Pull-up strength is one of the primary keys to being successful in the Ninja Warrior competition. As a Ninja Warrior you must be able to perform explosive pull-ups, swing from obstacle to obstacle, hang there for a long time, and pull your entire body weight up to reach the next grip.
Pull-ups are the single most effective exercise for developing upper body strength. Ninja Warrior stars like Jessie Graff are doing them almost every day. Most of them have installed various pull-up and grip challenges at home for training whenever they want. Their results speak for themselves.
It’s much more than just the strength in your arms
It may look as if your arms are doing all the work for a pull-up, but actually there are nine primary muscle groups, that will lift you up easily, once trained properly. The entire back and front of your upper body are working together during that exercise and will sculpt your body when trained steadily.
Performing hanging shrugs or scapular pull-ups as they are also called will teach your body to lower the should blades while doing pull-ups and recruit all the muscles that will lift you up, including latissimus, rhomboids, and trapezius on the back and pecs on the front. This will raise your pull-ups and your Ninja Warrior performance to a totally new level.
So, how to perform hanging shrugs?
Hang completely relaxed from a pull-up bar with a shoulder-wide overhand grip. Your shoulders should touch your ears. Keep your arms straight and then pull your shoulder blades slowly down your back to lift your body up a few inches. Then slowly release the tension and return to the initial position. Repeat that for at least 10 times
One-arm dumbbell row
The one-arm dumbbell row will strengthen the muscles that keep your shoulder blades in the correct position and maintain stability during pull-ups.
Kneel with the left leg on a flat bench or something equivalent and bend your torso forward from the waist until your upper body is parallel to the floor. Assist your posture with the left hand by placing it on the bench as well. With the right arm you pick up a dumbbell from the ground with the palm facing towards your torso. Then you pull up the dumbbell up to the side of your chest while keeping your back straight and the upper body stationary. After reaching the top, slowly lower the dumbbell down to the initial position. That’s one repetition and one side.
Pull-ups with different widths and grips
Perform pull-ups on a regular basis, but vary the width and the grips to stimulate further growths of the exposed muscles. Do pull-ups with arms slightly wider than shoulder-width, some with a narrow grip, and some with a super wide grip.
Also vary the number of fingers you are using, starting with one hand. You can also use a towel, hang it over the pull-up bar, and pull yourself up while only holding the ends of the towel.
There are pull-up bars for use at home which offer these different positions as well as various grips for holding.
I’m using such a multifunctional pull-up bar as shown below and I can absolutely recommend it. No screwing necessary, just mounting on the door frame.
Slow pull-ups are great for hypertrophy, but for some Ninja Warrior obstacles, like the salmon ladder, you also need explosive pulling strength. It is also one of the prerequisites for the muscle-up.
Start with a dead hang at the pull-up bar, arms fully extended and slightly wider than shoulder-width. Maintain a small arch in your back, while powerfully driving your arms down and back until your chest has reached the pull-up bar. Do this in one explosive and fast motion. Lower yourself down to the initial dead hang position and rest for a few seconds before doing the next explosive pull-up.
Don’t do too many explosive pull-ups in a row, as they will become regular pull-ups with growing exhaustion. Also, focus on pulling your shoulder blades down and together while performing this move. That way, you are using the entire back and not only your arms. The hanging shrug exercise is a great way to internalize this movement.
Negative pull-up holds
Negative pull-up holds or so-called negative slow motion pull-ups, are great for finding and training the weakest link in the pull-up chain and bursting through a plateau.
Pull yourself up and then try to go all the way down as slow as possible. 1-2 minutes for one single movement would be an excellent performance. By going that slow, you will get the same burn on every single inch, which makes finding the weakest link very easy.
Pull-ups with locking off
Similar to the negative pull-up holds, performing a regular pull-up with locking off at different angles, trains the entire range of motion.
Do a regular pull-up and simply lock off with your arms at 45°, 90°, and 120° and do this also while going all the way down. The ability to lock off at certain positions is another great skill for your Ninja Warrior training. It also comes in very handy when bouldering and climbing.
Want to Do More Pull-Ups?
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Do all these pull-ups on a regular basis, vary grips, speed and holding positions, and you will soon fly up when doing them.
And if you are ready for some next-level exercise, have a look at my one arm pull up / chin up progression.
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By the way, what’s your favorite pull-up training?