Extreme Newsletter—Diet and fitness tips, recipes, and motivation

Issue #030 05/26/10 Pulling off the Pull-Up!

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How to Pull Off a Pull-Up

By Stephanie S. Saunders

The first time I attempted a pull-up, it was for fitness testing in elementary school. I stepped up to the bar, jumped up to grip it, and then hung there like a right-side-up possum. And I wasn't the only one. Frankly, I didn't think anyone had the upper-body strength to hoist their entire body weight up to the bar at the age of 11. What I didn't know then was that with a little assistance and practice, we all could have completed a pull-up.

Woman Doing a Pull-Up

Chin-up vs. pull-up.

The difference between a chin-up and a pull-up is the grip of the hands. Pull-ups are done with palms facing away from you; chin-ups are done with palms toward you, or sometimes facing one another. Either is effective in training the muscles of the upper back, and most people use a variety of grips to target them from different angles. It's a bit of a myth that chin-ups and pull-ups actually work different muscles. They may, in fact, target different muscle fibers, but if you're pulling yourself up, you've engaged your upper back, lats, and shoulders. So whichever grip feels the most comfortable for you is a great way to begin.

How to do it.

If you're able to reach the bar while still standing, grip the bar a shoulder length apart, fully extending your arms. Keep your torso as straight as possible and bend your knees back so your feet are behind you and off of the ground. Inhale as you initiate a pulling motion that should continue until your chin clears the bar. You'll end up leaning back a bit as your torso ascends to the top position. Exhale as you begin your descent, bringing your torso straight under you and extending your arms fully at the bottom position. Go slowly, and control your descent to stimulate your chest and tricep muscles.

The gear.

P90X® Chin-Up BarFinding a strong and safe bar is step number one. Beachbody's P90X® Chin-Up Bar offers a variety of grips and can be placed over the top of a door frame, which is the appropriate height for the type of pull-ups you're attempting. This chin-up bar holds up to 300 pounds and has foam grips that make it more comfortable to grasp.

Wrist straps, pull-up gloves, and pull-up hooks are each sold for assistance with the pull-up. They can make your hands and wrists more comfortable, while leaving the bulk of the work to your upper back. Please note, though, that while these items will not necessarily make the exercise easier, they will help make the process a bit more comfortable.

A little help here, please?

At this point, you may be saying, "I couldn't do a pull-up when I was 11 and weighed 78 pounds. How am I supposed to do it now?" The answer: progression. You have to build up to it. Even Nadia Comaneci couldn't pull herself up to the uneven bars the first time she tried, and she probably never weighed much more than 78 pounds.

Your first order of business should be strengthening your back muscles. Any pulling movement will engage these muscles, and P90X has an entire series of exercises using B-LINES® resistance bands that will help this process along. Consider a lateral row, a lat pull-down, an overhead pull, or a straight-arm press-down in your training schedule. Once you have developed a bit of strength, you can move on to the next step.

An assisted pull-up is your next stop on the journey. There are a few ways to do this. One is to find or create a bar that is three to four feet off of the ground. Sit underneath the bar, with your chest parallel to it. Reach up and grab the bar with either grip, keep your arms straight, and make your torso as flat as possible, slightly bending your knees. If you require more resistance, you can eventually straighten your knees so your body is one long plank. Bend your arms, pull your torso up to the bar, touch your chest to the bar, and then return to a straight-arm position. The closer to the ground you position the bar, the more difficult it will be.

Another option—Tony Horton's favorite—is the chair-assisted pull-up. Place the chair underneath the bar, then stand on the chair's seat with one or both legs and use them to assist yourself in pulling up. Try to put progressively less and less pressure on your legs so the majority of the work is increasingly done by your torso.

Woman Using Assisted Pull-Up MachineYou can also get a friend to spot you. Having someone hold your feet and help you lift yourself can make all the difference in the world. If that's too much help, cross one foot over the other and have the spotter only support one ankle. If it's not enough, the spotter could support you from your waist and help you rise up to the bar.

One last form of assisted pull-up can be found in most fitness facilities, in the form of weight-loaded or air-pressurized machines. The machine essentially helps lift a percentage of your body weight while you pull yourself up. If you're using a machine, make sure you can effectively complete 10 to 12 pull-ups at your current level before you go on to the next level, reducing the amount of assistance you're getting from the machine.

Variations

Should pull-ups become as simple as brushing your teeth, adding weight to the process can help make them more challenging. You can hold a dumbbell between your feet or wear one of the special weight belts created specifically for pull-ups. You can also wear a weighted vest to create more resistance in most exercises. And for the very daring, the one-armed pull-up can be executed by gripping the bar and lifting yourself with one arm while you hold on to the working wrist with your other hand. You should only attempt these advanced exercises after you've developed a sufficient amount of strength.

A final pull-up exercise is the negative pull-up, which should really be called the "descent-only pull-up," since it's not particularly depressing or cynical. The idea is to have an assistant, either human or a chair, help you with the upward-pull portion of the exercise, then to control the downward portion on your own. This is great for those building up to being able to do the complete pull-up, and also for those looking to work to muscle failure by doing many different exercises for the same muscle group in a given session. Note that the negative pull-up works more of the stabilizing muscles, as opposed to the primary ones we have been focusing on so far.

Begin the journey

Accomplishing something like a pull-up can be a bit daunting, even for the bravest of us. But with effort and a lot of tenacity, you can take the steps we've discussed and master an exercise you've been trying to do since the fifth grade. After all, isn't it time to clear up at least one of the lingering issues from childhood?

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Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development (who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards) in the Beachbody Chat Room on Tuesday, June 1, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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Get Crackin': Things You Should Know About Eggs

Shaun T

I care about what I put into my body, and don't have a lot of time to cook with complicated ingredients (or the patience to shop for some of the more mysterious "wonder" grains and oils). But I've been doing some research and have found that eggs are a great food to build meals around, and hey, even I can make eggs! Here's what I've learned about them:

Eggs and Shells

  1. Eggs contain all nine essential amino acids, making them a complete-protein food.
  2. Eggs are one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D.
  3. 1 large egg contains approximately 80 calories. (The white has approximately 20 calories, and the yolk has approximately 60 calories)
  4. .
  5. While soft-boiled eggs got a bad rap for a while, a soft-boiled egg is safe to eat as long as it's cooked for at least 3-1/2 minutes. This should raise the temperature of the egg to approximately 140 degrees and pasteurize it.
  6. To reduce calories, fat, and cholesterol in recipes, use more egg whites and fewer egg yolks—you won't taste the difference.
  7. To lighten up your omelet or scrambled eggs, try adding a small amount of water instead of cream or milk when you're beating the eggs. Milk products tend to harden the yolk and add calories you don't need.
  8. Eggs should always be cooked over low heat—high heat makes eggs rubbery.
  9. Beating Egg WhitesTo beat egg whites more quickly and make them fluffier, add a pinch of salt, let them come to room temperature, then beat.
  10. For a good plant fertilizer, dry eggshells in the oven, then pulverize them in a blender to make bone meal.
  11. To tell how old an egg is, place the egg in a pan of cold water. If it lies on its side, it's fresh; if it tilts on an angle, it's approximately three to four days old. If the egg stands upright, it's probably about 10 days old; if the egg floats to the top, it's old and shouldn't be used.

So whaddaya say? Wanna get crackin'?

Peace out,

Shaun T

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Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development (who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards) in the Beachbody Chat Room on Tuesday, June 1, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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30 Going on 40 Gets Fit in 90!

By Tony Horton

Schatzi53 had just turned 30, but felt and looked more like 40. Overweight and out of shape, see how he turned it around with the help of P90X.

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Recipe: Mexican Frittata

Mexican Frittata

Eggs are truly a wonder food—each one is high in protein and low in calories. Here's a tasty Mexican frittata recipe with the zing of onion, bell pepper, and salsa, and the lightness of added egg whites. Enjoy!

  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1/4 medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch cumin
  • 1/2 cup salsa
  • 12-inch nonstick skillet with ovenproof handle
  • Medium-sized bowl
  • Whisk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add pepper and onion; sauté until tender. While pepper and onions are cooking, place milk, eggs, egg whites, salt, pepper, and cumin in medium-sized bowl; mix together with whisk. When vegetables are tender, pour egg mixture over them in pan. Cook without disturbing eggs just until slightly set; flip over and cook other side until just slightly set. Place pan in oven; bake at 350 until eggs are cooked (about 5 minutes). Place frittata on a plate; top with salsa. Makes 1 serving.

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 10 minutes

Nutritional Information (per serving):

Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
371 31 g n/a g 25 g 15 g 3.8 g

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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