How To

Train For A Pinkie One Arm Pull Up

Peter Mortensen hanging from his middle finger with an extra 32kg of weight.  © Peter Mortensen Collection
Peter Mortensen hanging from his middle finger with an extra 32kg of weight.
© Peter Mortensen Collection
Growing up among fishermen, tradesmen and farmers on the Danish West coast where strength and courage are highly respected – my training started at early age! As a kid I played lots of different sports like the other kids, but I also started structured physical training with running, push ups and pull ups as far back as I remember.

At the age of 20 I did my first one arm pull up after years of structured training. After this I was introduced to climbing and it got my attention immediately primarily due to strength and courage being paramount in this sport. At the time I started climbing, (1997) only a few Danish climbers could crank a one arm pull up - so "strength over technique" became my trademark. For years my primary goal was to become the strongest Danish climber – not the best Danish climber! So I climbed but did even more strength training to master different climbing related feats of strength.

At first my finger strength was my weak point. Attaining the specific finger and hand strength for hard climbing requires years of training and most people (including me) suffer a lot of injuries in the process due to the fact that forearm muscles develop strength at a faster rate than tendons, joints, joint capsules, finger pulleys etc. After some years of climbing and toughening up the tendons I started experimenting with hanging on my middle fingers - these being the strongest fingers by far. After a lot of hanging, pulling and lifting I finally managed to hang on one middle finger and luckily it did not "break". After heaps more training I reached a level where I was able to hang on one middle finger with additional 32 kg attached to my waist (pictured right), and I did 3 one arm pull ups on the middle finger in 2011 (see video below).

Performing a 'one finger one arm pull' was one of my goals since I started climbing in 1997. Through all my years of climbing the 'pinkie one arm pull up' had been the absolute ultimate feat of climbing strength – even though it is much more a show off stunt than actually relevant to climbing performance. My climbing partner and I talked about this 'pinkie pull up' for years – first of all because we had only seen it done by one of the world's best climbers in a climbing movie, and we'd never seen it done by any Danes. So I started training for it intensely in 2012. In the beginning it was challenging to lift 20 kg and for months it almost became therapy for me walking around the house with 20 kg plates (as seen on the pinkie pull up video below).

I had to be patient to strengthen the muscles, tendons and fingers with high volumes of low load training before lifting heavier loads. Gradually I increased loads and in the summer 2012 I was very close to my goal of doing 15 lifts with a 50 kg stone (I weigh 68 kg) when I felt a snap and a sharp pain in my forearm. After this injury I had to stop training for months and then I trained on and off until the autumn of 2013 where I managed to do the 'pinkie one arm pull up'. During the process I also did a lot of specific pinkie pulls (the home built pulley "machine" in the video) because it is much harder to pull your weight through the full range of motion of a pull up than compared to just hanging straight on one pinkie.

Besides from the pinkie training, the 'one arm pull up' training had to be maintained on the side. As seen in the video clip I did most of my one arm pull up training at the end range of motion (starting from a bent arm) because the final part of the movement has always been my weak point (as it is for most people). Of course prior to all this I did a lot of pull up training on two arms with increasing loads attached to my waist to get in shape to even begin the one arm training.

To build this base of pull up strength you will find my most effective strength routines in this video:

And you can find the strength routines and specific programs in printable versions at my website.

Hope this will inspire people with a quest for strength out there - Keep pulling!

About Peter Mortensen:

I have a master degree in sport physiology (MSc) and I am a physiotherapist. I have been a strength and conditioning coach for several elite athletes in different sports and worked with strength testing and guidance of Danish Olympic athletes at the Danish Elite Sport institution – Team Denmark. The greatest satisfaction has been working as the strength and conditioning for The Danish Olympic Sailing Team from 2006-2012 – having the honour of training some of the best sailors in the world, many of them winning medals to The Worlds and The Olympics.

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