Horizontal Pulls and Natural Bodyweight Training

We are going to address two things in this article.

The first has to do with Step 2:

Horizontal Pulls (HzP’s), as found in Convict Conditioning page 124 – 125,  performed  from a table or some other set-up like rings hanging at about waist height.

The Progressive standard Paul Wade sets is 3 x 30, which is, a bunch of reps.

This puts the focus on the development of  displaying your strength over a longer period of time than building pure strength.

For some people, this standard of 3 x 30 will be very hard to meet. It requires strength endurance. Let’s face it, that is 90 total reps. The worlds strongest men do not train a single lift for 90 repetitions in a single training session. That is not how they got strong.

Also, a pullup or chin up on a bar or rings set overhead is much different than pulling your body upward while it is laying back as in the HzP in Step 2 of CC.

HzP’s and chin/pull-ups may seem similar, because you are pulling your body weight up, but they are actually very different in many ways.

If you are more interested in building strength with body-weight exercises, I would suggest working up to 3 x 10 on Step 2 HzP’s and then start with the next exercises, steps 3-6. But even as you progress through steps 3-6, I would continue to work on meeting the Progressive standard Paul Wade sets out for Step 2 HzP’s, which is the 3 sets of 30 reps.

You might even break up those 3 sets. In other words, build up to doing a set of 30 in the morning. Then build up to doing another set of 30 later in the day and finally add in another set of 30 in the early evening.

Then, begin to merge those 3 sets all together in one training session.

If you really feel you must hit the 3 x 30 standard, start off more upright, hit the standard in a few weeks to a month or more and then gradually lower the bar or your rings an inch or two at a time. Thus, you progressively make the exercise harder while maintaining your reps.

At the first lowering, yeah, your reps might drop to 30, 25, 17, for example, but you will build them back up pretty quick:

Because you have not changed the loading all that much by lowering the bar an inch or two. It’s not that big a jump. It is sort of like adding one pound plates to a barbell.

Basically you are following a progressive movement training style.

Paul Anderson did this by digging a hole, laying a heavily loaded barbell across it, climbing into the hole and doing squats. This limited the range of motion. Then he would throw in a few shovels-full of dirt the next day or two and then squat again. This way he artificially shortened the range of motion and then progressively made the movement longer by adding dirt to his hole to stand on. Then eventually, there was no hole, and he was doing a full body squat all the way down.

This is what we are doing by starting HzP’s with the bar or rings set higher and progressively lowering them. But for this to work, you need to meet a certain set and rep standard before you lower the bar. This might take you a week or a month or two. Then once you lower the bar a little, it is good to drop the reps down and build back up your sets and reps at that new depth.

Notice in the picture that as you lower the bar you may have to shift your feet under the bar more so your arms and body are in a more optimal position to pull from.

Make small changes in lowering the bar and it will be much easier to maintain your sets and reps.

Once you meet the set/rep scheme you want to follow, get comfortable at that height for several training sessions before you lower the bar again. For example, if you make the 3 x 30 at a certain bar height, repeat that workout for a couple of training sessions before you lower the bar again.

Thus, you know you did the 3 x 30 for sure, you “own it” as some like to say. You know it wasn’t a fluke or just a real good training day that allowed you to get those numbers.

Then when you lower the bar, lower your reps for the first week by about half to two-thirds what your best set was last workout. So if you got 3 x 30, once you lower the bar a few inches, start with 1 x 30 and 1 x 15, for example. Or do 3 sets of 15. Then gradually build your sets and reps back up at this new lower height. This builds in a back-off week for you to de-load and come back stronger next week.

Also, there is nothing wrong with doing more sets for lower reps, something like 4 x 20.

There is nothing magical about doing 30 reps versus 20 reps. It is still a lot of reps to do.

Part of the problem with doing the 30 rep sets for many people is that they will attempt the next set too soon after the last set.  That is why breaking those three sets up and spreading them throughout the day works so well, You have plenty of time to recover before you do the next set.

Once you get those three sets of 30 just start moving them closer together.

For example, if you did 30 in the morning and 30 when you got home from work and then 30 reps 3-4 hours later, start bringing them closer together.

The cool thing about this is that you have proven to yourself that you can do a set of 30 good reps and that you can do 3 sets  with enough rest between the sets. So now it is simply a matter of reducing the rest periods between the sets. Do it this way:

Skip the 30 in the morning and do 30 when you first get home. Two hours later do another set of 30 and two hours after that do your final set of 30. Now at first, this might be hard. You might have to drop to 20 reps or so. That is OK. Build back up to 30 reps done every 2 hours apart. Once you get 30 good solid reps for 3 sets (with 2 hours between each set), gradually, over the course of weeks, subtract 5 mins from between each set.

There are twelve – 5 minute blocks in each hour. So a two hour decrease between sets would take 24 training days to reduce. And, since we want about 5 minutes between each set (so we can recover for the next set), it will take us about 23 training days to work down to 3 x 30 with a 5 min break between sets. So if we train HzP’s twice a week, it will takes us about 11-12 weeks to get from three seperate 30 rep sets done two hours apart down to 3 x 30 in one session.

Time to knock this thought out of the ballpark...

Now the second thing I want to address has bugged me for a long time and I have heard this from various people over the years.

And that  is the thinking of some people who believe that body-weight training is somehow more natural or inherently safer for people to engage in.

We should not make the mistake that since we can train with body-weight anywhere without equipment it somehow makes it a more natural way to train.

Keep in mind that if you are doing pullups off anything: rings, a bar, a tree limb or you are doing push-ups with your feet elevated on a chair a rock or handstand push-ups with your feet supported by a wall: you are using other forms of “equipment” to help you get more out of your training.

Any exercise or movement is unsafe if it is performed incorrectly or in a highly fatigued state or if you have the attention span of a lab-rat jacked up on the latest energy drink.

Just because we may train with body-weight only, we should not assume it is safer. There is nothing inherently different about training with your body that makes it automatically safer.

And body-weight training is not any more natural than lifting objects to get stronger.

First off, your body is an object.

Second, watch any baby as it grows and explores it’s environment. It will pick up anything and everything ( heavier and heavier objects as it gets stronger) as the child examines everything it can get it’s hands on.

Third, how do we think people picked up and carried rocks, logs, firewood, full water containers, that deer they just killed and gutted and what about carrying babies, children, injured companions, building shelters, etc, before the advent of machines?

Even if using a horse, mule  or whatever, it required lifting things to the back of the animal. How about portages with a canoe?

I do not think people were so dumb they couldn’t notice the effects such lifting and hard work had on their bodies.

Don't believe the nonsense

Fourth, stop believing the nonsense. Body-weight training is not anymore or less natural than lifting anything else. Your body responds just as readily to lifting “things” as it does to lifting your own body. What is more natural than lifting something?

There is nothing, and I repeat this:

There is NOTHING magical about training with only your body-weight. How people look and develop from training is a result of genetics, food quality and quantity, hydration, supplementation, technique and training systems followed. Or the lack of any of the above.

Fifth, in all cases, lifting your body or lifting an object other than your body: you are using the effects of gravity. Gravity acts no differently on a 100kg body versus a 100kg rock. The resistance is still 100kg that must be moved.

In body-weight training, leverage is changed or momentum is used to effect a greater load on the body. The same is true when lifting an object outside the body. Plus, the added affects of lifting something outside the body changes the leverages and force loadings throughout the body, which is a good thing.

For those that feel lifting anything other than your body is an unnatural way to train, then you need to get a hard physical job and work that for a good year and notice the changes to your body. You WILL lift all kinds of objects, and lo-and-behold:

You will actually lift objects over your head!

So, if you think body-weight training is the be-all-end-all method of training:

Get the toughest job you can find, get away from that plush office job and the treadmill and the push-ups and work that job honestly giving it your all.

And then call me in a year. I guarantee you will be way stronger than you imagined. And all that from moving and lifting objects. From digging, from throwing rocks or debris over a wall or up and over and into a metal roll-away dumpster,  from lifting sheets of plywood, roofing rolls, elastic roof coating in 5 gallon buckets, etc up onto a roof, from carrying all types of wood, bags of concrete, 5 gallon paint buckets, ladders, tools, throwing hay bales, carrying baby calfs, slamming post-hole diggers into the ground, etc.

Yeah, lifting and carrying things is unnatural…

My gluteus maximus it is.

Here’s a thought:

Here is a nice progression:

HzP’s. Master them and pull-ups then learn how to do one arm rows. Then various bent rows.

Learn how to deadlift a barbell. Learn a wide variety of deadlifts: one arm, one leg, suitcase, etc.

Learn how to do a zercher lift from the ground.

Learn how to do a tire flip.

Learn how to pick up and carry large, heavy rocks, sandbags, sand/water filled kegs, etc.

Learn how to put a wide variety of things overhead.

Learn how to swing a sledge and throw things from various angles.

Maybe even learn to play around wrestling with a friend, even if you don’t want to train MA’s. Just have fun wrestling around.

When you train with objects separate from your body, you learn to manipulate and control the constantly changing  center of balance between yourself and the object you are lifting or throwing. You get exposed to a much greater variety of  loads and forces and movement patterns than if you trained with body-weight only.

Most body-weight exercises are not very dynamic, meaning they are not performed at fast speeds unless you get involved in gymnastics. But that is not realistic for most people. It takes a lot of experience and equipment to teach people how to perform gymnastics. And it has its’ own risks.

Performing a one arm handstand or two arm handstand push-up is way more unnatural than lifting something over my head with one or two hands.

How many babies or children do you know who start trying to walk upside down on their hands?

Compare that to how many babies and children you know who pick things up, carry them, throw them, lift them up overhead, etc.

When, in a workplace or survival situation or camping or hiking or a rescue operation, would I have to walk or stand upside down?

Outside of gymnastics or training we don’t walk upside down on our hands.

But I can think of a whole bunch of things I might have to lift overhead or pick up and carry on my shoulders, my back or lift up to someone on a roof, for example. How about helping someone climb up a high wall, fence, tree, onto a roof or reaching up to help lower a swamp cooler being lowered down a ladder or help a kid down from a tree?

This is not to say that handstand pushups and hand walking are bad, they in fact can be excellent forms of training. Yet, they are not safe for all people to perform, for a variety of reasons. But the point is, body-weight training is no more or less natural than any other form of training.

I am not knocking Paul Wade for his excellent book on body-weight training. I feel it will open up this form of training to many more people who otherwise may not be sure how to go about getting into it. I will continue to recommend it to people, I think it is that good.

But, as trainers and authors, we need to be careful that we don’t over-emphasize one form of training as being highly superior, safer or more natural to other forms of training. We need to be careful that we don’t lead others to believe that any one tool is the best. It may develop certain qualities very well in a particular area, but not in other areas.

For example, kettlebells are great for conditioning and strength development, but for ultimate one rep strength we need to use a barbell. Even the average person can benefit greatly from   learning  how to deadlift properly and getting stronger in that lift.

It is like firearms. A 9mm or .45 ACP might be great for a tactical officer, but for a guided hunt, a .375 H & H would be much more effective in stopping a charging bear. And proficiency at using one will not make us proficient at using the other. Though we could learn to use both extremely well if we wanted.

So, for me, I do not allow the artificial limitations of sports, competition or the thinking of some that believe such things as “Only body-weight training is natural”  or “All you need is club bells to train with” limit me in how I train, exercise and move or what I train with.

I have seen the same thing in other camps, where some people think a particular “object” or training program is the best thing to train with. All objects you can lift have their benefit in  getting us stronger and faster and tougher. Different programs can bring different benefits to your body and mind. Extremes are usually the danger. Singular focus on few things is a greater danger than learning and trying multiple training systems and tools over the course of years of training.

It’s like eating. Limit yourself to just a handful of different foods or eat a wide variety of vegetables, meats, fruits, berries, nuts, etc?

I will not limit myself to just a particular diet, Warrior Diet, Vegan, etc? It’s all bunk. One diet will not work for all people as medical concerns, etc, enter the picture. Even work loads (office worker versus farmer) has a great effect on when and how much to eat.

Variety from healthy sources is the best way to eat. It is the best way to train for the person not looking to medal at the Olympics or win at a professional competitive sport.

In professional sports a person has to focus on one goal: that of getting the edge to win under that particular sports regulations. That narrows things down a bit.

However, life is different.

Life involves picking things up and moving them. A wide variety of things under a wide variety of conditions.

Fun in the sun

I’ll use and train with whatever I can and enjoy the many benefits it brings me. At times I may focus on one thing for awhile, but I always comeback to a wide variety of training implements, as the benefits are too great to be overlooked.

Our brains sort out billions of  bits of input every second just fine.

Neurologists adjusted their thinking on the human brain and suggest we only use, not ten percent, but only a tenth of one percent of our brain.

Not that we don’t use our whole brain, but the capacity we do use is only one ten thousandths of its actual capacity. They have learned that the brain does indeed grow new cells, even in old age and it is not a static organ, it makes more and more connections and grows in capacity as we use it.

It is limitless.

Think about that.

So, I don’t think I will have any trouble learning and performing new exercises. I am not worried that technically I can’t handle performing Olympic lifting as well as kettlebell lifting and sprinting and body-weight training too. Plenty of people can play a wide variety of musical instruments much better than the average Joe learning how to play one instrument.

So, I don’t ever worry about learning something new in training, learning and correcting the technique  and putting it to use. The more things I do and learn the stronger and more connections I create in my brain.

Sure, I could focus and  become the worlds best pastry baker who specializes in cream filled pastries or I could become the worlds greatest chef who can cook a 5 course meal.

I don’t worry about not being able to handle the mental and physical input of training with and learning new things.

My brain and body just aren’t that dumb.

How about you?

Are you limiting yourself artificially in some way?

Are you allowing someone else to do that to you?

The funny things is, in the real world, every one is a specialist in a way. But everyone is also highly diversified. We can walk, run, talk, sing, throw, lift, carry, etc, etc, etc. We don’t simply walk and never learn how to sit in a chair. We don’t simply sleep on our back and never move. Even in sleep the body moves.

Loaded for bear...

Spec Ops (Special Operations), we’ve all heard of them. It is sort of a catch all term for the most elite military forces of the world. And many people see them as specialists, which in a sense they are, but:

What makes them specialists is that they are actually highly diversified in what they know and can accomplish. They are actually much more diversified than the average soldier who just went through boot camp.

How did they become so diversified and capable of performing so many tasks extremely well?

By extensive, in-depth training in a wide variety of disciplines. It took many months of training, experience, the knowledge that they could learn and do it all. They learned which tool was best for which job and how to improvise if needed.

Now, I’m not a Spec-Ops soldier, but I do try to follow that mentality in my training. I want diversification. That is what makes me a specialist.

Barbell, running, body-weight, sledge, tires, rocks, sand, kettlebells, etc?

Diversified specialization or is it specialized diversification?

I don’t worry about it, I just do it.

Anyway, that’s my rant for the day.












2 thoughts on “Horizontal Pulls and Natural Bodyweight Training

  1. Another cracking article. We don’t see eye-to-eye on this one, but as ever all your CC posts make me think about my own training in a new, interesting way.

    What more can you ask for in an article? Great stuff mate.

  2. Hank,

    Thanks for the comment!

    I answered some of your thoughts on the DD forum.

    Keep crankin’ it!

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