Are you ready to earn you bragging rights?
To finally say, “I can do one (or 10) pull-ups!”
There’s no question about it – pull-ups make you feel like a badass – but damn, they are tough.
Five years ago…I could not do ONE pull up. I remember hanging my head in frustration when my trainer saw me miss attempt after attempt. But he never gave up…and neither did I.
He made me grind through pull-up drills, sometimes with assistance (bands) or none. Never did I have a session where I coasted through my pull-ups.
Which is exactly where I think most people fumble during pull-up training…
But before I deploy tough love, let’s cover the basics, especially if pull-ups are new for you!
How to Do Pull-Ups
Your Minimum Training
Make time for back exercises two to three times a week. A combination of the following will get you primed for pull-ups:
- Bent over rows (dumbbell, kettlebells, barbells)
- Inverted rows (TRX and a racked barbell/smith machine)
- Lateral activation with band pull-downs: Watch this video from T-Nation
- Hollow holds (you need the full body tension to help you drive the pull up…up!) I’m talking clenching your glutes, abs, even quads.)
- Dead hangs (with a pull up every 30 seconds): Strength coach Dan John taught me this. Hang from a pull up bar for 30 seconds. Then, if you can, do a pull up. Lower yourself back down into hanging position and repeat. Continue until you can’t hold on. Beginners: If you can only hang for 30 seconds or less, rock on! Use your time as a benchmark to outdo yourself next time.
Practicing your pull-ups
All you need to do is crank out several sets of pull-ups with just a few repetitions.
If you need assistance, I recommend using a band, a friend, or put a box under you. Get as honest as you can with your pull up and use every muscle you can. Don’t slack (as you might notice happens on assisted machines).
If you can do 2 or 3 pull-ups at a time, keep it that way, and increase your repetitions in the following week or two.
If you are experienced with pull-ups, but want to increase weight and/or max reps, then you want to maintain your back exercises and increase the frequency and variety of your pull-ups.
- Multiple sets of 1-2 reps throughout the day (or the workout) with challenging weight
- 2-3 sets of max reps possible. You don’t need many sets because you’ll be fatigued!
- Hang for 30 seconds and do a pull-up and return to hanging until you can’t hold on any longer!
- Mix up your grips: Chin ups, overhand, underhand, and use towel grips.
A sample routine
Monday: 3-4 sets of Bent over barbell rows, TRX rows, lat activation and dead hangs for 30 seconds.
Wednesday: Weighed pull-ups: 3 to 5 sets of 2 (or hanging hollow holds for beginners)
Friday: Two sets of max reps (to failure) pull-ups. (Assisted? Use limited support – you should be saying “Damn. This is tough!”)
There is no perfect routine, though.
Frequency and variety are key, but the third and perhaps the most important, element is:
Your willingness to challenge yourself.
When you practice your pull-ups, bands are OK. As long as you aren’t springing up and down. You want to feel the muscles contracting and lengthening. AKA, um, actually doing the work.
The risk we have with overly thick bands or machines is that we lose the grit required to perform the physical task. We loosen up mentally, knowing we have ample assistance, and stay trapped in the comfort zone.
Let’s sum it up:
- Train your back and pull-ups 2 to 3 times a week
- Vary frequency, type of pull-ups, weights and repetitions to explode your pull-up performance
- Push your limits. Walking away from your sets like a delicate flower is unacceptable. 🙂
Embrace the suck and you will be on your way to bragging rights.