This exercise provided courtesy of Billy Polson, founder and co-owner of DIAKADI Body training gym, voted best personal training gym in San Francisco by CitySearch in 2006.
You get to keep your feet on the floor for this one-armed speed modification of the classic pull-up, but it's plenty hard even so. Positioning the pull-up bar low, using one arm, and angling your body relative to the floor, all mean that you intensively isolate the muscles of your upper back. Adding in the challenge of doing them with controlled power and speed ups the ante that much further.
Set a bar on a Smith machine at a height midway between your chest and your belly button. Stand facing the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart, and grab the bar with both hands, with your palms facing upward and your elbows bent. Walk your feet under the bar and pull your chest up toward it until you are suspended underneath the bar, with your feet on the floor and your chest near the bar. Drop your left hand to your side, so that you are holding onto the bar with one hand only (see Photo 1).
- From the starting position, use only your right hand to lower down from the top of the pull-up position: Straighten your arm to lower your body away from the bar, until your arm is nearly straight. Keep your feet on the floor, your body flat, and your chest parallel to the bar throughout (see Photos 2 and 3).
- As soon as you reach the lowered position, quickly pull yourself back up to the bar by bending your elbow again. Focus on pulling up with as much speed and power as you can while still maintaining proper form. Maintain your flat body position as you rise back to the starting position (see Photos 4 and 5).
- After you have finished the recommended number of reps with your right hand, hold in the top position and switch to your left hand. Repeat the pull-ups with your left hand for another set, focusing on controlled speed and power, and keeping your body flat and your shoulders square the entire time.