This week I will be covering one of the PRMC Gym Tests. It’s the pull-ups, and different exercises you can do to help increase the number of repetitions you can perform. I’m talking about reps with strict form. This will be expected on the day. Always remember “Quality over Quantity. If you missed the first instalment of this series then you can read that here.
I will also give you training advice on how to improve your grip and overall upper body strength in order to enhance your technique and aid you to perform better at this specific test.
Top Tip – “If you want to be a Marine, you have to train like a Marine”.
Forget bodybuilding training, isolation exercises and throwing weights around pointlessly in the gym, you will be expected to be a good all-rounder, with a strong core, good upper and lower body strength, have speed, power and excellent cardio and endurance.
Flexibility is also very important and should never be underestimated. Stretching before and after workouts will help you to keep pushing your body and stay clear of muscular injuries, preventing a plateau in your training and/or a pulled or torn muscle.
Where to Start?
So where to start? Gymnastics or calisthenics (bodyweight) training is a perfect way to begin preparing yourself. This type of training mimics the muscles you will use and strength required when you’re put through your PRMC and during Royal Marines Commando training itself.
You will never be asked to squat a barbell, curl a dumbbell or use a resistance weight machine. You should master your own bodyweight and build a strong, solid core. There are many progressions to keep pushing your body mentally and physically and you can perform these exercises absolutely anywhere and mostly without any equipment at all.
The Pull Up Test
One of the tests you will undertake during the PRMC will be a pull-up test to a bleep. It’s similar to the press-up and sit-up test (I will cover these another time). Unlike the other tests the pull-up test consists of two bleeps, the first bleep is the pull-up and the second is when you should lower yourself back down under control. If the bleep system is not used, one of the Physical Training Instructors (PTI’s) will shout the commands of “bend” (up) and “stretch” (down). The test is performed on a beam so you cannot completely close your grip on it and a minimum of 3 pull-ups must be achieved.
A score of 5 is considered acceptable, however, the maximum and “golden number” to impress the PTI’s is 16 repetitions and you will be expected to clear your head and chin above the bar whilst waiting for the second bleep or the command “stretch” is heard. Many people find this exercise hard and are not able to achieve many pull-ups due to a lack of upper body strength.
However, by adhering to the following progressions you will see your upper body and grip strength increase enabling you to perform more repetitions. You must ensure that whenever practising pull-up’s that your form is correct. No kipping or kicking your legs (like a salmon) and ensure you use a pronated (overhand) grip.
Strict form using Full Range Of Motion (full extension of arms upon lowering) throughout is imperative and you must always practice in this way to build correct muscle memory for when you will be expected to do them on the day – “Don’t cheat yourself”.
If you cannot keep your head and chin above the bar, are seen to be kicking, kipping or not completely straightening your arms when lowering you will be told to “drop-off” and the test will end for you there.
As I stated before – “If you want to be a Marine – Train like a Marine” – i.e train exactly what you will be expected to do, therefore there’s no point in performing single arm dumbbell rows (like a bodybuilder would) even though that exercise still works the same muscle groups as a pull-up.Begin by making a note of how many pull-ups you can perform consecutively with perfect form within 1 minute.
Ensure you hold at the top once your chin and head are clear of the bar and you fully extend your arms as you lower yourself down under control (eccentrically working your back and bicep muscles), building muscle memory. Once you’ve set yourself a benchmark in which to work from, try one of the following progressions depending on how well you performed.
If you are unable to perform a single pull-up hanging from a bar ensuring your head and chin clears the top of the bar, begin with the following progression.
Australian pull-up – To perform an Australian pull-up you will need a horizontal bar roughly about hip height. Hold onto the bar with a pronated grip (palms facing downwards) and slowly walk underneath the bar ensuring your arms maintain straight. The further you walk underneath the bar the more of your own bodyweight you will be lifting. Begin with your arms fully extended and initiate the pull by squeezing the bar and pulling your chest towards the bar until it touches then slowly lower your body under control to your starting position. Once you can perform 20 repetitions consecutively with your body as low under the bar as possible, ensure full Range Of Motion is used (chest to bar, completely straighten arms when lowering) throughout the exercise you are then ready to move onto the next progression.
Resistance band or assisted pull-up machine – Assistance with bands or a pull-up/dip machine in your local gym is a good tool for increasing your pull-up repetitions by mimicking the exercise without lifting the whole weight of your body. However, use a weight or resistance band that challenges you, there is no point in performing 16 pull-up’s with strict form yet are only actually lifting half of your own bodyweight, that’s completely counterproductive.
Complete this exercise twice a week and ensure you can perform at least 10 repetitions in 1 minute before progressing to a lower weight or assistance from a resistance band, meaning you will then be lifting more of your own bodyweight. This will challenge you and build strength in your upper body.
Jumping Negative Pull-Ups – These are a great exercise to focus on building strength in your upper back and grip. Performing this exercise in conjunction with other pull-up exercises will compliment your pull-up progress. Use a straight bar at a height where you can jump onto it so your head and chin are clear above the bar (or utilise a chair, box or step on a normal height pull-up bar).
Then, as slowly as possible (for at least 5 secs) lower yourself down below the bar until your arms are completely straight and fully extended. This exercise is fantastic at increasing strength in your latissimus dorsi (lats) which is the primary muscle group in your upper back responsible for performing a pull-up. Perform at least 5 repetitions in 1 minute, rest for 1 minute and complete another 3 sets. Complete this exercise at least twice a week.
Other Training Techniques
If you are able to perform strict pull-ups already, a great method of increasing the number of repetitions and easily monitoring your progress (a technique I personally use myself) is to practice every day performing 3 sets of pull-ups with 1-minute rest in between each set. Begin with a low number of repetitions such as 1-1-1, or 2-2-2, and each day attempt to increase each set by 1 repetition.
So, Monday do 3 sets of 1-1-1. Tuesday try 3 sets of 2,1,1. Wednesday push yourself to do 3 sets of 2-2-1. Thursday attempt 3 sets of 2,2,2 and continue with these progressions until you can perform 10-10-10. Remember to rest for 1 minute between each set. Utilise this time to shake your arms off and stretch your forearms. This will reduce the build-up of lactic acid and arm-pump. It will prevent you from being able to fully grasp the bar and therefore be having no grip to continue.
If you fail to increase your repetitions one day, continue attempting that same number of repetitions for 3 sets. Include negative pull-ups in your training regime twice a week to help gain that extra strength to push on.
A great exercise to add serious strength to your back and increase your pull-up repetitions is to perform weighted pull-ups. Adding additional weight to your own bodyweight using an adjustable weight vest or weight belt with a chain to attach an Olympic plate, dumbbell or kettle-bell.
As this is purely a strength exercise only a low number of repetitions are required (1—5) but continue adding weight until you can no longer perform 5 perfectly executed pull-ups (head and chin over the bar – hold – lower down – full extension of arms). Perform a maximum of 5 repetitions for 3 sets with a 2mins rest in between each set twice a week and watch your back strength grow.
Remember to max-out once a week timing yourself for 1 minute to monitor your progress. This applies to all the exercises and progressions covered.
Next week, I will be covering another Gym Test. The correct method of performing the test, specific exercises to enhance your performance, step-by-step progressions and tips to become more efficient. This will ultimately mean you’re more prepared for your PRMC.Train hard – Fight easy, “Nothing Just Happens”