Pulling It All Together

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Bodywork, July 1998

Pulling It All Together

To boost your upper-body strength, go with a classic

By Lolly Merrell

In setting the world record for crossing the English Channel in 1978, Penny Lee Dean faced a lot of challenges, such as dodging fleets of barges and groups of jellyfish. But a noodly upper body wasn't among Dean's problems, thanks to her devotion to the mighty pull-up. In her impressive training guide Open Water Swimming, Dean lauds the pull-up as a superlative exercise for the upper body. "It works the lats and triceps, the muscles that are critical to a stroke's entry and down-and-out motion," she says. Conveniently, the move is also crucial for any athlete who uses his upper back, arms, and shoulders.

Of course, Dean's seen her share of poor technique — most commonly, hands placed too far apart: "A recipe for shoulder problems." To execute the perfect pull-up, hang from a sturdy bar, and if your feet so much as graze the floor, bend your knees. Grasping the bar with your hands shoulder width in an overhand grip, pull yourself up until your chin just clears the bar and your chest touches your knuckles. Keep your legs and torso straight and steady — no swinging — and slowly let yourself down until your arms are extended but still slightly cocked. Dean recommends interspersing one set of five repetitions with your normal strength exercises, three times a week, gradually working up to three sets of ten reps.

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