Who doesn’t want to be able to crank out multiple sets of pull ups? They are arguably the one exercise that everybody wants to do, and that everybody avoids at all costs. A well-executed pull up is an impressive feat. Push ups, dips, sit ups, and many other bodyweight exercises are doable for most, but pulling your entire body up to a bar or rings is a tall order for many.
Pull ups can be thought of as the squats for the upper body. Everyone knows they need to do them, but few do them correctly. They are tough, require whole-body strength, and take a whole lot of practice to perfect.
So why bother with the pull up?
Neglecting to include some form of the pull up in your program will do your physique an injustice. The aesthetic rewards of pull ups include building a V-taper, which brings your shoulders out wide and makes your waist look smaller. But you will also gain a few key strength benefits, like the ability to manipulate your own bodyweight, and a stronger back to facilitate other main lifts such as squats and deadlifts.
You need pull ups in your life. It’s great to lift big with bench presses, rows, and curls, but let’s stop neglecting your pull up power and strength. It’s time to grab the bar and start to develop real-world pulling strength and squash your reliance on the pull-down machine once and for all.
Below is an eight-week training plan to increase pull up performance, strength, and power. It won’t be easy, and you’ll have to start from the ground (literally). But rest assured, you’re about add a new dimension to your fitness.
Stronger Pull Ups: Weeks 1 and 2
If you’re the type who struggles with pull ups and can barely eke out a single rep with decent form, this program will start you from zero. You will start with a beginner-level rep total, rest times, and overall volume and frequency. Consider this your break-in period if you’re new to the pull up game.
Avoid the use of wrist straps as much as you can. These will give you a false sense of strength and will prevent you from developing your own natural grip strength. If you need additional help add in a few sets of wrist and reverse wrist curls.
- To start, you will train pull ups at least twice per week, on non-consecutive days.
- Start with 10 total reps of pull ups. Your goal is to get to your total each session no matter if it takes you one, two, or 10 total sets.
- Rest one to two minutes between sets. This will decrease later in the program.
- If you are also performing resistance training during the week, make sure you are performing the big lifts such as barbell, dumbbell, and T-bar rows, high pulls, and rear deltoid and trapezius exercises. These will help increase strength and power in your pulling and provide better stability in all areas of your back.
- Keep the biceps work to a minimum. Too many gym bros perform way too many sets of biceps work. Go with one or two (max) basic moves such as barbell and dumbbell curls and that’s it. Don’t overdo it and start to create a weak link in your pull up chain.
- Always use proper form and technique. This means keeping an upright and arched back while pulling up, and avoid swinging (kipping) at all costs. Additionally, try pulling up your body with your elbows rather than your biceps. This will ensure that your back will pull with more power and strength, instead of relying on your arm strength almost exclusively.
Stronger Pull Ups: Weeks 3 and 4
For the next two weeks, you will increase frequency and total reps, while decreasing your rest time between sets. By now you should start to see some changes in strength and performance. You should be able to get a few reps per set, and have the ability to perform each set a bit more comfortably.
- Increase your total volume to 20 reps.
- Increase your frequency to three times per week.
- Keep your rest time between sets at a strict one minute. This will increase your intensity and create a great deal of momentum in your progress.
- Keep your form in check. This is no time to get sloppy.
Stronger Pull Ups: Weeks 5 and 6
For the next two weeks, you will follow the same pattern as before: Increase volume and frequency, and decrease rest time between sets. You can also start to play around with different grips and widths for the pull up. This will challenge your muscles in new ways, and help keep you from getting bored.
- Increase your total volume to 30 reps per pull up session.
- Increase frequency to four times per week. For example, you could hold your sessions on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of each week.
- Decrease rest time to 45 seconds between sets.
- Try different grips such as wide-grip, close-parallel grip, shoulder-grip and chin-up style (palms facing you).
Stronger Pull Ups: Weeks 7 and 8
The final two weeks will challenge you physically and mentally. By now you are accumulating quite a few reps several times a week, with very little rest between sets. You should also start to become more and more proficient at performing with good technique.
- Increase your total reps to 40. Ideally these should be completed within four or five sets.
- If you can, increase frequency to five times per week.
- Try to reduce rest time to around 30 seconds.
- Continue utilizing different widths and grips.
Stronger Pull Ups: Commit to Conquering the Pull Up
After the eighth week, you should have developed considerable pull up power. You will also have acquired the side effects of this program, such as increased shoulder strength and stability, extra back width and thickness, and a sense of whole-body strength.
Those with more body mass will have a tougher time performing pull ups, regardless of composition. If you’re in the muscled-up category, just gut through it, develop more strength and power, and do your best. On the other hand, if you’re on the not-so-desirable side of the body fat fence, you will do well to shed some excess pounds to make this program easier.
Don’t let the pull up bar intimidate you. Take the above eight-week challenge, and reap the rewards from some serious, honest hard work.
Cranky shoulders after all that pull up work?