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