Category Archives: how to

How to: Pull-Ups

In my last “How To” post, I talked about pushups. Today I want to write about pull-ups. Pull-ups can be tricky because they involve many different muscles groups, but in this post you can find the general form for pull-ups, and ways to improve your strength to do a pull-up if you have never done one before. If you don’t have a pull-up bar at home, that doesn’t mean you can’t do these exercises. A bar that can support your weight is all over the gym, or you could even use monkey bars at the playground.

Setting Up 
Grab the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Let your body hang down – try to keep your chest up and shoulders back. Two of the basic pull-up forms are:
Pull-up: palms are facing away from you. Works both biceps and back muscles.
Chin-up: palms are facing toward you. More emphasis is on your biceps.

I think one of the keys to getting up with a pull-up is focusing on squeezing your back muscles. You can also think about pulling your chest to the bar and driving your elbows down. Pull yourself up until your chin is just above the bar. Pause for a moment before lowering yourself back down. Do your best not to swing your legs around to get yourself over the bar. Keep the movement controlled rather than jerking up.

Chin-ups are often the easiest form for most people, and wide grip is often harder. Some other variations you can do are L-pullups (keep your legs stright out in front of you during the pull-up), close-grip, or with uneven hand heights. Similar to pushups there are many varieties.


Many people are afraid of pull-ups. Because pull-ups are a body weight exercise, your strength to body weight ratio can be a factor. It takes some time to build up your upper body strength to be able to do them. If you cannot do a pull-up today, don’t worry — with practice you will get there. I think even more than pushups, pull-ups can really take patience and effort to do.

There are a few ways you can to improve your strength to lead you to eventually get a pull-up right at the pull-up bar.

1) Supported pull-ups. Use a chair or band to support some of your weight. You can put one foot on the chair to take away some of the weight from your arms. The less weight you apply to the chair, the harder the pull-up is.

2) Do negatives. Basically a negative is where you get up to a completed pull-up position using a chair (or jumping, or someone assisting you) then lower yourself slowly without support. Try to count to 10 while lowering. When you get to the bottom, try to hang on for 5 seconds. This exercise gets your arms used to supporting the weight of your body.

3) Static hangs. Get yourself to the top of the pull-up position, as mentioned in negatives. Hang with your arms flexed as long as possible. This will strengthen all the muscles required for a pull-up including forearms, biceps and back. If you can, complete a negative on your way down after your hang for added difficulty.

Some other exercises you can do at the gym to prepare yourself for pull-ups are: bent over rows, lat pull downs and bicep curls.

How To: Push It Up

In P90x, almost every weightlifting day incorporates pushups, pullups, or both exercises. These moves are great because they are body weight exercises. They not only will improve your upper body strength, but also your core muscle strength.

Many people struggle with pushups and pullups, so I wanted to give you some tips on form, modifications, and ways to improve. Today I’m going to start with pushup form, and I’ll save pullups for another post. Pushups are especially great because you can literally do them anywhere — no equipment required!

Setting Up
Start with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width. When you are in the up position (like a straight arm plank), your shoulders should be over your hands.Your hands should be in a comfortable position, which for me is with the fingers facing forward. If this hand position bothers your wrists, you can try pushups on your knuckles (with a soft surface underneath!), or use dumbbells as supports. From the top of your head to your feet should be a straight line. It is key to not let your butt hang low or be up too high — Try focusing on tightening up your glutes and abs through the whole exercise. Be cautious not to look up or tuck your chin to your chest — remember your body should be in a straight line. Put your feet at a comfortable distance apart. The further apart they are, the more stable you will be.

Completing the Pushup
In a slow and controlled way, lower your body, while keeping it straight head to toe, your arms are bent to 90 degrees or more. I like to lower until my chest barely touches the floor. Once you have reached the lowered position, pause for a moment, then use push back up to the starting position.

If the full pushup is too hard for you, it can be modified by placing your knees on the floor. Over time as you gain strength, you should be able to do pushups on your feet. Another alternative is do incline pushups. This is where your hands are up on something stable rather than on the floor (like a table or a park bench). As you progress, you can find lower items to be elevated on, slowly progressing toward regular pushups.

There are many many forms of pushups you can do including wide, narrow, diamond, decline, hands or feet on medicine balls, or plyometric to name a few. Try doing some of each type if you can already do standard pushups. Challenge yourself!

Pushup workouts
Here are just a few workout ideas:
1) Do as many pushups in a row as you can until your form starts to break down. For example, your butt might begin to sag, your elbows are flaring out wide, or you are really struggling to push up. That is one set. Do 3-4 sets. Take a minute or two rest between sets.
2) Follow the 100-pushups plan
3) Try a pushup streak — do a couple sets of pushups every day for a month. You will be amazed how much you improve!

Up Next: Pull-ups!

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Be My Valentine?

This morning I celebrated Valentine’s Day by wearing pink on my run.

So far, I have gotten my two weekly speed sessions in! I am doing much better this month than last on this goal!

My speed session last week was 4 x 800m, and today was 8 x 400m.

Since I’m new to speedwork, I didn’t really know what my interval paces should be. Instead of just going out and guessing, I used the McMillan Pace Calculator. You can plug in your race times (or goals), and it does some crazy calculations to predict what other race times, and your training paces should be. I thought this was a good start for helping me figure out where I should be, even though it make sure to note that these are just estimates.

I don’t live very close to a track I can use for my intervals (or at least I don’t know of one), so I have been setting my Garmin to help out with that. It’s pretty simple — check out the pictures below. All you have to do is press enter to select. I apologize in advance for the terrible pictures. I attempted to take these while riding the bus this morning.

Once you have finished entering the distances/times you want, just press enter over Done and you are ready to go! If you are using a warmup/cooldown, it will ask you to hit the lap button when you are ready to start your first interval. From then on, all you have to do is what the watch tells you — and it even beeps when you start and stop your intervals. So easy!

I think all the other people at the park walking and jogging were wondering what that crazy girl was doing, and what all the beeping was! I got some funny looks this morning.

Have you ever used the McMillan Pace Calculator? If not, I recommend checking it out — it’s pretty cool!

Are you doing anything special for Valentine’s Day? Ryan and I are going to yoga tonight, and tomorrow we will cook a special dinner together. Nothing crazy, but so fun to enjoy some time together.