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The Most Important Exercise On The Planet

GripAs an addendum to my previous post about circus being durned hard, I wanted to address one very concrete thing you can do TODAY to begin to ramp up your training. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you (cue confetti canons)… the Humble Pull-Up. That’s right – hauling yourself up and down using your superty-buff arms is my number one essential training tool, and it should be a part of your regular training at least every other day.

A matter of discipline

Yes, I’m aware that you hate pull-ups. I don’t leap out of bed every morning shrieking, “YAAAAY! I get to do some pull-ups today!!!!” either.  Thing is, it doesn’t matter whether or not you hate them – you just have to do them. I’m willing to bet that one of the biggest reasons you hate them is because they’re really tough and they hurt and you suck at them. Am I right? It’s OK! It’s OK that they’re tough; it’s OK that they hurt, and it’s OK that you suck at them, but that will change. I promise you – train them, and they will suck so, so much less. First, you’ll do one, then another, then another, until you are kickin’ some serious tushie.

A matter of skill

I would say a solid 75% of aerial work hinges on variations of the pull-up. It’s that foundational. True – you can crank out some reasonably solid work without being able to do a traditional up and down, but you’re cheating yourself in a huge way. I’ve been around the professional block a few times (that doesn’t sound quite right, but you know what I mean), and I can tell you this: in all my years of performance, I have NEVER worked with a professional aerialist who couldn’t do a pull-up. In fact, the very idea is absurd. So, if you are serious about moving beyond the realm of student or amateur, get to work. TODAY.

A matter of safety

It’s not just a matter of strength; it’s also a matter of safety. Many of you have had the panic-inducing experience of getting into a bad knot on your fabrics, or finding yourself below your trapeze or hoop with little reserves to get back up. This is where your training – the muscle memory, the strength building, the endurance drills – is absolutely essential; it could mean the difference between a successful recovery to a safe position and a nasty injury for you (or someone else if you’re working with a partner). Be responsible and do the work, even if you hate it.


Here’s a great resource for how to properly execute a pull-up, and a link to the bar I have at home (no installation required). If you’re a beginner, try putting a chair underneath and giving yourself just enough help to go through the full range of movement; start slow and small, Rome wasn’t built in a day. For more advanced folks, you can try varying your hand positions to work the muscles from different angles and keep things interesting. In closing, know this: if you train your pull-ups consistently, you WILL be successful. Surprise and amaze your friends! They’ll think you’re a total Bad Ass Rock Star. Because you are.

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8 comments on “The Most Important Exercise On The Planet”

  1. Jordan Reply

    I love your blog and hope to catch one of your classes next time I’m in NYC! I was wondering if you have a general pull-up regimen that you suggest…for example, a certain number of repetitions, or sets, that you do each day or every other day. I only did my first pull-up about a year ago (at age 36) and now I’m stuck at 4 with good form (on a good day). I feel I’ve hit a wall.

    I would also LOVE to know if you have tips on executing clean straddle-ups and recommended home exercises for those.

    Thanks for your wisdom and inspiration!

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Thank you so much Jordan – come on down! 🙂 4 pull-ups is a great start and you’ll be doing 10 before you know it. Try this: 5 with palms facing forwards (traditional pull-up), 5 with palms facing you (chin-ups), and 6 with a mixed grip (palms face each other, bring your head to one side of the bar, then the other). Use a chair underneath you and use as little support as you can to complete the reps. Don’t give up – plateaus were meant to be broken! 😉 I think I feel a climbing and straddling post coming on….

      PS – for straddles, try reverse training – straddle back, then lower yourself with PERFECT form as slowly as you can. Do it until you quite literally cannot complete another rep.

  2. Jordan Reply

    Thanks so much! I just tried it and it was hard but doable. I will keep at it. I have a training partner so instead of a chair I had him give me a little boost when I needed it on the reps. One question: on the mixed grip, do you stand right under the bar facing sideways to start in order to get your head to one side and then the other? I wasn’t sure what you meant.

    I can’t wait to read the climbing/straddling post. Thanks for your inspiration and knowledge!

    🙂 Jordan

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Hi Jordan! GREAT!!! And yes – you stand sideways under the bar for the mixed grip set. Happy torture! 🙂

  3. Mary Reply

    I did pull ups today on my door hanging apparatus!! After reading this blog I said “Im doing it!!” LOL!!

  4. ohwell Reply

    I wonder if it’s safe to do pullups daily, or one rest day should be in between?
    I’m not a beginner: I do a lot of weighted pullups now, aside from regular ones–and wide-armed ones, uneven arm height, L-seat pullups, legless rope climbs, tuck lever pullups, pike pullups, inverted, meathook pullups, “walking” pullups–working–hoping–for one-armed pullup or chin, eventually, one day (and I’m a woman–this feat will take a lot of tendon strengthening and lots of patience). I am giving myself 2-days rest between pullup/climb days now…but wonder if it’s safe to do every day (if nothing is aching…oh well I can wish).
    Heads up about pullups…there been a day when I not only couldn’t do one but couldn’t believe one day I may do one…believed “I didn’t have the right body type” being lanky and tall…I got on a pullup assist machine in the gym…and needed my bodyweight minus 5lbs of assistance to pull up one time…and if felt like Hell…well years later I love heavy weighted pullups. Everyone can get good at them.

  5. Elizabeth Reply

    Hi Laura!! LOVE this blog! You mentioned endurance drills in this post…any suggestions for such drills on the silks? Thanks a bunch for all your silky wisdom!

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