Thursday, January 29, 2015

My chin up journey

For the past weeks since the start of the year, you can see 2 persons in the east near to a pull up bar, around 10pm to as late as 11pm. One of them would go near to a bar first, mount it by jumping up and the other would as quickly as possible, grab the ankles and help to assist the person to go up. It'll be 2 sets of 6 assisted chin ups, if they are feeling strong and energetic, or 3 sets of 4 reps if they are not feeling up to it. Always, there'll be rest in between the sets.

Those two persons is me and my wife. For some reason that I'm still trying to figure out, we decided to train to do at least 1 chin up by CNY. Both of us are zero heroes, meaning we can't even do one chin ups. For me, I'm a serial zero hero. At the peak I could do 10+, and that was back in my prime during army days.

During end 2013, I managed to do 3 to 4, so that I could pass the more stringent IPPT before they revamped it all over again. Anyway, I have a lot of experience in going from zero chin ups to 1. The journey from 0 to 1 is immensely harder than from 1 to 2 and from 2 to 3. So a lot of effort had to be done to build up the back muscles and the arms. Esp the back muscles, which is kind of hard to train unless you go to the gym purposefully. For my wife, she never had the experience of doing 1 chin up before, so it's a brand new experience for her.

This is where I want to be

In the past, when I was going from 0 to 1, I was doing all sorts of things except going to the bar to attempt to pull myself up. I would be doing weights, then push ups and dips and those assisted pull up machines found in the gym. The settings of the chin up machine is set so that I can do 10, which means that it's not hard a setting. After training for some time, I would test myself by going to the bar and attempt to do one. A few grunts and a few kicks, I still can't do one. How disappointing, I thought. Didn't I train hard?

If you want to learn how to swim, you can buy the best swimming trunks, the best anti-fog goggles, a nice Speedo swimming cap and even a mp3 player that is water resistance so that you can listen to music while swimming. You can read all about how to do it from books, talk to swimming enthusiasts to ask them to give you some tips and watch youtube videos. But if your feet is not even dipping into the swimming pool, it's not going to help. To learn how to swim, you need to jump into the water. Might not be initially, but eventually you'll need to.

I guess the same lesson applies for my chin ups...if I want to do one chin up, I need to go to the bar and attempt to do it. All other things are peripheral. The most effective way to do it is to attempt to do it. Invariably, you'll encounter problems. Like, I can only do less than half a chin up. Since the back muscles are the ones that do the initial lifting, I concluded that my back muscles are weak. The only way to train is to do more assisted chin ups, until you can do half a chin up (this means that you can lift yourself up to the point where your elbows are about 90 degrees).

And that is where I am right now.

To go further, I need to build up my biceps. That's why I'm doing weights. Out of all books that I read, it's Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb that I learnt how to build more powerful muscles so that you can lift heavier weights. You just need to take the max weight that you can lift for about 5-6 times, instead of doing multiple times on lighter weights. When I mean 5-6 times, I really mean the last lift you can do is 6. You'll be struggling on the last rep and you possibly can't do anymore after that. The theory is that if you want to lift heavier weights (which is essentially what chin up is about), you need to practice lifter heavier weights. Doing lighter weights multiple times can only make you...lift lighter weights multiple times. So right now for me, it's 8.75 kg for 6 times, 3 sets, with rest in between.

It just takes less than 10 mins to waste my arms totally. On top of this, I'm still doing the die-die-do-12-chins-up-by-any-means exercise with my wife. I tried it yesterday night, and I can barely even do 1/4. It's like that, my muscles are totally wasted. To become stronger, you need to destroy and rebuild. That's how nature works. I just need to supply it with nutrients and water and the rest would take care of itself.

This is where I am now. From Freddy Thorn Illustration

LP the personal trainer? No lah. Knowing me, you know where I'm going to end this post with. Seldom do we see new things, but we consistently find new ways of doing old things. From my chin up journey, you can see a few important points:

1. If you want to do something, go do it. Don't do everything except the things you want to do. I know sometimes we need to psych ourselves to the task. Go do it then, but ultimately remember this, to do chin ups, you need to go to the pull up bar and do chin ups. Any other things are peripheral and at most plays a supporting role. Do the thing that you fear the most.

2. Push your limits to grow. Doing the same thing that you can already do multiple times is a different sort of training if your goal is to do even bigger things. Of course you'll suck at it initially, but that's the only way to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

3. To grow anew, you need to destroy. By going about your old ways yet hoping to see new results is insane and delusional. If you don't remove the old, it's hard to find new space to fit in the new.


Singapore Man of Leisure said...


No wonder my strategy of one sit-up a day (rising up from bed) is not working...

How nice if I can "donate" my abdominal fat to another person who needs some "augmentation" in the upper-chest area ;)

Talk about win-win!

So that's what couples do in the middle of the night?

Help each other reach their muscle spasm point and then enjoy the pleasure of wasted muscles?


SS said...

Hello LP,

As always, your posts seem to inspire me to think of totally unrelated personal stories.

I see the three learning points as precisely what pushed me out of my investment cocoon in 2014.

After getting burnt badly in 2008, it took me quite a while to rebuild my capital. In the process, I became ultra conservative. As such, I missed out the meaty portion of the seven-year stock rally.

Hope I'm not too late to ride the opportunistic wave if and when the market crashes again.

la papillion said...


Indeed, we also do it in full view of the public. Sometimes pple would walk by and stare at us, wondering why we're out here, reaching muscle spasm, grunting and finally enjoying the climax of having completed a set of muscle wasting exercises!

I guess it's more exciting this way :)

la papillion said...


Hey, I've the same experience as you. Burnt in 08, ultra conservative and missed out on subsequent bull run. To be honest, I was still nursing my wounds and I don't have a lot of reserves (preparing for wedding/reno). I'm now ready, with a healthy warchest and poised to strike.

That's the journey that I came to be about.

My three points apply equally to training of the body, tuition, investments and god knows what other things :)

GMGH said...

Hi LP,

Maybe on top of using weights for your biceps, you can also add in dumbbell rows? Then you will have a static exercise that targets your lats which you can do without a chin up bar.

I think your strategy of lower reps but heavier weights is the correct one to break the zero barrier. Once that is breached, chin ups becomes the best exercise to do more chin ups!

I used to do over 20 chin up back in the day, your post is making me nostalgic of my fitness and physique, haha.

Ihis reminds me of a quote that I like, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

la papillion said...


Ya, all this is on top of my TRX suspension training. That one is lagi more xiong LOL

I'm talking that single step now :) This journey is made more fun with my wife walking along with me :P

Kyith said...

im trying to see if this helps. over the weekend i heard tim ferris podcast interview with the russion special forces and navy seals subject matter expert of strength. it talks about how to improve pull up: focus on white knuckles and contract core.

la papillion said...

Hi Kyith,

Hmm, interesting...I understand about the white knuckles part. During weight training, towards the last rep when I'm really dying to lift it up, I'll subconsciously grip the weights tighter.

I didn't know focusing on such things is a valid method. I thought I was just desperate lol!

ladykiller said...

LP, Kyith, I swear by the book the 4 hour body by Tim ferriss. It's the best fucking thing I've read to hack your body in the quickest time possible. Good work pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone.

la papillion said...

Hi ladykiller,

I'll go read it! Thanks for the recommendation!

darren said...

Hi LP,

I was a zero fighter before so I know how it feels. GMGH gives a lot of good advice. If possible dumbbell rows and lat pulldowns will be useful to work out your back and biceps. Psychologically they are not as discouraging as the pull up which is either do 1 or 0 and you can see progression as you increase the weight. One instant tweak you can make also is to change your grip from overhand to underhand when you do your pull up, most people are stronger using underhand

darren said...

Lady killer, I have been putting off reading his book but will give it a go soon.

la papillion said...

Hi Retailtrader,

Ya, been doing it with TRX suspension training :) It's quite a good piece of equipment that can work on multiple areas without gng to the gym :)

Thanks for the advice :)

Rolf Suey said...

Hi LP,

Another good method in the past for me is to buy a bar fix it across the door frames of my room. As and when I pass by the room, I will pull a few times. My objective then is to be able to chin up as many as possible.

Today I was doing Lat Pulldown in the gym and also row back. But nowadays, I think I am also zero hero or at most single puller.

But then again, my objectives now and then is different. Then is to chin up and compete. Now is to stay healthy and look good (no deny), and feels good after the exercise.

la papillion said...

Hi Rolf,

I used to do that :) I hung a bar at my old house, so before meals I'll do max rep. Then if I pass by it, I'll do once.

You're absolutely right! These days, it's not to do it for the sake of doing it, or for passing IPPT. It's for the sake of feeling gd after doing it and also for the health benefits. Spot on!

Hence there's no hurry for me...what's more interesting is that I'm doing it with my wife, so it's a lot more fun :)

darren said...

Hi LP - you have the TRX equipment installed at home?

la papillion said...

Hi retailtrader,

Yea, but 'install' sounds so complicated. I got the door anchor, so I just loop it over the door and use that as an anchor pt. I didn't drill any holes whatsoever, so that keeps it simple, portable and easy to set up when I want to exercise.

Are you interested in it? I can show you links to get it.

darren said...


I see I see. I was curious as to why you had a preference for TRX over a regular gym. Indeed the most impt way to succeed fitness-wise is to make it as difficult as possible to make excuses NOT to exercise, i.e. have your equipment right at home.

I have a home gym now of sorts with a collection of dumbbells and also use a nearby gym.. so no need for the TRX for now heh, thanks for the offer!

la papillion said...

Hi retail trader,

It'll take me 1.5 hrs to and fro trip to a nearby gym, so it would make me lazy to go over :) having something at home and being easy to set up works for me haha

darren said...

Omg 1.5 hrs is insane. You can fit in 3 or 4 workouts within that time!

BlackCat said...

Hi LP,

I think the critical thing is to be able to measure your progress between 0 and 1. I used the assisted pullup machine at the clubfit gyms and took abt 6 months to go from zero to 3 pullups. Just keep at it and try to progress: like trying to get a fixed number of reps at a certain weight and resting time. When you do get there, drop a little (counter)weight and start over. It takes months...many many months, and comes in spurts.

There's nothing like being able to do your first pullup!

Just something to do while we wait for the market to crash :)

la papillion said...

Meow Blackcat!

I did! Today I just tested myself. After 1 week, I went from 1/2 to 3/4. I think by next week I should be able to hit 1 :)

I am aiming to do at least 1 by CNY! Haha :)

Thanks for sharing your tip :) Gym is too far away for me to keep going there to try :) I'll have to work with what I have at home, which is a dumbbell and the TRX suspension trainers :)