Basic Pull Ups and Dips and their many variations are recognized as some of the best upper body exercises known to man. They require a simple set up: a set of parallel bars (or better yet, gymnastic rings) and a high pull up bar, that’s it! You’re all set with a workout station that can accommodate literally hundreds of exercises.
This article is for intermediate bodyweight training enthusiasts who have invested diligently into the basic pulling and pushing high bar and gymnastic ring movements and would like to bring it up a notch. It only scratches a surface of available movements, but it will give you a solid foundation to expand upon later.
The outlined movements, given enough consistent, diligent practice, will build solid functional strength in your upper body and core that will be very useful in grappling, climbing, hiking, hunting, tactical activities, and emergency situations.
It will build a capacity to climb onto any object like a window opening, roof, tree branch, or wall. It will turn your grappling holds into vises and your off balancing maneuvers into substantially forceful movements. It will improve your weapon retention and handling of recoil. Consequently, it will also build solid muscle that is all go and not just for show.
The Muscle Up is a complete upper body push and pull workout in one exercise. It is a tremendous upper body strengthener and an outstanding functional exercise for climbing on obstacles.
Start out by false gripping a pair of gymnastic rings and hanging. In the false grip, the ring rests on the inner wrist and the hand is “draped” over the inside of the ring. Your arms should be straight, lats stretched out, shoulders in the sockets and hands supinated (internally rotated) until the palms look out to the sides.
Exhale, and as you contract your lats and arms, pull your chest up towards the rings, bringing them right next to your armpits. Retract your shoulder blades back in the process.
Continue exhaling, as you internally rotate your shoulders up and over the rings, transit to the bottom dip position and ready to press up. Keep the rings as close as possible during the transition.
Continue exhaling, as you press up and lock out your arms securing the top Muscle Up position. Pause momentarily and inhale.
Exhale, as you reverse the motion by first lowering your body under control to the bottom of the dip, then externally rotating the shoulders to bypass the transition point and finally, lowering yourself under control until your arms are fully locked out and internally rotated. Palms should be facing out to the sides. Maintain the false grip at the bottom of the motion.
Caution: Keep the rings close to your body and only progress to the exercise if you have an adequate base of strength – you should be able to perform 3-5 weighted False Grip Pull Ups without letting go of the false grip and you should be able to perform 3-5 weighted Ring Dips beginning at the dead start at the bottom of the range of motion.
The Pole Plank Walk is a mighty exercise that looks way easier than it actually is. I consider it one of my top ten core exercises – it builds serious core strength and stability and integrates a good deal of that strength and stability with arms and shoulders. Mastering this exercise will help you to get out of difficult positions with ease the next time you find yourself navigating obstacles and fighting people.
Grab a pole, strong stick, climbing rope or a macebell. Get ready to descend by activating and engaging your entire core, including your lats, abs, obliques, and glutes, along with triceps and thighs. Make sure to squeeze these muscles tight, especially the front of your core and glutes in order to protect your back. Maintain a slight reverse lower back arch referred to in gymnastics as a “hollow body position.”
Walk your hands down the implement while maintaining a strict slight reverse arch in your lower back. Use your lats more than your triceps to move along. Go as low as possible either to the very bottom or until you can’t maintain a proper lower back position. Your glutes have to be tight the entire time. Once you reach the bottom, pause for a few seconds. Enjoy the difficulty of this drill and the tension throughout your core. Make sure to avoid breath
holding and breathe behind the shield of tension throughout the movement by “hissing” pressurized air through the lips.
Once you are done with the pause, climb back up to the starting position. Remember to use your lats more – they are bigger and stronger and will do better than your arms alone.
Do not attempt this exercise if you are a beginner to functional core training. Make sure to maintain a proper back position at all times.
The Pull Over is a tremendous upper body and anterior core strengthening and conditioning exercise. Basically it is a multi-plane upper body pulling motion. The Pull Over is a must-have in your arsenal of functional movements for climbing over obstacles. It dramatically improves core strength and stability.
Start out by hanging off a pull up bar. The pull up bar has to have enough space over it, in front, and in the back in order for you to perform the Pull Over (freestanding pull up bars are the best).
Exhale as you pull up with your lats and arms and simultaneously perform a Pike Leg Raise, aiming over and behind the bar with your feet. Continue to pull your hips towards the bar as your vertical pull will transition into horizontal and then back into vertical but in reverse. Do not stop pulling until your legs make it over the bar and your hips are on it. Finish the upward movement mounted over the bar with your legs hanging under you behind the bar and your locked out arms supporting you. Breathe out all the way up and over.
Inhale and hold the top position for a second.
At this point you could return the same way you came by flipping over and descending to a hang under control. Another option is to perform a negative dip, flip your elbows under the bar and perform a negative pull up, getting down on the other side of the bar under control. The second variation helps to work up to a bar Muscle Up. Either way, exhale as you r making your way back down.
I suggest that male athletes pull their belongings a bit back (seriously), especially when they just learn the exercise, in order for that body part not to get crushed on top in between the hips and the bar. Later, when you gain skill and strength, you will know when to pull on your hips to avoid the issue.
Rotational Muscle Up
The Rotational Muscle Up is another amazing bodyweight pull and push combo. In addition to great upper body development, it also works the core very hard. Mastering this exercise will help you to climb obstacles and end up on top in grappling scrambles.
Start by facing up, holding the gymnastic ring with two hands and positioning your feet on a bench or other platform. Keep your body straight and rigid throughout the entire exercise. You are going to rotate towards your far hand on the ring; in this example the left hand is the farthest away from my face so I’m going to my left.
Pull the ring close to your body by using your lats and simultaneously thread the right leg under the left leg and position it on the bench on the ball of the foot while pivoting on your left foot from heel to the ball of the foot. Pull the toes into you like you are kicking with the ball of the foot, that will help you avoid landing on the toes.
Rotate over the ring and press up into a lockout position, making sure to maintain a straight and rigid core. Pause on top for a second or two.
Pull yourself down close to the ring and rotate underneath while simultaneously pivoting on the left foot and threading the right foot under and placing it on the bench on the heel.
Extend your arms fully and get down under control, while keeping the body and the legs as one straight unit.
Rotational Leg Raise
The Rotational Leg Raise is a great supplemental core strengthening exercise. Make sure to perform it slo-o-o-o-o-wly in order to build the core strength to be reckoned with.
Hang from a bar, trapeze, pair of rings, or a tree branch. Keep your shoulders active by pulling them in with your lats.
Perform a slow leg raise in a frontal plane. Keep the thighs and feet very close to you, so close that if there was a wall directly in front of your face, you wouldn’t hit it. Take your time – one full rotation should take anywhere from 4 to 10 seconds. Make sure to breathe: when moving faster, breathe out during the exercise and breathe in when reaching the starting/finishing position. When moving slower, breathe under slight lip pressure behind the shield of tension.