One of the truly incredible and unique aspects of outdoor bootcamp is the ability to set up a gym anywhere using minimal equipment. With a slab of cement, a patch of grass, a few sandbells, a handful of dumbbells and some imagination and we can keep our campers endlessly challenged for workout after workout.
But there is one movement that has plagued a great many of us, as it requires equipment that doesn’t quite fit in the back of most cars.
Why include pull-ups in your workouts? For one, a pull-up is a killer multi-joint upper body exercise that works a range of muscles in the back, shoulders and arms. Including pull-ups adds muscle and movement balance to your workouts when paired with push-based exercises like shoulder presses and push-ups. And because of the level of difficulty, working on this particular skill will allow your campers to see their own strength increases in a major way as they reach new milestones in their ability to perform the exercise.
So now this leads to two very important questions:
1. How do I include pull-ups in my bootcamp workouts?
2. How do I make it possible for all of my campers to be able to do pull-ups at my bootcamp workouts?
If you train in a park, chances are you have a playground nearby. If you can access a playground or some sort of sturdy metal bar, then you may be able to include pull-ups in your workout. With that in mind, here are some tips to best train your campers in this great movement and help them be amazed at their own upper body strength:
INVEST IN RESISTANCE BANDS
Most, if not all of your campers will not be able to do unassisted pull-ups on the first try. So if you try to make them do it without any sort of assistance, it can turn out to be a frustrating experience for them. You’ll want long looping bands in a variety of widths, as everyone will need different levels of resistance. And your campers practice, they will be able to move to narrower bands that provide less resistance.
SCOPE OUT YOUR SURROUNDINGS
Take some time and explore the area where you lead your bootcamp. If there is a playground, give it a good walk-through and inspect any horizontal metal bars that are there. Check the width of the bar – can a hand comfortably grip it?
Monkey bars are usually a pretty perfect option as they are meant to be climbed on and gripped. But many modern playgrounds have done away with monkey bars for some reason, so you may need to get a little creative. Don’t just assume you can use a tree – branches are rough and can easily break. Your best bet is to look for smooth, metal bars that have been deemed safe for climbing and hanging.
Once you find something that looks promising…
TRY IT OUT YOURSELF!
Don’t make your campers do anything that you don’t feel comfortable doing yourself. If getting to the bar involves climbing on a jungle gym, it’s important to know that getting on and off of it is do-able.
Keep in mind that children are fearless – adults not so much. So even if we can assume that a playground is safe for kids, remember that adults may have some apprehension in climbing to the top of a structure to get to a potential pull-up bar. So practice yourself before sending anyone else to do it.
Work on how to get on the bar, do the movement, and the dismount. Campers may be tempted to try to jump off whatever structure they’re on for the pull-up. It’s best (and safest) to return to the starting position, and you may need to help them get there. Try the movement with a variety of resistance bands. If possible, have someone else with you to ensure safety for yourself. And then practice, practice, practice!
Be an expert yourself before teaching this skill to your campers.
So now that you have found a good pull-up bar, have tested the structural stability and feasibility of said bar, and have resistance bands available, here is how to do a “Playground Pull-up”:
1. Tie the band around the bar. Do this by throwing the top of the band over the bar, and then pulling one end through the middle of the other end. Pull the band down to secure the top and create a long loop at the bottom.
2. Grab on to the bar and step your foot into the band. Step down into the band and fully extend your leg. At this point, you can hang off the bar and put the weight of the leg into the band. Wrap the other leg around the front of the leg that’s in the band.
3. Pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar. Lower yourself back down and repeat!
If you can easily do ten or so pull-ups, the band may be giving you too much help. Try again with a narrower band.
If you put the weight of your leg into the band and you can’t fully extend your arms when hanging from the bar, you definitely need a lighter band.
And if you can’t pull yourself up and over the bar at all, try again with a wider band.
It’s possible that you may need to combine two bands, and if so, just hang two bands next to each other on the bar, put your foot into both bands and extend. Practice all of these different scenarios so that you’re comfortable instructing your campers.
Playground Pull-Up Pro Tips
And now that you’re fired up to make pull-ups a part of your campers’ lives, keep these super helpful PLAYGROUND PULL-UP PRO TIPS in mind as you get started:
- Pull-ups are a SKILL, so set aside some time during your bootcamp to simply have them work on this skill before including pull-ups as part of a workout. Depending on what apparatus you have available, it may involve them taking turns to work on this one at a time. But it will be super beneficial to have your campers familiarize themselves with the equipment, the movement and what (if any) resistance bands they need to use before throwing pull-ups into their workout. If you have a large bootcamp, split your group into smaller teams and have the others go on a run or work on a circuit that includes simple exercises that don’t require a ton of your attention so you can focus on your campers’ comfort, safety and pull-up technique.
- Pull-ups are tough for anyone, so start with LOW REPS. Don’t set your expectations so high out of the gate that you create a frustrating experience for the campers. Start by having them do 1-5 reps as part of a circuit. As you witness improvements among your group, you can adjust accordingly from there.
- Encourage your campers to come early or stay late to PRACTICE their pull-ups. The more time they spend working on this skill, the better they’ll get. And their confidence will increase accordingly.
- If you have limited space available for pull-ups, or if the pull-up bar requires some climbing, be sure to SPLIT UP your group so that the bar doesn’t get crowded with people waiting to go. Include pull-ups as part of a circuit and stagger your campers at different stations. The fewer campers you have waiting to do pull-ups, the faster the transition and the smoother the experience.
Pull-ups are no easy task, and many of your campers will automatically assume it’s something they just can’t do. But by learning the movement yourself, getting some resistance band help involved and taking the time to teach it to your campers, it can be a confidence game-changer for them.
Get a camper to do even one pull-up, even with a band, and just watch his or her face light up.
It’s pretty awesome and worth the leg-work (or arm-work, as it were) to make it happen!
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Hi! I’m Robin and I own Power Jam Fitness in Los Angeles, CA. I found my way into training through roller derby, of all things. I’m a Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. I originally started Power Jam Fitness to help roller derby skaters get proper strength and conditioning training, but now I’m all about helping people of all walks of life discover their own inner athletes. When I’m not training, working out or roller skating, I’m spending time with my husband Michael and Best Cat in the World Olly, enjoying live music, and pretending to be a rock star on the karaoke stage.