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How to DOUBLE Your PullUps in 6 Weeks

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A few weeks back, I got a text message from a buddy of mine asking an interesting question.

Actually, it was less of a question and more of a favor. He wanted to be able to double the amount of pullups that he was able to do. 

So I wrote him a program, then decided that this would make a good blog post, and so here we are.

Alex wants to essentially double his number of pullups. Which, to be honest, is not only possible, but also—assuming you have the right programming—is also fairly simple.

The question of course, is why? That is, why worry so much about pullups?

For a few reasons, starting with how bad-ass pullups are. You see, pullups aren’t just a great bodyweight exercise—they’re a great exercise, period. Not only are pullups one of the most effective movements for increasing size and strength in the muscles of the upper back, they’re also a fantastic core exercise.

Moreover, pullups are probably the single best way to measure relative strength, which is a fancy way of referring to how strong you are relative to your body weight.

This is relevant for a number of reasons.

Outside of just giving you hardcore bragging rights, higher levels of relative strength have carryover to nearly every basic movement pattern involved in athletics: namely, running and jumping.

Put another way, speaking generally, people with better relative strength also have faster run times and higher vertical leaps.

Does this mean that increasing your pullups is going to immediately increase your 40 yard dash or your vertical leap? Probably not. However, assuming you continue to train those, I strongly believe that you’ll see better progress there because your overall relative strength is better.

Pretty cool, huh?

Moving on from athletics, let’s talk aesthetics. If you’re a guy, going more pullups will help you develop a nice V-taper that can fill out a suit jacket quite nicely. If you’re a woman, pullups will help you develop the musculature of a sexy back that looks great in a nice dress.

Finally, as I mention…extreme bragging rights.

All of this of course leads up to the point of this post: how DO you double the total number of pullups you can do?

Simple:

Practice.

Yup, that’s it. Just practice.

Okay, okay, there’s a bit more to it than that.

You see, when looking to have a radical increase in the number of reps you can perform on an exercise, you’re really looking at increasing strength endurance and neurological efficiency.

The best way to do this is to perform the exercise as frequently as possible. Practice makes perfect, so practice often, right?

Right.

Of course, you can’t simply do as many reps as you can as often as you can—after a day or two, you’d be too fatigued to continue, and your performance would drop off. Instead, you work with a smaller percentage of your total workload (usually about 50-60%).

If you’re looking to increase the maximum weight you can lift this would mean that you would work with a lighter weight, and perform the exercise frequently. If you’re looking to increase the total number of reps (as with pullups), you work with a percentage of your current max reps and do that frequently—frequently enough to exceed your current max.

This increases both proficiency, and, because you will be building to a greater number of reps, strength endurance increases as a by-product.

Now, I know you’re probably bored of me talking and just want to program, so let’s get to that.

  • Weeks 1 and 2: Perform 50% of your current Max (M) for 6 sets SPLIT THROUGHOUT THE DAY. Perform 1 set of ~75%(M). Do this 3 days per week. By the end of week 2, you should be able to perform the set of 75%(M) with ease.

EXAMPLE: Alex can do 22 pullups. [(M)=22]. So, in his case, he is going to perform 6 sets of 11 [50% of 22 is 11, obvious) pullups, split throughout the day. At the end of the day, he will perform 1 set of 15 pullups. (Technically, 75% of 22 is 16, but that’s a stupid number and 15 is easier to work with.)

Now, CHANCES ARE, the first few times he goes through this, he won’t even be able to get 15 on that final set. However, by the end of week 2, he’ll be able to bang out 15 with no problem. His strength endurance has increased, and he’s been building efficiency.

  • Week 3: Perform 60% of your current Max (M) for 7 sets, split throughout the day. Perform 1 set of 90%(M). Do this 2 days per week. By the end of week 3 you should be able to perform.
  • Take 3 days off and RE-TEST your Max at some point during this period.

EXAMPLE: Alex will perform 7 sets of 13 pullups, split throughout the day. At the end of the day, he will perform 1 set of 20 reps. At this point, Alex is probably able to hit 20 reps by the end of the second attempt at this. His endurance will have increased.

Anyway, the results: not bad—Alex increased his Max number of pullups by 30%.

So now what?

We reset, of course.

After that week, he will begin at “Week 1” – only this time, (M) represents 29 pullups. Therefore, Alex’s new “Week 1” will look like this:

He’ll perform 6 sets of 15 reps, split throughout the day. At the end of the day, he’ll perform a set of 22 pullups. Chances are, he’ll have a little trouble with this until the end of week 2.

For “Week 3” Alex will now perform 7 sets of 17 pullups, split throughout the day. At the end of the day, he’ll perform 1 set of 26.

He’ll then take 3 days off, and re-test. I’m confident that when he does, he’ll be at 40 or more.

So, there you have it. A fun and effective—but difficult—way to double your pullups in 6 weeks.

Certainly, it’s not easy—but it IS incredibly effective. If you have the guts, give it a try.


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About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.

  • Love this Blog! Improving grip strength can be a huge factor in increasing your number of pull ups. Using a rolling bar can bump up your reps. A rolling bar forces you to fight to stay on and works your forearms harder than a standard bar. It’s tough but do it for 6 weeks than try a regular pull bar again and see how much stronger you have become.

  • Randy Randerson

    What was Alex’s max after 6 weeks?

  • Carlo Soli

    Do I do this program IN ADDITION TO my normal back routine in the gym, or do I skip my normal routine for a while and do only this program?

  • Dimitris Angelis

    It’s a very good and effective endurance in strength daily workout.
    I believe pull ups,pistols and muscle ups are the hardest of bodyweight to perform.
    It becomes really dangerous however once you’ll may end up doing 100 pull ups a day

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  • Hamzah Ahmed

    How many days a week should a person do this program?

  • Pingback: How to DOUBLE Your Pull-up Numbers in 6 Weeks | The Pull-up Solution()

  • Eric Horvat

    Darn it Roman, now I have 2 weeks of non stop reading saved to pocket! So much good info, thanks.

    Advice for alternatives to pullups and chins due to sore elbows/tendinitis?

  • mike

    Hey John,

    I’m trying to increase my pullup numbers (currently at 10 and I’d like to get to 20), so I’m thinking of using this technique. However, I don’t know how to integrate it in my back and biceps workout (which consists of pullups, bent over rows, barbell and dumbbell bicep curls). Therefore, should I (?)

    a) stick with my back and biceps workout (pullups included) and do this program throughout the rest of the day

    b) eliminate pullups form the back workout but still do the rows ant the curls

    c) eliminate all back work, but stick with the bicep work

    d) stop doing a back and biceps workout and focus 100% on this program

    Getting to 20 pullups is my main goal right now (ahead of strenght and muscle building), so I wouldn’t mind quitting my back and biceps workout if it was absolutely necessary.

    Thanks for your time.

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  • Ben

    i guess i am confused the first text reads i want to double my CHIN – UPS which is completely different than doubling your pull ups. Not sure if anyone else noticed that but it does not quite add up.

  • Jason D.

    I did something similar to this in when I was in Jail for 6 months. I was limited to just pull ups off the racks , dips between the racks and push ups.. I did many variations of push ups and would give myself 2-3days rest depending on how I felt. Nutrition was a factor as well . I was of coarse on a restricted rationed diet. I would trade most of my carbs and deserts for meats and eggs. I had some other connections as well. I had made friends with trustees that worked the halls and kitchen I could score several extra trays of eggs and meats daily to get my protein and fat intake. Ramen noodles were very plentiful so I didn’t worry about scoring too many carbs. My routine started with me only being able to do 6 pull ups max .. I would do 10 sets of 4-6 starting off .. Then for push ups my max total was 30 standard. I would do partial max’s when I reached up to 16 pull ups.. say 10 sets of 10.. sometimes I would get 18 to 20 bibles and put them in long-john legs, tie the end of the legs and throw the bibles over my shoulders and do 10 sets with around 40 lbs of bibles around my neck..I could usually get around 5-6 on average but was able to get 10 full reps weighted two weeks later after doing this. I would do 20 sets of 30 push ups a couple months in.. to make a long story short I was doing over 140 standard push ups straight ,over 40 dips and 22 pronated wide grip pull ups when I left jail. Now I am out I have standard barbells and a lat tower with dip and captians chair built in for leg lifts. I mix it up with just a week of partial max with body weight and the next I will do max sets with pull ups body weight .. rest about 5 days and do 2 weeks with 45-60 lbs added and get 4-6 reps and just keep pushing with negatives . Every 3 days no matter what I max out with pushups and pull ups and eat a kilo of meat everyday and half that in veggies No sugar I get that from milk….. The results I have gotten are very impressive. Im 34 years old, 5’5” weigh 165 -6% bodyfat, I am ripped.. When I went to jail I was about 130 lbs and very strung out on amphetamines .Every 3 weeks I take off at least 5 days and just do swimming and body weight max with no added weight or even touch the bench . The only thing I have not stopped is using weight with legs but I do Mike Tyson’s(Squats with no weight) I can do them with 2 full decks of cards thats around 1000 straight non weighted squats.. Its not easy ,its painful None of this is easy ..There are a lot of factors that depend on how quick you get results. I don’t do steroids and only take whey protein to get my 240 to 300 grams of protein every day. I take a lot of b vitamins and multivitamins with zinc..Whole eggs..Lots of whole eggs.. Diet and proper rest is the key. Its mental likewise. As I said a lot of factors are involved. Body type(Genetics) , meso,endo , or ecto..( I am a Meso)….how many fast twitch fibers vs slow twitch fibers, metabolism and age.. I seem to have a lot more fast twitch fibers. Its nothing you can figure out over night here or even a certain protocol that works am 9 months of doing this straight and still having to adjust but I have yet to plateau or over train . I constantly am changing it up with different variations and intensity you really have to find what works for you . I did.. and am doing it . Consistency and the right regimen for your body typed along with proper nutrition and rest. Its a lot easier to mentally plateau or think you have over train than it is to actually do this.. You have to have proper rest and nutrition. Just don’t get lazy and be consistent

  • Anonymous

    Ok, so my goal for 2012 is to be able to do pull ups, period. I can’t do1 so I’d like to know the best way to start. Should I just try to do a pull up in 6 “sets” (not really a set as it would only be 1) 6 times a day?

    • pixelzombie

      If you’re still interested, check out the pull up program in ‘Convict Conditioning’

  • Trainingwheelz

    Tried this.  Didn’t work.  My max decreased by 2 and I followed it to the letter!

  • Good

  • Reka

    First message says chinups, by the way. Nonetheless, seems to be a good strategy. I can do about 4-5 chinups right now, would be nice to have 9 in 6 weeks:) And that chick on the photo is RIPPED!

  • Solano Mateo E

    Great post! I remember reading the article the first time. I think I
    Gonna give it a try with overhead presses once I’m done with my current program.

  • Jon Woodman

    Awesome program, Roman.  Not on my table at the moment to do this, but I’m filing it away for later in the year.  One can never be able to do enough pull-ups!

  • Nikki

    This is going to be a pretty short workout session.  I can do 1 at the moment.  But ya gotta start somewhere – the aim is to get to 10.  Thanks.

    • No worries! I’ve got something for that too–everything from learning your very first pull up, to getting from 1 to 5 then eventually 10. Check your email tomorrow!

  • Bogdan

    Hello! Thanks for this post. Would this type of approach work for push-ups too?

  • Cody

    So what is the theory here on plateau? I am starting at Max 20 tomorrow. If I increase (like Alex) by 30% every 3 weeks, in 12 weeks can I really be at 57, or will I hit some sort of plateau – and if I do, how should I get around it?

  • Michah

    just restested mine…my max went from 17 to 24 and a half. I started on Feb 1.

    could just be your diet?

  • Jason

    Any takers? Really looking forward to hear about anyone elses results and why mine sucked so bad.

    Cheers

  • Jason

    I was really excited about this program so I put it into practice 3 weeks ago. I was looking forward to adding to my previous max of 16 pull-ups. After following the program religiously for 3 weeks and re-testing on the 3rd day of rest, my new max is 14. That's right – it decreased by 2 reps!!!!!

    I had a feeling that this was happening because I could feel the sets of 50% and then 60% getting harder and harder instead of easier, but I was still hanging onto a vain hope that my max would test at 20.

    I'm thinking that not doing even 1 max set of pull-ups for 3 whole weeks isn't such a good idea. I keep checking this blog to see anyone elses results but no one else has posted yet. I'd love to see if anyone had success with this. Any ideas about possible reasons for my failure would be much appreciated. Cheers.

  • Dustin Mobley

    Wi-five..hadn't heard that one…love it…love it using it to all my budies right now..they think I'm messed up!

  • Ted

    While I really enjoy articles on targeted fitness goals and body part isolation, I rarely find myself willing to dedicate 6-12 weeks of gym time to achieving one of those goals, which is probably why I don't have my own fitness site. Also, I am not exactly sure how to integrate them. Do you do the pulls after your normal session? Inplace of it? When focusing on calves, do you skip any other parts?

    Right now, I find myself just coming off of a 2 week exercise break in the middle of winter and I am really fired up to get back in the gym. Summer looms, but my brain is a tabula rasa, more out of confusion than anything else. I don't really feel the need to boost my bench by 50 pounds, or double my pull ups, or gain 20# of muscle, or anything else that specific, but I am very motivated to 'work out' to stay generally very fit.

    So this is my question: am I better off doing a global body routine or is the secret setting these odd little goals, because, if I am doing that stuff, the rest will follow?

  • Jarrod

    Anyone have any good ideas for low cost, home made, pull up bars? Cause I won't be able to hit the gym 6 times a day to 'spread the sets out'

  • Pull ups—the one exercise, I believe, to really gauge someone's level of fitness.

    I have always found that PRACTICE as you mentioned [plug 'Iron Gym' here] and adding weight are the way to go.

    Progressive resistance and muscle endurance.

    I try and keep it simple.

    Good stuff!

  • Ylwa

    Crossing my legs and keeping them slightly bent behind my body, not in a straight line or in front of me. If I'm going to compete in athletic fitness this fall this is the only pose they allow so I figured it was better to start doing it right from the beginning?

  • Macus

    @Roman “f you can only do 1-2 pull ups, do several sets of 1 through the day, and your last set of the day, do negative-only chins.”

    Thanks man :)

    Well just get starting then.

  • simon

    Cool, thanks for the reply, I'll start this next week and post results after first reset.

  • Mat

    How would you incorporate this into a program like FPFL?

  • @Paul – Good suggestion. Weighted pull-ups have huge merit—particularly in terms of gaining strength and size—but don’t do much in the way of increasing neurological efficiency or strength endurance…both of which are necessary if you are going to drastically increase your reps.

    @Sirena – I have a feeling you’ll be at 6 pull-ups before year’s end. I’m also guilty of doing pull-ups during my client’s sessions. =)

    @Allie – I wouldn’t say every day, but usually every other day.

    @Nate – Next Level Type Shit, all day baby. Thanks for dropping by, sir.

    @Clement – excellent reference. Pavel’s program is sweet.

    @Sean – sweet program. Bascially, drop sets. Creatively done. I love it. Thanks for that!

    @Kimberly in HK – what targets? I’m always curious

    @Ylwa – could be a core issue; how are you holding your legs when you’re doing the pull-ups or chin-ups?

    @Seb – I normally just suggest that people get one of those over-the-door pull-up bars and do them while they’re at home. You can pick them up for about 30 bucks at any sporting goods store. And no, I’d not expect someone to make 6 trips to the gym =)

    @Andrew – glad you enjoyed Thanks for the insight.

    @Fred – 30 or 40 is legit, man. Incredible strength to bodyweight ratio.

    @justyna – best way in that case, is just to try to do a single, PERFECT pull-up several times per day. Once you get to the point where you’re doing a single pull up 10-12 times per day, you should be able to bang out 4-5 without much trouble. From there, you can use the program above.

    @Miguel – just takes a little ingenuity to figure out how to get it done. As I said, picking up a pull-up bar for at home makes it easy.

    @Drew – awesome man, enjoy it. I’m looking forward to seeing your results!

    @Kirpal – yup, you have it correct!

    @Eric – thanks for dropping by man. Ignoring pull-ups is no good.

    @Simon – I think you could add it in as extra, just don’t do it on the say you train back.

    @Bojan – you can do them them both simultaneously.

    @George – push-ups yes. I wouldn’t use this for squats, though.

    @Macus – if you can only do 1-2 pull ups, do several sets of 1 through the day, and your last set of the day, do negative-only chins.

    @BikiniMommy – as mentioned above, negative-only pull-ups will help. Just use a stool to climb to the top and lower yourself slowly.

    @Jorge – I would not do this more than 3 times per week, particularly if you are working with sets of 10 or above.

    @Fred – yea, you could do this for pull-ups as well as chin-ups. The “best” is to do both. Pull-ups are a bit better for lats, chins are better for biceps. A combo is great.

    @David – thanks man; glad you enjoyed!

    @Derek – Yes.

  • Derek

    Cock.

  • Great content! Thank you!

    David

  • Fred

    Just saw your mail about Alex Maroko's chin-up program. Would the same strategy on pull-ups work for chin-ups as well?

    Which exercise would be most bad ass to really dominate for aesthetic purposes? Should one focus on both or pick one?

  • Bangkok Jay

    George Clooney does 'em in 'The American' along with pushups! Even cool assassins do bodyweight.

    Great tips. Went from 0 to 20 max slow but steadily in 9 mo's doing them all the time. The “Armstrong method” incorporating daily pushups helped much. So did negatives; varying grip widths; alternating chins with pulls, and rest days. Max rep efforts tested only once a week.

    Don't get discouraged; it's slow progress but the results ARE amazing in terms of body recomposition (for this non gym rat).

    PS I use rubber kitchen pot grippers, cut with scissors to my handsize for added grip on the bar as my hand sweats in humid Thailand. Thick bars are great for vastly improving gripstrength too.

  • Sean

    @ BikiniMommy

    I suggest start where you can. Get someone to hold your legs and use them to help you crank out some reps. Do them in a 45 degree angle on the floor via a rack with the bar above you and try pulling up from there. Start with cable pull-downs and progress with the weights first, then head over to the pull up bar in a few weeks time. You need to build up your strength first before doing a full legit pull-up.

  • My Goal for 2011 is 1 Legit Pull-Up!! (everyones invited to my party when I get it!!!)

    Any tips?? I've been using resistance bands and I use the technique mentioned of doing many sets throughout the day.

    My biggest problem is that when I'm at dead hang and and I try to pull-up I get NOWHERE. With a small hop I can pull all the way up, I just can't get over the initial bend of the arms. How do I work on this?

  • Macus

    Thanks for this Roman, A great tip. but what for those of us that only can make like 1 or 2. I guess i need to do some Hardcore training before, I start to push myself on the bar.

  • Macus

    Thanks for this Roman, A great tip. but what for those of us that only can make like 1 or 2. I guess i need to do some Hardcore training before, I start to push myself on the bar.

  • Bojan Kostevski

    Thanks for the great info man! I'm doing a competition in december where I have to do a maximum pullup and dips count (plus a symmetry round). How would you train for something like this? Alternate and do 6 weeks of pullup training first and then do the same for dips or do them both simultaneously?

  • simon

    Excellent post been looking to increase my max no pullups, been stuck at 15 for AGES. One small question – do you think this program would interfere with my current program (which includes weighted pull ups 5×5 on back, bicep, forearm day 1xweek) or do you think I could happily add it in as an extra? The schedule suits me well as I work from home and have a pullup bar in my office :)

  • Wi-five, indeed! And agree . . . pull-ups are one bad-ass exercise not to be ignored.

  • Kirpal

    Thanks for the blog. I'm working on getting my chinups up. I can do 5 with good form so that's what I count as my max. Now the 6 sets throughout the day, is that like 2 in the morning, 2 around the afternoon and then 2 in the evening plus the 1 at 75%? Sorry, if you cleared this up in the past but it's new to me. Thanks for the blog.

  • Mille grazi, Roman! This is outstanding. I will be using this immediately next when I start my next routine cycle.

    You're the man! Awesome routine!

  • Oh, duh- I got it, you clearly state how many days per week to do tje program, days off, etc. Thanks! I also wonder if it will help us with low reps (as opposed to people with higher current max's.) I'd love to crank out 20 and only currently can get 6, but CHIN ups, at that. 2 pull ups!

  • Miguel

    That looks more like a second job if you don't have a pull-up bar within easy reach at all times during the day…

  • justyna

    Looks like a very good program but I don't think it would work with very low max numer of reps. Is there a way to increase my current lousy 3 pull ups on top of practice?

  • Fred

    Sounds like an awesome strategy, I'll definitely try it out and let you know how it goes. Goal for May would be to bang out them 30. Or mayhaps 40!

  • Andrew

    That was really great, both as comedy and as info. I find that most of your posts are like that, which is fabulous.

    I like how you said that the way to improve at something is practice. It seems that some people forget that that is just what you need to do to get better at something.

    I have some friends, who I am trying to convert to 'smart fat-loss', who say just walk on the treadmill for hours. And I ask them why they do that when they don't care about improving their walking ability. Oh well. Hopefully at least one of them will listen and read your blog or Ballantyne's or Nate's.

  • Seb

    Sounds like a good strategy to try, but how is “splitting throughout the day” going to work for the “normal” person having an ordinary office job? I usually go the gym at 6 to 7 pm after work, like probably most people do. And even on weekends, are you supposed to drive/go over to your gym in two-hour intervals?

  • Ylwa

    I've sort of got stuck in my pull-ups so I will give this a try. I think my main issue is the core though. I can do 1 full pull-up on my own (4 chin-ups) and my goal is 10. However, just by having Fred hold my feet but not assisting me in the liftI can get up to 4.

    Is it my core I need to work on to start with or is it something else I'm doing wrong, technicalwise?

  • Kimberley in HK

    This is a great tip as I have set myself some pull up targets this year as well.

  • Sean

    Great program. I like to get it out of the way in a hurry so I do pull-ups with a 65lb DB using 2 weight belts. I hang close to the ground on my rack to I can cheat with my legs. This helps me force rep my way through to keep moving. I then dump the DB and do as many as I can with just my body weight after a 30 second rest period. Then immediately to the cable pull-downs using multiple grips keeping my rest periods at 30 seconds. I do all of this after DB rows and BB rows. This has given me some nice “wings”, LOL!

  • Nice touch with the text photos, like Mr Green said.

    Anyway, I'm sure most people have trouble with pull-ups, so this blog will be most useful!

    I've found Pavel's fighter pull-up programme to be really effective, as well.

  • Nate Green

    Text message photos? You're taking fitness blogging to a whole 'nutha level!

    No, seriously. That was hilarious.

  • Fantastic! Your program includes doing them ev every day?

  • Fantastic! Your program includes doing them ev every day?

  • Great post! Funny you just came out with this, my goal for this year was to do 6 real pull-ups by April 1st.

    Barely do one in December, now can do 3. Seeing how I work in a gym, splitting up my sets is a piece of cake.

    I sometimes will do a couple during sessions as a little motivation for my clients :)

    Thanks!

    Sirena

  • Paul McCloskey

    I find it a lot faster training with weights. With a backpack, add 20-30 pounds, or whatever it takes to try to max out around 4-6 reps for 2-3 sets. Try to do them explosively. After a few sessions a week, you'll find you can do more unloaded pull-up reps and also do them faster.