors of the rear leg, whilst under load. Why that is a good thing will hopefully become apparent.
Of course, my first recommendation for anyone is always to do what they find helpful. This is an exercise, a technique, and as such it might be something you find helpful, or it might not. For many people it is too challenging to be helpful, and for others it is too easy. Never mind - your ability to squat does not reflect on you as a person, despite what some would have you believe.
_ If you can’t do a chin-up, a lot of people like to recommend jumping or climbing up to the bar, and lowering yourself down with control. If you can’t do the positive part of the movement, at least you can try training the negative aspect.
Now, lowering yourself slowly from the bar can help you to get stronger, it can certainly make you sore the next day (a feeling that’s often mistaken for ‘getting stronger’, but isn’t necessarily so), but all the controlled lowering in the world isn’t going to give you the skill of pulling up.
If you have some strength for slow, controlled negatives from the bar (let’s say you can do five or so in a row, taking three to five seconds to lower yourself fully), something you can try is partial-chins: lower yourself until the bar is the same height as your eyes – your upper arms should be almost horizontal – then pull yourself back up to the top, and then do a full controlled lower all the way to the bottom. This will give you an experience of actually pulling-up, but through one of the easier portions of the movement.
All that being said, I’m not really a fan of the controlled negative – I don’t find it helpful, and I don’t find it enjoyable. It feels like going to do chin-up training without doing any chin-ups, which is not particularly satisfying.
_ People think that when you do chin-ups, it’s all about getting the chin over the bar, but it doesn’t have to be. I find it’s much more practical to think about getting the elbows down, pulling them towards your buttocks. You aren’t pulling down to the front – if your intention is to bring your elbows behind you, it’ll open the chest, arch the back naturally (which is what you want) and really engage all your mid- and upper-back muscles, which are the ones we want chin-ups to develop.
There are two ways (a billion really, but today I’ll talk about two) you can look at the strength exercises you do: either you’re training body parts, or you’re training movements. I used to train with a body-parts mentality, but I don’t think it’s as effective when it comes to developing your athleticism. If you think of working the muscle hard, fatiguing it, you’re focusing on expending energy for its own sake – to burn calories, or stimulate a growth response, or whatever. But if you focus on movements, you start to see your training in terms of efficiency, leverage, and understanding momentum and the application of force to achieve something specific, rather than simply chasing fatigue.
I think everything about strength training ideally comes down to promoting good (harmonious, efficient, etc.) movement patterns within your body. If you are capable of efficient, natural, harmonious movement, then you build up your strength, you’ll ultimately be able to do a lot of really cool stuff, not the least of which includes getting around the world with mobility and freedom. Then when you develop your strength, and you put power behind efficiency, clearly this leads to good results.
The Scapular Pull is like my favourite chin-up assistance exercise ever. It’s really great for developing your muscular awareness of the scapular (shoulder blade) and mid-back muscles, and that’s where you want to initiate the pull when you’re doing a pull-up.
A brief side note: when people use the term ‘chin-up’, they are usually referring to hand placement – the palms are facing towards you, at about shoulder width. When they say ‘pull-up’, it’s the same basic movement, but with the palms facing away from you, usually a little wider than your own shoulders. Semantics, maybe – but that’s the difference between the two terms. Same exercise, different hand placement. You can also do it with a mixed grip – one hand forward and one hand back. Dunno what you’d call that. A mixed-up-vertical-chin-pull? Bit of a mouthful.
Back to the point!
The farmer's walk
Okay, when you’re tackling an exercise like chin-ups, it’s easy to get intimidated. There’s a balance between doing enough ‘assistance’ work and too much. If you only train the individual components such as elbow flexion and grip strength, and neglect taking your body through the whole general movement, it’s hard to progress. Likewise if you just try to muscle them out without thinking about breaking them down, it’s also hard to progress.
Come to think of it, they’re chin-ups. Progression is always going to be hard. But if you break it down well, you can work out an effective training process, one that works for you.
In the last post I did on chin-ups, I took a look at the general movement, with varying degrees of assistance from the legs. So you didn’t have your entire body-weight hanging from the bar.
In this post I’m going to talk about grip strength and how to develop it.
Clearly, if you’re going to be able to do chin-ups, you’ll need to be able to hang from a bar. This can be a lot more difficult than is sometimes suspected. Considering that we’d like to build up to multiple repetitions of the chin-up, being able to hang from a bar with a straight body (a dead hang) for 45 to 60 seconds is a good goal to shoot for.
Complete with heavy boots...
I really like chin-ups, they’re one of my favourite exercises because they’re a great test of strength, a good personal measure, a yardstick, a bench mark, a what-cha-ma-callit. For whatever reason, I find them a rewarding and meaningful exercise.
But people get the test and the training method mixed up all danged the time.
It’s like school – you don’t just study information that’s pertinent to the test – the purpose of the test is to see whether or not your education is actually giving you an education. If you do only study what’s going to be on the test, you’ve just wasted your education. Likewise – you test your strength to see if your training is working; to see if it’s providing you with the athleticism it should. If you’re not progressing, you aren’t the failure, your training methods aren’t working for you. That’s what your test-results mean. Your training should be more comprehensive than just vainly attempting a test you can’t yet complete.
And, like education, your training should be thorough and broad enough to equip you for life, and it’s good to remember that tests are nothing more than measures of progress. Unless you’re hanging out a window, your ability to ‘do a chin-up’ is probably not that relevant. But being able to pull your own weight, literally, having good stabiliser muscles and all over strength – which is to say – having a functional body with strong joints, good mobility, impressive lung capacity and endurance, well that stuff will serve you for life. That’s a good education for your body.
If you only ever did one exercise for your legs, this would be a great choice. Partly because it has a really cool name! But if you like, you could also call it a lunge with the back foot elevated.
When it comes to posture, a lot of us have tight hip flexors and weak buttocks (if you stand up, and lift one knee up to the front, that’s your hip flexors working). The Bulgarian Split-Squat is a great exercise to help correct the imbalance. Prolonged sitting, as well as many of the exercises we like to do such as running and cycling and kicking a ball, encourage our hip flexors to remain tight and inflexible, which pull on the lower back and are a very common cause of back pain. Glutes (buttocks) and hamstrings (back of the thigh) that are weak from underuse contribute to the problem.
Which brings me to the first reason why this exercise is so awesome! It strengthens the butt and hamstrings while stretching out the hip flexors and thigh muscles. You basically move up and down between the two positions, as pictured. Being an asymmetrical exercise, you’re strengthening the hamstrings and glutes of your front leg, and getting a deep stretch into the thigh and hip flexors of the back leg. If you like, you can hold the bottom position for a couple of seconds to deepen the stretch.
I’ve been struggling to write what I think you should do to develop your push-ups. It’s a much easier topic to cover when I’m training someone one-on-one, because I can see where they’re at.
And anyway, I don’t even know if you care about being able to do push-ups at all.
I really don’t believe there’s this one superior system of training that we all should be doing. Many people have great results practicing many different methods; it’s not what you train, but how you train that determines whether or not you progress.
It’s very much like that in martial arts. People spend a lot of time arguing about what the best system is, wilfully ignoring the obvious fact that in all systems there are champions. Who would win in a fight? Bruce Lee or Muhammad Ali? Who knows? I don’t think they ever fought. And anyway, who cares?