This is the normal person’s guide for training the pull-up.
It’s not a program with the end goal of 25 unbroken strict one-arm pull-ups.
I’d also say this won’t be a valuable resource for you if you *can’t yet do 2 pull-ups.
But, if you can manage a few pull-ups at a time, ugly as they may be, I’ve got some ideas for you to practice them in ways that will test your grit and develop your strength.
*If you’re in that boat, just keep working on progressing from hangs (dead, active, & hollow holds) to negative reps (with peak-holds, slow-lowers, & paused-lowers) until you reach that wonderful milestone of your first strict rep on the pull-up bar.
NOTE: These methods are especially handy if you’ve got a home gym that consists of 3 kettlebells and a pull-up bar. (Actually, out of curiosity, how many of you have this exact set-up?)
Never get bored with pull-ups again!
By now you know that programming is not rocket science. There are just a handful of variables, and all you need to do is manipulate them strategically in order to get the results you’re after.
FREQUENCY & VOLUME
Pulls-up are one of those exercises that necessitate nearly daily practice (high frequency!). This is often called “greasing the groove.” The idea is that you remind your body regularly that you are on a mission to achieve nicely mounded shoulders, a chiseled upper back, and a solid, functional core.
Do at least one pull-up a day. Some days do lots more than that. That’s the simple way of balancing frequency and volume.
If you’ve got a pull-up bar in a place you walk by often, challenge yourself like this:
Mondays – max reps at max speed every time you walk under it
Tuesdays – 1 rep every time you walk under it
Wednesdays – 3 slow-lower reps every time you walk under it
Thursdays – 1 rep every time you walk under it
Fridays – 3 slow-pull reps every time you walk under it
Intensity refers to the load of the exercise. Most of the time, you’ll probably just be pulling your own body weight. (And I don’t suggest overeating during Holy Week as a viable method for adding intensity to your pull-up routine. Although at least you’d be putting the extra weight to good use.)
Sometimes, though, you should do some reps with added weight.
If you have a belt and a weight plate or kettlebell to attach to your waist, this is a no-brainer.
If not, get creative. Believe me when I say that adding sneakers to my usually-bare feet adds a noticeable challenge for me. For you, maybe you need to hold a bag of flour between your feet or squeeze a water bottle between your legs.
[Physics 101–possibly the only thing I remember from high school physics–Hey, Mr. Shoe’!–is that, for the pull-up, the further down your body the weight is, the more load it will give you. Something about gravity? Force? Yeah, definitely something about working to overcome the gravitational force…Time out. IS this rocket science?!]
Other ways to mess around with intensity: focus on slow eccentric or slow concentric, use paused reps (hold at the top and/or pause 3 times on the way down), and or play with any variety of pace (like 1 count to pull, 2 counts of “squeeze” at the top, and 3 counts to lower).
So, sometimes: decrease your reps, increase your sets, add some rest, and do heavy (or “harder”) pull-ups.
Here’s where things get really fun. If you work for, say, 10 minutes, how many different ways can you work the pull-up?
- Ladders: Match your work with your recovery using breath.
1 rep, 1 breath, 2 reps, 2 breaths, 3 reps, 3 breaths, etc. until you cannot keep pace
- Timed sets: Determine the number of reps you will complete every minute, every 30s, every 15s, etc.
- Accumulation sets: How many reps can you get in 5 minutes? Rest for 3. Then accumulate as many reps as possible for 2 more minutes. Try this at bodyweight one day and with added load another day.
- Cluster sets: Break your sets into 3-5 clusters each, and perform your reps a few at a time with very limited rest within clusters. Start conservatively (with each cluster of reps at about 20-30% of your max reps) and work your way up.
For instance, instead of 4 sets of 5 reps, redistribute by performing 3 sets of 2 clusters of 2 reps with 10s rest within the clusters and 60s rest between sets. (E.g., 2 reps, 10s rest, 2 reps, 10s rest, 2 reps, 60s rest x 3).
You’ll end up really pushing volume and your density will be mind-boggling. Again, play with load from day to day.
Looking to balance your upper-body pulling with some upper-body pushing? Of course you are!
Here’s your push-up challenge in the form of a…
30s plank shoulder tap, alternating
30s plank hold
30s Hindu push-ups
Repeat, but end with a plank for the last 30s!
P.S. Want more workout ideas and/or specific programs?! When you join Pat’s Inner Circle, you’ll gain access to tons of both!