How To Double Your Pull Ups

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It’s as rare as hen’s teeth to see pull-ups completed with perfect form these days.

I’m talking no kipping, no swinging, and no humping an imaginary supermodel in front of you.

Pull-ups are the best upper body exercise. Period.

They increase your relative strength, which make you more badass, and they’re a great yardstick to measure yourself against other athletes.

Relative strength will carry over into almost any sport, and most other lifts.

Not only that, but for males looking to get the elusive V-Shape, nothing beats pull-ups.

For ladies, if you’re looking to strengthen your abs and shape your arms and shoulders, pull-ups are king. You NEED to be doing them in your training.

Plus, this…

When I first began performing pull-ups as a swimmer, I struggled with one. rep With a few months of training, I got to 10. I was happy with that…

Until I stayed there. For a very, very long time.

For what was literally years, I couldn’t get over 10  reps. I could manage to get a few sets of 10 out, but I never seemed to be able to go beyond 10. It was my glass ceiling.



Until My Magical Plan

So 5 weeks ago, I set out to design a plan that enabled me to perform more than 10.

I knew the answer was not intensity – I couldn’t expect to push to failure on my pull-ups each and every time to progress.

Instead, the goal was to perform frequent sets that are sub-max, i.e. short of failure each time. The goal was to become more proficient at the movement, and as a result, build my strength endurance and my “skill” of pull-ups.

Tip: Strength is a skill.

When you think of pull-ups that way, it’s a little easier to grasp.

You are training your body – your nervous system – to be more efficient. 

Many of the legendary strongmen – Louis Cyr, Eugene Sandow and Earle Liederman – refer to their workouts as “practice.”

Let’s take tennis, sprinting or golf as an example. All of these are highly technical actions, and any coach worth his salt will tell you that you should not continue practicing in a fatigued state or you ingrain bad habits.

They would not let you continue on when your speed starts slowing down or your form gets sloppy. They know that your session is over for the day at that point.

Lifting a heavy weight is really no different than serving or throwing a ball incredibly hard or sprinting at high speeds. Pull-ups are no different.

According to Jay Ferruggia, “Your body will increase strength in one of two ways; improving the efficiency of your nervous system, or increasing the size of your muscle fibres. Obviously, you can’t continually increase the size of your muscles forever [not naturally, anyway.] But you can steadily make neural strength gains for quite some time if you train properly. That’s how athletes in weight class sports are able to get continually stronger without gaining weight.”

He is spot on. He also states that olympic lifters don’t go to failure and they are able to train every day because of it. Gymnasts don’t go to failure, yet they posses astonishing strength and jaw-dropping-incredible physiques.

In his 1925 book, Secrets of Strength, Earle Liederman described a lifter who trained to failure in the following way, “Literally he has worked himself out, and this is exactly the thing the strength seeker can not afford to do.”



Onto The Program

 

So I’ve laid out a 4-week program for you.

Step 1 is to fine your current 1-set max. For me, it was 10.

For the next 2 weeks, here is your training plan:
Workout 1: Perform 5 sets of 50% of your max, split up throughout the day.
Workout 2: Perform 5 sets of 3-5 reps, weighted [If you cannot perform more than 3 bodyweight pull-ups, ignore workout 2]

Perform Workout 1 on Mondays and Fridays, and Workout 2 on Wednesdays.

Complete this for the initial 2-weeks.

For weeks three and four, we increase the volume.
4 days per week: Perform 7 sets of 70% of your max, split up throughout the day. After 2 weeks of this, rest for 48 hours before re-testing your max.

Here was the result after the 4-week training plan.



A Few Thoughts

• It’s far from super-human, however I was happy with 16 reps considering I had been stuck at ten for many, many years.
• For the record, I agree that I had a pause at rep number 13 and that the final rep #16 was probably not “chest-to-bar” if you want to get technical. But I’m claiming it.
• You will feel like doing more reps, especially during the first 14-days. Don’t. Trust the process.
• Split up your reps for best results. A few times during the last 14-days, I was attempting 7 sets of 7 during an upper body workout. If possible, perform a few sets upon waking, a few in your workout, and a few before bed. This will ensure you’ll be able to get through the volume and be fresh for each set.



What Now?

Well now I reset, and follow the plan. So my new max set at 16, week one will see me perform 5 sets of 8 daily. I’ll keep you posted.

It also worked well for Pauly, my online coaching client. It seemed to improve his dating life, also:

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I’d love for you to try it out, and let me know how it helps your pull-ups [and your dating life] 

 

  • Dean Kenway

    Great post yet again Pete! Just set my calendar up and My max set was 7 and yes I did video it 🙂

    • Nice! I’d imagine you will add 5-6 reps in the next 4 weeks. Enjoy!

  • Kris

    Would this carry over to dips as well?

    • Hey Kris,

      Definitely.

      I’ve tried it with pushups and dips with the same effect.

      Dip away.

      • Kris

        Excellent. I figured it might. I am hoping to do increase both.