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Pull ups are hard, but they are one of the few true tests of strength. I say this because some powerlifters can bench 600 or squat 800, but they also weigh 300+ and can barely manage 5 pull ups. This is one of the few exercises where you can measure relative fitness by comparing the ratio of the number of pull ups completed to bodyweight. Some of you might get mad at me, talking about powerlifters training for strength rather than endurance, but the fact of the matter is that when I was powerlifting I could still do 15 pull ups at 195 lbs.
Now, let me take you back to high school gym class… the year was 1993, I was 15 years old. Mr. Buatti the gym teacher, who happens to bare a striking resemblance to Coach Buzzcut, called my name to stand up in front of the class and do an many pull ups as I can. The football jocks each knocked out from 10 to 20 and the wiry tough kid with only 3 fingers on one hand completed 14 of them. I got 3. It was humiliating.
Now we come back to the present. Recently I started doing pull ups again after a year layoff. On my first set, I got 5 reps. A week later I was up to 8 reps. Just yesterday I did a set of 11 reps. But I want more. I’ve done 18 pull ups before; I’ve also done 5 pull ups with a 45 lb plate hanging off a belt. So, how can I get back to that place? How can you get to that place?
The Pyramid Pull Up Strategy
This is the description of a little program that I’ve used to increase my pull ups quickly in the past.
Here are the instructions:
- Start by doing one pull up.
- Rest for 10 seconds, but don’t hang there. Stand on something and take all the tension off your arms and back.
- Do one pull up more than you did in the previous step.
- Go back to step 2 and repeat until you can’t complete the required reps.
- Take a break for 2 minutes and do it again. Complete 2-3 sets.
You might feel weird because normally you can do 10 or 12 pull ups in a set, and you finish this exercise with a set of 6. We need to look at an example to see why this is so effective.
Normally I could do 3 sets of 11, 9, and 7 reps for a total of 27 reps at bodyweight. Using the pyramid I ended up doing sets of 1,2,3,4,5,6 then 1,2,3,4,3 and 1,2,3,1 for a total of 41 reps at bodyweight in nearly the same amount of time. That’s nearly a 50% increase in the number of reps in just one day! Which protocol do you think will force your body to adapt and grow stronger?
Try completing a pull up pyramid twice a week for 1 month then see what your new 1 set max is. Over the course of 4 weeks I’ve gone from 5 reps to 11 reps by doing the pyramid once a week and 1 regular set of pull ups every other morning. Granted I have the benefit of muscle memory, but I’m thinking I can back up to a 15 rep set within the next month or two as long as I complete 2-3 pyramids a week.
If you try this, please let me know how you fare.