In life, the best things for us are usually things we don't like: eating broccoli, flossing your teeth, and perhaps everyone’s least-favorite exercise — pull-ups.
In life, the best things for us are usually things we don't like: eating broccoli, flossing your teeth, and perhaps everyone's least-favorite exercise — pull-ups. People loathe this mighty move, which is unfortunate because the pull-up is not just a fantastic exercise for increasing the size and strength of your back and arms, it's also a posture-improving move that improves your overall athletic ability. Many people complain that chin-ups and pull-ups are too hard - they can only do a few reps, if any at all. It seems impossible to make progress, much less rifle off sets of multiple reps. But if you try the following progression, in a few weeks you'll be doing just that.
Before you can do a pull up, you must be able to do a chin-up. If you can perform only a few or none at all, don't get frustrated. Get fascinated. Most people can't perform many chins, so you are not alone. Use the following 4-week program, performing two workouts per week, and you'll increase your reps in no time.
Static Chin-Up Holds and Negative Chin-Ups
For the first two weeks, you'll perform static chin-up holds. These lay the groundwork for pull-ups to come later. To perform the hold, stand on a bench or box under the bar. Grab the bar and pull your chin over it. Hold for 10 seconds, then rest. Perform 10 sets. Increase the time by five seconds each workout. In weeks three and four, you'll move on to negative chin-ups. Here, you'll perform only the lowering portion of the chi-up. Stand on a bench to start with your chin above the bar, hands gripping it. Step off the bench and lower yourself slowly to the bottom over a five-count. Perform 8 sets, increasing the time by 5 seconds each workout.
Ready for a real challenge? Once you've built your chin-up/pull-up base, you can move on to the pull-up workout. The following workouts are to be performed on one training day per week for the next 10 weeks. Each of the following five pull up variations is to be performed for two of those weeks.
Weeks 1-2: Chin-Up
Begin by hanging from a bar with your elbows extended, palms facing you. Raise your chest to the bar, then lower to the start position in control. Perform 3 sets of 6 reps.
Weeks 3-4: Alternating Grip Chin-Up
Begin by hanging from the bar with your elbows extended and palms facing opposite directions. Bring your chin over and the chest up to the bar. Lower to the original position and hold for two seconds. Perform 3 sets of 8 reps.
Weeks 5-6: Pull-Up
Begin by hanging from the bar with your elbows extended and palms facing away from you. Bring your chest to the bar, then lower to the starting position. Perform 4 sets of 6 reps.
Weeks 7-8: Pike Pull-Ups
Begin by hanging from the bar with your palms facing out, elbows straight and your feet held above the hips. Lift your chin over and chest up to the bar, staying in the pike position throughout the movement. Lower to the start position and hold for two seconds. Perform 4 sets of 7 reps.
Weeks 9-10: Triangle Pull-Up
Begin by hanging in the pull-up position. Bring your chest to the bar, then shift so that your head is in-line with one of your hands as you maintain your max height. Lower, then repeat in the other direction. Aim for 4 sets of 6 reps.
About The Author: Martin Rooney, MHS, PT, CSCS
Rooney is the founder of Training for Warriors, trained athletes from the NFL, MLB, NBA and several Division I colleges, and has lectured for the American College of Sports Medicine and many other professional strength and conditioning organizations. He created the Pushup Warrior app, which features 120 pushup variations and 80 workouts. He has also written seven books, including "Warrior Cardio," which is now available on Amazon.
Related: More workouts are available in Martin's new book, "Warrior Cardio."