One of the best (if not THE best) all-around muscle builders of the upper body is the pull-up and its abundance of variations. Arguably considered the “upper body squat,” the pull-up calls into action such a vast amount of muscle that it can single-handedly transform an average physique into one complete with a v-taper and superhero stature.
The pull-up is a true measure of upper body strength and stamina. How many individuals do you know can do a series of pull-ups? Not many. But I bet they all do pull downs, rows and every other variation of the aforementioned.
It shouldn’t be this way. There is something very impressive about the ability to do pull-ups. Sure, everyone works their butts off to increase bench press, squat and curling strength, but how many actually specifically focus on increasing pull-up performance?
Performing body-weight specific moves trains the entire body to pull, push, raise and lift itself for better overall strength, conditioning and endurance. Push-ups, dips, leg raises, box jumps, inverted rows and pull-ups train the whole body with little to no equipment and are true tests of ability and functionality.
It’s time to man-up, step up to the pull-up bar and begin your journey UP the road to a bigger, stronger, broader back courtesy of good ole fashion planning and hard work.
Below is an eight week training plan to increase pull-up performance, strength and, subsequently, giving your physique better balance, width and power. Oh, and save a few bucks for bigger t-shirts - you’ll need them.
8 Week Pull-Ups Program
Weeks 1 and 2
If you are not performing ANY pull-ups at the moment, this program will start you from ground zero. Weeks 1 and 2 are “break-in” weeks in which you will continue your normal frequency of training back (for most this is about once per week). Additionally, you will start instituting a low rep/high volume approach to pull-ups, increase supportive and ancillary muscle strength and perfect form and technique.
- Start with 20 total reps of pull-ups. No matter if this takes you 2 sets of 10 reps or 20 sets of 1 rep, reach the 20 rep goal no matter what. Take the necessary amount of rest between sets to maximize your strength and stamina.
- Next, be sure you are performing other lifts to increase strength in the back from different angles such as barbell rows, dumbbell rows, inverted rows and rear deltoid and trap moves. This will help provide support and strength for all-around back strength and power.
- Be sure not to overdo biceps work. Many trainees do too many angles for the biceps in hopes of more muscle. This can translate into too much energy and strength zapped from the biceps resulting in developing a weak point during pull-ups. Hit biceps hard with a couple of moves and end it.
- Of course, be sure you are utilizing proper form and technique while doing pull-ups. Slight body English is inevitable, but too much swinging and swaying won’t do anyone any good.
Weeks 3 and 4
Now you will increase pull-up training to twice per week keeping the other heavy back lifting to once per week or whatever you were originally doing – twice per week is fine too. Not only will frequency increase but your total volume for pull-ups will increase as well.
- Increase total pull-up volume to 30. Remember, no matter how many sets it takes, accomplish that new number. You should be able to get a few more reps with each individual set by now.
- Frequency is increased to twice per week.
- Try different grips such as close-parallel grip, wide, chin-up style (palms facing you), and shoulder width.
- Continue with the other back strength training as mentioned above. Again, this can be once or twice per week. Just be sure they have a couple of rest day between sessions.
- Since you are performing pull-ups twice per week, perform your other back exercises on one of those days. The other day will strictly be pull-ups.
- Since you should be progressing, there is a temptation to loosen up form. Have a partner check your form and make you accountable.
Weeks 5 and 6
Once again, you will increase frequency and total volume. Also, be sure to schedule weight training for your back on nonconsecutive days in relation to pull-up workouts. In other words, if you are performing pull-up workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday be sure that your back training day falls on one of those days.
- Increase total pull-up volume to 40 reps. At this point it may seem a bit daunting that you keep increasing volume and frequency and feel like you can’t catch up. Have no fear; this continuous pushing forward is what progresses not only your body but your mind as well.
- Frequency is increased to three times per week.
- Continue to play with different grips. Be sure you are giving each grip its fair share of the pain – try not to stick with just one. This is yet another way to keep challenging yourself.
- Again, be sure to schedule your back training days on one or more of the pull-up workout days.
- Keep form in check.
Weeks 7 and 8
Finally, you will increase volume and frequency one last time. At this point you should be well adapted to the frequency and should see significant improvement in not only pull-up performance but also a thicker and broader back as well. Your stamina should show marked improvement as well giving you the ability to recover faster and have an overall stronger back.
- Increase total pull-up volume to 50 reps. At this point you should be able to crank out quite a few reps per set. Gone are the days of one rep sets – now you should be able to finish all 50 reps in less total sets.
- Frequency is increased to four times per week.
- Continue utilizing the different grips.
- Since you are at the end of the eight week program, now is not the time to give in to bad form. Keep your technique tight and end the set once form breaks down.
After the eight week program is completed take a day or two off and test your strength and endurance from when you started. Rep out, record and enjoy!
Other Factors to Consider
Lose weight: Any excess body fat can obviously hinder pull-up prowess. If you want to significantly impact your performance on the pull-up, losing some extra poundage is a must.
Strengthen your grip: A weak grip is another factor that can put a halt on your pulling progress. If this is a problem add in some grip work into your arm workouts and try to avoid using straps on most exercises to get your grip back.
Believe: If you don’t believe in the program (whatever program you decide to do) then you will get nowhere fast. Going from barely one pull-up to multiple reps per set isn’t an easy task. It takes discipline, a sound plan and honest, hard work every day, every week. The choice is ultimately yours.