What Does “Pull-Up” Really Mean, Anyway?

For the dancer and the strength training enthusiast, the term “pull-up” has entirely different definitions.

Also, “pull-up” means something vastly different  to the cross-fitter than it does to the strength training camp.

And for those who think that kipping doesn’t have to stop at pull-ups, why not “kip” everything!!?

But as much as kipping squats makes me laugh, let me get back to the point at hand.

What the hell does it mean to “pull-up” in dance class?? Has your ballet teacher ever yelled at you to “pull up”? Yeah, mine too.

Pulling up is something that I could never figure out. I knew it had something to do with engaging my core muscles, and trying to get taller, but I just couldn’t find an image that worked for me. Not until I started heavy squatting anyway… And then it became abundantly clear.

Now I always tout that deadlifts are the ultimate exercise for dancers to to teach them how to engage their glutes, and find neutral spine and a lot of other really great things. Actually I dedicated an entire post to the deadlift a while back.

However it wasn’t until recently that I realized what the squat brought to the table in terms of teaching the dancer an “old trick” in a new setting. This re-learning of dance concepts through weightlifting is something I think is essential if you have reached a plateau in your technique, and need something to bring you to the next level.

Enter, Le Squat.

Heavy squats taught me to “pull-up”

Like I said before, I knew that pulling up had something to do with my abdominals and lengthening my spine, but in a dance class, you can sneak your way through  without necessarily pulling up the whole time. Sure, you won’t do exceptionally well- You’ll probably fall off your balance more often than not, and you won’t be terribly pleased with yourself. But you’ll make it out alive. It’s not like you’ll get crushed under a heavy iron bar that weighs more than you.

When you put a loaded, heavy-ass barbell on your back, engaging your abdominals is non negotiable- If you don’t “pull-up” as you go down, you WILL get hurt.

This is one of the reasons that the squat is a great learning experience for a dancer. As you are performing the eccentric (descending) portion of the squat, you will learn very quickly, by necessity, what it means to pull up through your abdominals. You need to  “go up as you go down”- Brace the abdominals, and try to put more space between your individual vertebrae to try to resist the weight of the barbell crunching your spine. On the way up, you need to hold onto that feeling, but with even more power, because now you’re also fighting gravity. Ohhh that gravity.

Here’s a video of me squatting yesterday  (and by the way, 150lbs 4 times is a personal best for me. Just sayin’, I’m pretty pleased). If you have a keen eye, you can kind of see how as I descend before each rep, I “pull-up”, just like I would need to in ballet class if I were doing a plie, for example. A really, really heavy plie…

Also a pretty sweet song in the background. One of my favorite Chili Peppers tunes, from in my opinion, one if their better albums.

But anyway.

There ya have it. Deadlifting is awesome for dancers, but so are squats.

If you’d like to learn more about deadlifting and squat technique, and how to prepare your body for it, check out my resource, Dance Stronger.