By Brad Johnson
Author of Bodyweight Exercises for Extraordinary Strength
InMastery of Hand Strength, John Brookfield described the baseball lift. He reported that John Ottarski introduced him to this lift. John Ottarski, professional arm wrestler and grip master, hammered a nail through the middle of a baseball and made a hook at the end by bending the nail. He then attached weight to the hook with a chain. Brookfield reports that it is a great exercise for your entire hand and especially effective for developing thumb strength when you grab the baseball over the top and lift. If you are interested in learning more about John Ottarski, John Brookfield wrote an article about him in the June, 1997 issue [Vol. 5, No. 1] of MILO. I was surprised to discover how much of an influence that he has had on my training.
After reading about the baseball lift, I had the idea of combining the grip training benefits of the baseball lift with the pull-up (one of the heavyweights in the body weight training arsenal). I drilled a hole through the center of two baseballs and threaded a chain through the hole in each ball. Hang the balls by attaching the chains to a bar, rafter, tree limb, or anything overhead with a carabiner (large clip).
Reach up and grab the bottom of the ball with each hand and pull yourself up. You will cheat yourself out of the optimal grip training benefits of this outstanding exercise if you grab the sides of the balls or attempt to hook your hands over the top of the balls because you will no longer be pulling away from the weak point of the grip.
If you want to ensure that you are not cheating, try the abacus pull-up. Thread a steel bar through the holes in the balls and hang the whole apparatus. You will need to make sure that the bar is thin enough to fit through the hole in the balls with a little room to spare but strong enough to support your bodyweight. As you try to pull yourself up, the balls will roll towards you until your hands are in the correct position.
If you are not presently able to pull yourself up with your entire body weight, you can decrease the percentage of your body weight that you are pulling by using longer chains and lowering the baseballs closer to the floor and do body rows.
A body row is basically a reverse push-up. Initially hang the baseballs at a height where if you lay on your back with your chest directly underneath them and straighten your arms, you will barely be able to reach the baseballs. Pull your chest up to the baseballs and keep your body straight. It helps to imagine that your body is a board. If this is still too hard, you can raise the height of the baseballs. The higher the baseballs, provided that your feet are still on the ground, the lower the percentage of your body weight that you are required to pull.
Continue performing body rows until you can do a baseball pull-up with your entire body weight. If baseball pull-ups become too easy, you can increase the challenge in several ways:
• Add weight to your body.
• Do offset pull-ups by pulling your body towards one arm. Use the other arm only as much as necessary. You can even work towards a one arm baseball pull-up.
• Use softballs instead of baseballs. The softball will require more of an open hand which makes the grip more difficult.
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You'll find more bodyweight training articles by Brad Johnson in MILO: A Journal for Serious Strength Athletes.