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A Complete Pullups Workout Program to Help You Shatter Your Personal Record and Dramatically Improve Your Pullups Performance
If you want to strengthen your arm and back muscles, spread your wings (lats) to create that V-tapered back appearance, and increase that critical vertical pulling strength that everyone needs, AND if you want a laser-focused pullups program that was created exactly for improving your pullup numbers, then you’ve come to the right place. Below, you’ll find a complete workout program with several pullup workouts that you can use to accomplish these goals.
How I Went From 6 Deadhang Pullups to Over 30 in Only 3 Months
Back when I was in high school, I followed a 52-week workout program right out of the book Maximum Fitness : The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Cross Training. Over the next three months, while following the first training cycle, I increased my pullup numbers from a maximum of 6-7 reps to an astonishing 31 reps – my all-time record. I was pretty happy when I hit 20 reps for the first time, but when I crossed that big 30, well, it was pretty cool.
Now, 30 pullups might not seem all that impressive with some fitness trainees regularly nailing sets of 50 or even 100 kipping pullups in a row. But here’s the thing. These were deadhang pullups, and being able to perform 30 deadhang pullups is almost unheard of – even today. I studied up on basic pullup technique, and while I didn’t understand the nuances of this movement at the time, I did make sure to follow the basic recommendations outlined in most exercise textbooks.
I’m confident that anyone who is healthy and of normal weight could approximate my level of success, and today, I’m going to share my complete program for how to rapidly increase your pullup and chinup numbers.
The “Over 30 Pullups In 3 Months” Complete Workout Program
Sure, you could just follow the pullup workouts in the book I used, and that would probably work just fine, but not everyone wants to train like a Navy SEAL. So, I’ve outlined what I would recommend for a complete pullups program, and it’s actually very different than what you’ll find in the book.
But what if I can’t even do 5 pullups? Heck, what if I can’t even do ONE?
Whatever your level of conditioning or skill, you can start using this program to start building your pullup strength – whether you can already do 30 pullups or even if you can’t do a single pullup. The following program can be modeled using any of the following exercises:
Beginner level 1: flexed-arm hangs
Beginner level 2: negative repetition pullups
Beginner level 3: the many forms of assisted pullups (partner-assisted, band assisted, or jumping pullups, etc.).
Intermediate level 4: deadhang pullups (ie traditional pullups)
Advanced level 5: weighted pullups
Whichever level you’re able to do comfortably and with good technique, you should start the first month using that particular technique, and work your way up to the next levels, if possible.
Pullups Workout Program - Month 1: Grease the Groove Technique
For the entire first month, the most important thing you can do is practice pullup technique as frequently as possible. You can do this using the grease the groove technique, which is very simple. Several times each and every day (5-6 days per week, 1-2 days off), perform a sub-maximal set of pullups. Your goal should be to do as many pullups as possible throughout the course of each day. However you accomplish those reps is up to you, but here are some things to keep in mind to maximize your results.
Your goal should be to do more pullups than the day before – every single day you grease the groove. You’re slowly building volume over the course of the month. One other thing to keep in mind is that increasing intensity/effort is NOT the key this month. Fatigue is to be avoided, no matter how tempting it may be. Put your effort into your other training workouts. Hold back on the effort until month two. You’ll be glad you did.
The number of repetitions you do each set is dependent on two things:
1) your perceived level of maximum reps (% of max)
2) the amount of sets you’re planning on doing throughout the day.
If you only do a handful of sets throughout the day, then your repetition amounts should be higher (but never higher than 60% of your max reps per set). On the other hand, if you do a ton of sets throughout each day (ie 10-20+), then stay down in the 20-40% of maximum effort range – even as low as 1-3 reps per set is fine. So, the more sets you do throughout the day, the lower the repetition amount should be each set.
Keeping your technique solid is of paramount importance and will directly transfer over into better performance once we get into months two and three. Follow the instructions in my video about how to do pullups with perfect technique and start doing them in this way from day one. Of course, on your actual first day – perform your first set as a test to find out what your max is.
Get out a sheet of paper and post it somewhere you’ll see it regularly (or keep it in your wallet/purse), and use that to record the actual number of pullups you’ve done each day. Then break that record the next day.
Most people will notice a huge increase in their pullup numbers just after month one (often over double what you started at), which usually astonishes them because although it required frequent practice, it did NOT require much effort. You can chalk it up to practicing the technique and training the nervous system to perform it efficiently. If you’ve done this right, you’ll be primed for compressing your training into actual sessions and building volume next month.
Pullups Workout Program – Month 2: Building Volume With Pyramid Training and High-Volume Sessions
Grease the groove is all over now. No more practice sets throughout the day, no matter how tempting it is (though, you could start greasing the groove with another movement skill on the side). Be glad about the progress you’ve made, but it’s time to move on before you hit a plateau. This month your goal is to build volume during actual training sessions, and we’re going to do this with two different types of workouts that you’re going to alternate throughout each week.
If you can find a way to integrate these into your current training sessions, then by all means, do so. If it just won’t work, then either do these at the end of your workouts as “finishers,” or perform them at a different time entirely.
Pullup Workout A1: Double-Step Pyramid Training
Instructions: Perform a pyramid of pullups all the way up to your max and then back down again using multiples of two’s to climb each step. In this A1 session, you’re going to go up by doubles.
Here is an example of the progression: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 (max), 8, 6, 4, 2 = 50 total pullups
Go up as high as you can while maintaining proper technique, and rest as much as necessary between sets. Instead of following a rigid structure for rest, just rest as much as you feel is necessary to complete the next step. Generally, I recommend using as little as 15 seconds of rest on lower levels, and up to 2 minutes on upper levels.
Pullup Workout A2: Single-Step Pyramid Training
Instructions: This is identical to the pyramid workout above, except this time (A2) you’re climbing the pyramid one repetition at a time.
Here is an example of the progression: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (max), 4, 3, 2, 1 = 25 total pullups
Here’s another example for performing 100 total pullups: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 (max), 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 = 100 total pullups
Go up as high as you can while maintaining proper technique, and rest as much as necessary between sets. Instead of following a rigid structure for rest, just rest as much as you feel is necessary to complete the next step. You’ll probably need a little more rest in between sets when climbing the pyramid via single steps.
Pullup Workout B1: Low-Rep, High Volume Training
Instructions: Select a number of repetitions based on approximately 20% of your maximum. So, if you can do 10-12 pullups in a maxed-out set, then your number is 2 or 3 repetitions. Perform 15-20 sets with as little rest as possible. Keep doing sets until your technique starts to decline, and stop if you reach 20 total. You’ll need to rest more during the latter sets, of course. Set a personal record each time you do this session by doing more total sets than your last session.
Pullup Workout B2: Moderate-Rep, High Volume Training
Instructions: Select a number of repetitions based on approximately 30-40%% of your maximum. So, if you can do 10-12 pullups in a maxed-out set, then your number is 3-5 repetitions per set. Perform 8-15 sets with as little rest as possible, and no more than 1 minute between rounds. Keep doing sets until your technique starts to decline, and stop if you reach 15 total. Set a personal record each time you do this session by doing more total sets than your last session.
Month 2 Training Schedule
Here is the training schedule to follow (it’s ok if you make some changes to this, just remember that less is more):
Week 1 – A1, B1 (e.g. A1 on Monday, B1 on Thur)
Week 2 – A2, B2 (e.g. A2 on Tue, B2 on Sat)
Week 3 – A1, B1, A2 (e.g. Mon, Wed, Fri)
Week 4 – B1, A2, B2 (e.g. Mon, Wed, Fri)
Note: these sessions can be done on any non-consecutive days, but ideally, they should be equally spaced apart throughout the week.
Pullups Workout Program – Month 3: Lowering Volume and Building Intensity to Peak for the Final Test
You’ve already laid a foundation of good technique in month one, perfected that technique and built a base of training volume in month two, and now is when the work starts to get hard because it’s time to increase the intensity of your sessions.
Pullup Workout C1: Descending Pyramid Session
Instructions: This is essentially half of a pyramid, and you are starting at the top and working your way down. Perform a near-max set of pullups (approximately 90% of your max reps), then rest for as long as necessary before performing a set of one less repetition, and continue this until you reach the final set of 1 pullup. Obviously, it’s very important that you’re adequately warmed up prior to starting this session (see joint mobility recommendations below).
Here is an example of the progression: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 reps = 55 total pullups
Pullup Workout C2: 50-100 Reps in as few Sets as Possible
Instructions: Perform between 50-100 pullups in as few sets as possible. Select the goal number based on your conditioning level. It’s probably best to try and select repetition amounts for each set that land around 60-80% of your maximum ability. So, if you can perform 10 pullups, then sets of 6-8 are probably optimal for this session. Rest as necessary.
Here’s an example for a goal of 100 repetitions:
10, 10, 10, 10, 9, 9, 8, 8, 7, 7, 6, 6.
Pullup Workout C3: Maximum Set Practice Sessions
Instructions: Repeat the following 3-5 times.
1 Set of of maximum pullups with 3-5 minutes of rest between sets
These are an all-out effort, and you should be trying to hit 100% exertion every time. Your repetition numbers will likely decrease every subsequent set. This is a sign that you’re doing it right. When you repeat this workout later in the month, try to score more total reps on your last set to both gauge and ensure progression.
Month 3 Training Schedule
Here is the training schedule to follow (it’s ok if you make some changes to this, just remember that less is more):
Week 1 – Rest. No pullup training at all. This is a time for your body to recover from the high volume training that you’ve done over the last two months and prime you for a few weeks of higher-intensity training. Other fitness training is ok, but depending on your program, it might be a good idea to take a 5-7 day break anyways (highly recommended if you haven’t taken a week off in the last 12 weeks).
Week 2 – C1, C2 (e.g. C1 on Mon, C2 on Thur)
Week 3 – C3, C1, (e.g. C3 on Mon, C1 on Thur)
Week 4 – C2, C3, C1 (e.g. Mon, Wed, Fri)
Week 5 – Pick a day for your pullup test. Plan ahead, and give it a shot.
Notes for maximizing your pullup test performance:
1) Get plenty of sleep at least a couple of nights before your test day.
2) Make sure you are fully hydrated well in advance. Start front-loading your water at least 48 hours in advance. The same should go for front-loading optimal nutrition as well.
3) Make sure you’ve taken at least 2 days off from ALL formal exercise, and 3-4 days would be better.
4) Perform a basic joint mobility session to prime your joints, muscles, and nervous system, increase your core temperature, and specifically prep the ranges of motion for the pullup exercise (prioritize the following: scapular shoulder circles, humeral shoulder circles and figure eights, elbow basic ranges and circles, wrist basic ranges and circles, hand and finger mobility – if you don’t know what these are, see here)
5) Perform a very low intensity warmup set – just a few reps to groove the technique without fatiguing you at all.
6) When you know you’re ready, step up to the bar, and know that you’ve spent the last 3 months preparing for this test and that you will ace it with flying colors.
The Bottom Line
If you follow the above program, then I guarantee that you will amaze yourself, as I did, with the results you can achieve in only three months time. There’s nothing quite like knowing that you’ve mastered a very challenging exercise, and on top of that, you’ll be turning heads in disbelief as you continue to rep out on the pullup bar. One last thing: the fitness benefits you experience will also be exceptional. You probably don’t care about that, though.
If you’re ready to get started, and haven’t done so already, check out my detailed tutorial on how to do pullups right now, or see below for more info.
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CST Coach, CST-KS
Health-First Fitness Coach