“Grab hold of it and give it an all-out, balls-to-the-wall effort.” — Harry Selkow
Pull-ups can be nearly impossible for some lifters, no matter their total or rank. This simple plan that can be done multiple times per week will help you quickly earn your first pull-up. The following is an excerpt from my book, You Ask, I Answer: Putting an End to Your Programming, Dynamic Effort, and Training Problems. This is one of over 60 questions from the book.
Why a question-and-answer book?
I was asked why I would want to write a question-and-answer book. It is really a simple answer: training itself is one continuous question. As we train and provide the right answers, we make progress. If our answers are wrong or incomplete then progress is slowed or stopped. There is power in a question. Humbling yourself, asking a question, and being open will allow you to find the correct answer more quickly. I have been training for over 25 years and I am still asking many questions. Though we are all training to be better, we are all in different places in our journey. I wrote this as a way to talk with you, not at you. My answers and ideas are meant to empower you so you can find your own path. Some of you wanted to be told what to do and others were looking for ideas. These are your questions.
"I can't do chin-ups yet. How can I build up that strength?"
"I'm a little embarrassed, but I can't do chin-ups. I've got a little extra spare tire around the middle which I'm in the process of getting rid of, but in the meantime, I want to build the strength to do chins regardless of that spare tire. I have a power rack with barbells and plates, a few bands, and a chin-up bar. Could you give me some direction?"
There is no reason to be embarrassed. Pull-ups are not easy for everyone and can take quite a bit of work. I have two ways to progress to doing pull-ups. The first was published in the elitefts 2014 Programs That Work Volume 1 ebook. It uses a band rotation to help you acclimate to your own bodyweight. It is a great option for someone who can’t do pull-ups as frequently as I have listed below. Both work, and I am sure either will get you to your goal.
I have a client named Dan who had the goal of doing an unassisted pull-up. This is the plan I gave him. It is in addition to his normal lat work. He weights between 275 and 280 pounds and carries a good amount of body fat. He did this program four days a week. He started with an average band. After a few weeks he dropped to a light band. Soon after that, he progressed to a mini and micro mini band. At that point he was able to, for the most part, complete his first unassisted pull-up. His range of motion is not great yet, but I think that is more due to his width than strength.
This is how the program works: You will do six sets of pull-ups with 10 seconds between each set. It is a bastardized muscle round — an adaptation from Scott Stevenson. He talks about it in his Fortitude Training ebook. On the last set, you will do as many reps as you can. Perform this workout three or four days a week. Feel free to change grips if your elbows or shoulders are achy.
- Week 1: 1-1-1-1-1-AMRAP (5 sets of 1 rep and then 1 set as many reps as possible)
- Week 2: 2-1-1-1-1-AMRAP
- Week 3: 1-2-1-1-1-AMRAP
- Week 4: 1-1-2-1-1-AMRAP
- Week 5: 2-1-1-2-1-AMRAP
- Week 6: 1-2-1-2-1-AMRAP
- Week 7: 2-1-2-1-2-AMRAP
- Week 8: 2-2-1-2-2-AMRAP
- Week 9: 2-2-2-2-2-AMRAP
- Week 10: Start going to 3 reps per set. Once you can do 3 reps per set start over with a lighter band.
What if you feel good and want to try to do more? If you feel good, you can try increasing the reps to the next week and see what happens. Another option would be to switch over to a normal set and rep scheme, such as three to five sets of six to eight reps with a band that makes it just possible to achieve the number of reps desired. After a few weeks of normal reps, get back to the plan. If you are progressing quickly you can jump to the next workout after two workouts instead of weekly. If you feel like you are starting to stagnate on progress then drop the pull-ups for three weeks. Cycle in something else or use a different grip. Stick with it. It is about building volume and practicing. Good luck. Let me know when you get your first pull-up!
Every question in my book is from you, the readers of elitefts. You Ask, I Answer is full of the answers you want to know. You can only find it here at elitefts.com. Pick up your copy today!