One Arm Pullups: Time to Get Flash?

December 12, 2002 09:51 AM

We owe Comrade Ari a round of applause for his article on OAPs, though I prefer to avoid those initials because in Britain, where my father lives, they stand for 'Old Age Pensioners'! Imagine the scene: Comrade Gungho (visiting the UK) rushes into the local pub -

He says: "Guess what comrades, I just did five OAPs!" ["did" also has unfortunate connotations]
They hear: "I just beat up and robbed five old age pensioners!"

Exit Com. Gungho with a Police escort?

Enough merriment and onto business. Pondering a throw-away line in Pavel's article on pulls ("what about all those climbers?"), I went to the sports section of our local bookstore. I was lucky enough to stumble on what was an obvious must buy: How to Rock Climb: Flash Training by Eric H?rst (the book is available at amazon.com).

'Flash' climbing is roughly the climber's equivalent of sight-reading in music. Essentially, it means being able to just go to a rock face and climb it, having done some preliminary checking first. Not many climbers can do this. As a glance through the photographs in H?rst's book will amply testify, those that can and do would certainly qualify for automatic Party membership on insanity quotient alone.

Rock climbers at the Flash level are true PTP folk: lean, mean, incredibly strong, and averse to building mass (particularly in the legs). The reasons for this are obvious: you don't want to haul a pair of heavy bulging thighs up a ninety degree crag with holds that barely allow one or two fingers to squeeze in. And you do want your arms, legs, fingers and toes to function reliably while you're hurling yourself up the said crag with the sea crashing over needle sharp rocks 90 feet below! Flash climbers need grips, pulls, and so forth that will work on demand: they have to because their lives may depend on them.

All this means that the exercises in the excellent chapter on strength training - and the theory behind them - must be worth our attention, particularly those of us with the modest ambition of performing a one arm pull. Here are a few of them. I think the first needs quoting verbatim -

Uneven Grip Pull-ups

"Put one hand on the bar, the other between six and 18 inches lower on a towel looped over the bar or with three fingers through a loop of webbing [Reviewer's note: I loop a weight belt over and hang onto the straps]. Both hands will pull, with the upper hand emphasised - this will help to develop one arm power! Do each set to failure, then switch arms. As you get stronger, increase the length of the loop. In a few months to a year, you'll be able to do a one-arm pull-up. [Reviewer's note: my emphasis.]"

I can hear Pavel grinding his teeth at the instruction to go to failure (one that occurs throughout the chapter). But, in the case of uneven grip pulls, few of us will be able to do more than five reps per set anyway. I've been doing these for a couple of weeks now and can tell you that you really do get the feel of working one arm, especially as the lower grip goes lower. But I can't go much over two sets of five.

Here are some more (paraphrased this time) -


Starting from the top of an ordinary pullup with the palms facing away, hold in a lock for 7 seconds (have a partner with a watch, or use some formula like 'one Mesopotamia, two?']. Do another pull, then go down to half way and hold at 90 degrees for 7 seconds. Do another pull, this time lowering to 120 degree and hold for 7 seconds. This completes one cycle (one rep if you prefer). Do as many as you can: few can to do more than five at first. Rest and do another set. Take careful note of the author's caveat: "Beware! Frenchies are hard, as well as gruelling?"

One-arm Lock-offs

Pull up, palms facing you, lock-off on one arm hold the lock off with your chin above the bar as long as you can then lower yourself slowly. Jump off and repeat the other side. If you can't hold these [Reviewer's note: I can't!], start with a bungee cord or hold on with one finger of the other hand. A harder variation of this is 'one-arm statics': pull up palms away, to 30 degrees. Let go with one hand and hold static as long as you can. Shake out and switch arms. Then repeat going for 90 degrees, then 120. H?rst again: "Very hard, best for advanced persons" A masterly understatement!

The book also has several other ideas for pullup work: check out 'typewriters', 30-second pulls, and pullup intervals. As you'd expect, there's lots of good stuff on improving grip strength, all designed for people whose lives may one day depend on their gym work paying-off. Also of interest are the theory sections: H?rst bases his workouts on the 'ATP-CP system' (ATP and CP are phosphate compounds common to all muscle cells) and the lactic acid system. I won't attempt to explain because frankly, I can't. The same applies to 'Super Recruiting' for developing maximum power. The theory, in all candour, is beyond me, though I note that "this type of training is very stressful and potentially disastrous?"

In conclusion, please note that this is a book by a climber for climbers. I recognise that Eric H?rst may not be entirely happy with the emphasis I have given to the strength-training chapter. He would, I am sure, prefer that I had given more attention to the business of just getting out there and doing it (climbing, that is), which is what most of the book is about. But we all have our own special interests and, in any case, it would not surprise me if a lot of us out there were already experienced rock climbers, or will be inspired by 'Flash Training' to give it a try.

Power to you all!

John Dean (Com. Spangleway)
Hong Kong