Upper body strength

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  • #50467

    Hi All,

    I primarily run and have read through the Training for the Uphill Athlete book which I loved, and I’m so happy for this female athlete thread category! I was disappointed (but not surprised) to find out that I fail the general strength assessment for upper body as I’m unable to do a full length push-up and pull-up. I consider myself to be pretty fit and do incorporate full body strength training, but I’ve been finding it difficult to really progress in upper body strength and was curious if any of you have managed to see improvements to be able to perform these exercises, and what you’ve done to achieve that. My current routine consists of some outdoor bar work once per week to target the upper body where I do deadhangs, incline push-ups, inverted body rows and tricep dips (I also do some core work and lower body which I’m much stronger in). I’ve tried progressively increasing # reps and sets, but always find my progression to be super slow if at all, and I stall or regress pretty quickly.

    Any advice or thoughts appreciated!

  • Participant
    LindsayTroy on #50471

    I find (for me personally) that I gain upper body strength so slowly and lose it so rapidly. The strongest I have ever been in my upper body was when I was practicing ashtanga yoga every single day. But really ashtanga yoga is just a lot of “super push ups” each morning when I wake up, but more fun.

    I’ve also found that weight-based training works better for me than bodyweight, probably because I’m too weak to do full bodyweight much of the time. So bench pressing I progress faster than push ups if I’m only doing 2x per week.

    This is anecdotal not science.

    Rachel on #50473

    I’m like Lindsay, I also gain upper body strength slowly but lose it quickly. I think the reason I lose it so quickly is I’m just not using that strength day to day, whereas my lower body gets used when I ski, hike and run.

    I have found to build strength I have to work out at least two to three times a week. Once a week will maintain my strength.

    A few years ago I did a version of the max strength for chin-ups (in TftNA) that helped me get quite a bit stronger. For push-ups I start with knee push-ups then progress to full length ones once the knee push-ups get easy (push-ups for me have never been as challenging as chin-ups and pull-ups).

    For chin-ups I used those infinity resistance bands and I would use just enough assistance to complete the number of reps prescribed. I used a really thick band to do my warmup.

    Diana on #50474

    I also have an anecdote. I was an avid climber for 8 years and could never do a full pull up from a dead hang, which was embarrassing so I just avoided them further! I also could barely do push ups. In recent years I got a pull up bar for the house and have progressed slowly but surely to being able to do pull ups. I’ve got a couple tips:

    -Its best to have a bar that stays fit into the door frame, not a detachable one, because I found that I rarely got motivated to do pull ups when the bar was in the closet and needed to be hung up.
    -I second Rachel’s tip of a band hitched to the bar to put your feet in and get a boost. I use a retired bike tube with too many patches and it works great. With the assist, it’s so much easier to build up the strength and get your body used to the movement.
    -I do a few sets with my strength routine twice a week, plus one or two pull ups here and there when I walk under the bar throughout the day. I think this really helps because in addition to the functional strength, there’s a component of your body getting used to the movement. I also get really fatigued doing sets, so doing them 1 or 2 at a time with long rests helps that.
    -For push ups and pull ups, I found that the specific movement needs to be trained neuromuscularly, so doing just a few of them more times a week worked better than a big set once a week, because I was unable to do a big set at all. I always got fatigued quickly and then could not do any more push or pull ups, even with a minute of rest.

    rejuvenatingserendipity on #50490

    Hey! Arm strength has been a hard thing for me throughout my life. My haphazard goal for the last several years has been to do 1 strict pull-up. This has eluded me yet.

    The biggest gains I have seen are due to the max strength workout we have been using for ice climbing training. This includes 1 arm lock offs and 1 arm hangs. These I do on a pulley system connected by carabiners to kettle bells. These kettle bells offset my weight and allow me to do the full movement. I have also used this to help me do my pull-ups.

    I also started using a habit adjuster. My goal is to do 2 pushups each morning right after I wake up. Getting at least 2 in is a great start to doing more movements. And doing these does help change my neuromuscular makeup. I like Diana’s suggestion to work on a pull-up each time I pass under the pull-up bar. I am going to try that in hopes of hitting that 1 pull up soon!

    rita on #50587

    Thanks! Nice to hear that I’m not the only one with the very slow progression and quick strength loss. I like the suggestions of doing these workouts more often in a week, especially since the upper body is not used as much day-to-day, and focusing on building up that neuromuscular connection. It seems like I’m not doing them often enough which might be key. I’ll try progressing to the knee push-ups after I’m more comfortable with the incline push-ups and start incorporating the assisted pull-ups.

    Anonymous on #50958

    I’ll just add that the eccentric lowering will help build strength a little faster, so you could try starting in the “up” position for the push up, slowly lower down, and then push up on your knees. When I worked up to doing pull ups I had a bar that I walked pass several times a day, and just tried one, even if it was a jump to get up, and eventually I didn’t need to jump up (Diana has such great advice and answers!). Same with eccentric lowering, if you can get yourself to the top position and lower as slowly as you can (negatives), that will help.

    rita on #51161

    Thanks Alison, I will try the eccentric lowering for the push-ups, sounds like a great idea. I’ve been adding in more upper body sessions with knee push-ups, table rows and negative pull-ups and chin-ups which I’m actually starting to notice some improvement in! Another factor I was thinking of is perhaps not eating enough.

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