6 Tips to Do More Pull-ups & Chin-ups (part 1)
I get a ton of questions online as well as from my in-person trainees about chinups and pullups. There are a lot of people out there still trying to get their first legit chin. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you aren’t comfortable admitting it. It’s odd because some really strong men and women sometimes struggle with chinups and especially pullups.
As a reminder, chinups are when your palms are facing you after grabbing the bar, while pullups are when your palms are facing away from you. Pullups generally make less use of the biceps which is why they are usually harder.
I’ve written about these before, and I created a system I use for in-person trainees to help them progress.
I recently discovered John Sifferman’s work, and it turns out he’s got videos and a great ebook write-up that is similar to my system. I can tell you this works. You have to be dedicated, but it works. I asked John to write an article for you and he ended up over-delivering! It’s so packed that I’ve split it up into two parts. Here is part one.
Pull-ups and chin-ups are some of the best exercises for the upper body, but many people struggle to get better at them. So, in this quick guide, I’ll give you some of my best tips for getting your first proper pull-up, building your rep numbers fast, and breaking through a plateau to reach 20-30 pull-ups and beyond (if you dare!).
My Top 2 Tips for Beginners (0-5 Reps)
In the beginning, the key to success is building skill-specific strength by practicing proper technique often.
1) Choose the right pull-up progression for your strength level.
If you can’t do any pull-ups or chin-ups, try doing assisted reps by jumping to help with the pulling phase, or by using a resistance band or a partner to help support some of your weight. If you can’t perform assisted reps smoothly, under control, try just performing negative pull-ups or chin-ups (i.e. just the lowering portion of the exercise). And if that’s too tough, simply try hanging from the bar for time (e.g. in the top, flexed position, the middle position, and/or the bottom deadhang position). With frequent practice, your strength will improve.
Here’s an old video I filmed to explain these progressions…
[Editor’s Note from Darrin: This was many years ago and you can see, you don’t need to be jacked to get lots of pullups. And you don’t need a fancy gym!]
2) Practice the hardest progression that you can do with excellent technique as often as possible.
If you can do zero pull-ups, or only a few reps, then strength is what you need to focus on. And the best way to build strength for pull-ups is to practice the exercise frequently. You can plug 3-5 practice sets into your regular workouts – being sure to keep your effort level at or below 80% of your maximum ability. Or, you can grease the groove, by practicing several low-intensity sets of pull-ups (or easier variations) throughout the day – several days per week (see below for further instructions on greasing the groove).
Whenever your practice pull-ups, and especially in the beginning, you want to make sure that you’re performing all of your reps with optimal technique so that you can maximize your results, and minimize the risk of injury.
So, here’s my detailed video on optimal pull-up technique. I guarantee you’ll learn something from this, whether you can do zero pull-ups or twenty.
[Editor’s Note From Darrin: A couple years later and John’s hard work is paying off with an even better physique!]
My Top 2 Tips for Intermediate Trainees (6-15 Reps)
3) Grease the groove for rapid, short-term results.
Greasing the groove (GTG) is one of the best methods for building strength fast, and it’s particularly effective for people who can do between 5-15 pull-ups, which seems to be a sweet spot when applying this method to the pull-ups exercise. But it can certainly be used by those outside of this range, too – and quite successfully!
Here’s how it works:
Several days per week (e.g. 4-7 days), do several sets of pull-ups throughout the day (e.g. 5-10+ sets). All sets should be performed with proper form at a sub-maximal intensity (e.g. 25-80% of max reps) – and stopped well before muscle failure.
The underlying goal is to do as much work as possible (i.e. reps) while also staying as fresh as possible. In other words, you’re trying to practice the exercise without exhausting yourself so that you can train it very frequently. This will improve your nervous system’s efficiency, which will, in turn, help you do more pull-ups.
Even though GTG training doesn’t require much effort, it is hands-down one of the most effective pull-up training strategies. But like all good things, your results won’t last forever. So, when your results start to slow down (usually after 3-6 weeks of GTG), move on to the workouts contained in tip four below.
4) Focus on the following three types of workouts.
Below, you’ll find three kinds of pull-up workouts that are great for intermediate trainees.
a) Max-Effort Pull-up Workouts
Instructions: After a warmup, complete 3-5 max or near-max sets of pull-ups, gradually increasing your intensity each set. Rest 2-3 minutes between sets.
Set 1: 80% of max reps
Set 2: 85% of max reps
Set 3: 90% of max reps
Set 4: 95% of max reps
Set 5: 100% of max reps
b) Pull-up Pyramid Workouts
Instructions: Do one pull-up, then rest for about 10 seconds. Do two pull-ups, then rest for about 20 seconds. And continue this progression until you max out and can’t complete the next level. Then work your way back down the pyramid by doing one less repetition each set.
Set 1: 1 rep
Set 2: 2 reps
Set 3: 3 reps
Set 4: 4 reps
Set 5: 5 reps
Set 6: 5 reps (max – missed 6th rep)
Set 7: 4 reps
Set 8: 3 reps
Set 9: 2 reps
Set 10: 1 rep
Here’s a video that explains how the pyramid workout works…
[Editor’s Note: Back to a few years earlier…]
c) Pull-up Endurance Workouts
Instructions: Select a repetition number that’s approximately half of your maximum ability. So, if you can do 10 pull-ups during a test, your number is 5 reps. Complete 10-20 sets, resting no more than 30 seconds between sets.
Suggestion: do the three workouts listed above once per week for 4-6 weeks (i.e. a total of 3 pull-up workouts per week).
Back to Darrin…
Awesome, How Do I Learn More?
In the meantime, John has a much more detailed program – including more videos – as part of The Pullup Solution: The Complete Pull-up & Chin-up Training System.
He’s offering a great product at a great price and will give you your money back if you aren’t happy. And if he doesn’t I will. I don’t ever want to recommend any product that doesn’t work and so you’ve got a double guarantee here.
Note: this is a guest article written by John Sifferman, who is the author of The Pullup Solution: The Complete Pull-up & Chin-up Training System.