Weightlifting & Exercise/Pull up problem


QUESTION: Hi Karen, I have a few questions regarding my pull up progression and technique.
 I'm 2 months into a beginners weight training program and I have noticed that during the start of a pull up(palms facing away) my shoulder blades seem to 'stick'. I have been doing negatives and feel that I am close to a full strict dead hang pull up.
 When I try from a dead hang I can get a little bit up but then my shoulders blades seem to stick- then spring into position- and I can then get all the way up(albeit raising knees a little).This 'sticking' does not cause any pain but is hindering my progression and doesn't feel correct.Even to get this far has been a good achievement for me.
  I have posted a picture of where the problem seems to be.(I have a video but I cannot seem to be able to upload it for you, how do i do that?)
 I have tried alternative grips but I find that the one that I am using feels the best and allows for me to produce the most lifting power. I have never had any shoulder injury.
 In the first picture(PullupA)my left shoulder is popping up into position but my right should is down. In the second picture(PullupB) my right shoulder has popped into position allowing me to complete my pull up.
 I would be grateful for your opinion in this matter with any corrective measures I would need to take.

 I also have questions regarding low bar squats and forward lean but I guess I will leave if for another post if thats ok?

Thanks in advance, Peter

ANSWER: Peter,

I'm not sure how to download a video.  The pictures and your letter told me a lot. I just have a few questions.
What other kind of exercises do you do for your back?  Do you do isolation exercises for shoulders? If so...what kind?  

Get back to me and I will give you some feedback
Thanks, Karen

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi, I am following this program.

work out A-Squats3x8,Bench press3x8,Pendley Rows3x8
work out B-Deadlifts3x8,Pull Ups3x8(-ives),Overhead Shoulder Press3x8

These workouts are done
week 1- Monday workout A,Wednesday Work out B,Friday workout A
week 2-Mondat workout B,Wednesday Workout A,Friday workout A

So no isolation exercises for my back.

Would the problem be that I am not correctly activating my scaptular from the dead hang position? And if so, how would i remedy this.

Thanks, Peter.

ANSWER: Bingo Peter!  That was my assessment from your pictures. However, the issue of doing the exercise "correctly" might be irrelevant because they may not be strong enough. I recommend you do exercises that will activate the rhomboids -- which move the scapula.  Easy fix.

Do rear deltoid raises.  Make sure you are bent over when you do that so you get no help from lats, side delts or traps....well, traps help a bit.

Then do vertical rows or low rows.  Be sure you don't bend at the waist. As physics is our friend we understand that to lean forward with a row is to place extra pressure on the lumbar.  So if you do rows with 100 lbs the PSI on the lumbar is 1000 pounds!  This video is a great demonstration.  I don't like the arch in the back.  Try to allow the back to be natural. If your back has an accute curve keep it.  If it doesn't -- don't make it do what isn't normal. The activation of the muscle is dead on. You can allow the muscle to rest between pulls -- it will allow you to do more reps. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZbfZ033f74

That said....I would stop with the pull ups until you have more strength in the shoulder and rhomboids.  If you try it and you still have the problem...eliminate the pull up from your routine and keep the rhomboid exercises going.  It is a difficult muscle to hit.  Be patient. You may see some people leaning forward and they think it's a good stretch....it stretches but the risk outweighs the benefit.  There are better ways to stretch the back.

Be Well,  Let me know how you are doing!
p.s. thanks for the nice review.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi Karen, thanks for your swift and informative response.
 I have now got a youtube link to the video of my attempted pull up.

Is this what I have described in my first post?

I am glad to here that it is a muscle development issue and can be corrected. You mention that i should do vertical or low rows, but i work out from home. I have a power rack(no lat low pully),120kg oly weights and barbell, and dumbells - is there any more exercises other than rear delt raises I can do with what I have to help strengthen my rhomboids.

Also would it be ok to still do negative pull ups (or,and,band assisted pull ups) and stop trying to do full strict rom dead hang pull ups until I develope the necessary scapular ability.

Thanks again, Peter

I think we can concentrate on back and even a little tricep workout. The long head of the tricep connects at the humerus near the elbow and up into the shoulder blade. The best and perhaps only exercise that targets that is to do the following.  Don't go too heavy....you really can't get heavy on this.  Use a barbell....start with about 20 pounds. You might use a body bar (thick black weighted bars-- it's a name brand). The bar will keep your arms involved in simultaneous movement.
Lie down on a bench. Bar on your chest. Hands grip the bar at shoulder width.  They you push the bar up over your head in a motion parallel to the floor. I tell my clients to stay as close to their face without knocking your nose off! You want to extend the arms as straight as possible! Then pull your arms and the bar into the start position at the sternum. Any other work for triceps will also balance the three heads of the tricep but the long head strength will help with the shoulder blade thing you have going.  Now on to the back.

Back exercises. With any exercise be sure you are "employing" the correct muscles. The Lats and the heavy lower traps and rhomboids (under the shoulder blades). They are activated when the weight or weight stack on a machine moves but your arms are still straight. Pulling shoulder blades down or together and sticking chest out will aid in this focus.  Slow at first. Then you will find a normal stride once the body knows how to work.  Lower weights a little to assist. If it's too heavy the body will recruit other muscles to assist and often it's muscles which have no place working in the lift you are doing.  The best example is when people wiggle on a bench while they are doing a bench press!

Low rows also known as vertical rows
Dumbbell rows
Lat pull downs
Abs -- know it's odd, but you have to make sure the low back is strong too. Best way is to keep abs strong. You can also do things like dead lifts of good morning raises to work the Erector Spinae. I caution you to not go too heavy as you can injure the back. Also overdevelopment of these muscles can cause disc issues. Personal experience with former power lifter boy friend who blew two discs!

These exercises should help. Also when doing pull ups be sure you are using those bigger muscles in the back.  I recommend you give pull ups a rest while you do this other work.  Please keep I. Touch. Best of luck and fitness!

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Karen Fili Sullivan


Get on the inside track with Karen and her daily advice. http://karenfilisullivan.com. Or on FacebookLIKE us at ZWL - Zen of Whole Living I have more than 30 years experience and can help with lifting technique, muscle recovery, weight loss, body building and powerlifting. I've been certified by AFPA as a Personal Trainer and 12 years ago acquired a second certification from the same agency as a Post Rehabilitative Exercise Specialist. Any recommendations or advice rendered are based on fitness information as specified by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Fitness Professionals and Associates. Follow my Blog on http://karenfilisullivan.com


Almost 25 years coaching and training. Wow! I feel old. Before that I was a competitive bodybuilder and powerlifter (ask my Chiropractor -- he can tell you). I have trained kids ages 12 to 89. From sports specific training to stroke rehabilitation. I love helping people move more gracefully, powerfully and safely.

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Published in Spring of 2013 The Zen of Weight Loss: A Mindful, Livable Approach to Fitness Get your copy at Square Market. https://squareup.com/market/body-restoration-by-karen/zen-of-weight-loss-in-mo

English with a Journalism concentration was my college education. My training has been with my mentor, Jack Michaels, ACSM and professor at the College of William and Mary. My certifications are with the American Fitness Professionals and Associates. AFPA. I hold a certification as a Personal Trainer and a Post Rehabilitation Exercise Expert (Isn't that a mouthful?l). My continuing education requirements have been fulfilled at a number of organizations and are monitored by AFPA. I keep my Red Cross CPR and First Aid current.

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Clients include athletes training for marathons, mountain climbing and general weight loss. In addition I have clients troubled with COPD, Fibromyalgia, and Parkinsons as well as stroke rehab. She was the Strength and Conditioning coach for Williamsburg Aquatic Club, a USA Swim Team, in Williamsburg, Virginia for 3 years.   Karen is presently working at Main Street Gym in Historic St. Charles, Missouri where she teaches Pilates and continues her work with clients. Her training reaches across the country with her long distance Body Restoration eTraining. Her dedication to fitness reaches into the nutritional supplementation with Shaklee products. She only works with clients who add nutritional supplementation to their training. Read more of her story on www.shaklee.net/BodyRestoration

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