I recently learned about a man named Steven Proto who currently holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s heaviest weighted pull-up. I got in touch with him, and asked if I could pick his brain about training. He said, “sure!” So, I sent him a long list of questions, and below, you’ll see what he sent back. But first, a little background info about Steven’s accomplishment from the Guinness World Record’s website…
The heaviest weighted pull up weighed 206.2 lb (93.53 kg) and was achieved by Steven Proto (USA) at a personal gym in Edmond, Oklahoma, USA, on 9 July 2011.
Proto attached four gymnasium weight plates to a belt worn around his waist during the pull up. The plates were tied together with a chain. The entire apparatus was weighed before and immediately after the attempt.
Here’s a video of the official event…
Steven Proto sets the Guinness World Record for the World’s Heaviest Pull-up
Not too shabby! That is some serious weight. I mean, I’ve done weighted pull-ups – sure. But nothing anywhere near this kind of performance. And even though Steven made it look easy, I’m sure it was anything but easy. To think how much work went into that display of strength, and the fact that the performance only took a few seconds from start to finish… but enough blabbing from me. Onto the interview…
First off, I am thrilled to be hosting you for an interview. I’ve conducted dozens of interviews in the past, but I believe you’re the first of my interviewees whom actually holds a Guinness World Record. So, could you tell us a little bit about yourself including your background in fitness and also what you do today?
I first started weight training in my junior year in high school. When I joined the Marines I knew to get a perfect PFT I would need to do 20 pull ups. When I left for boot camp my max was 14 reps. In the Marines the most I have ever done was 28 reps. once I got out of the Marines I decided to start adding weight. Currently, I train at home, and for a living, I am a Personal Banker.
I guess before we get into anything technical, why pull-ups? What’s so great about this exercise?
Pull ups are a great test of upper body strength. I favor pull ups since they tend to be the most difficult; they put the bicep in weaker position.
When did you realize that you wanted to break a world record for pull-ups?
At the time I could do 1 rep with 160 lbs. and I thought that was pretty awesome. Then one day I was skimming though REPS! Magazine I saw an article about Tim Ferguson. He did one rep with a 202 lb. dumbbell to himself. Even though it was a chin up and only counted total weight I contacted the record keeper for this record and he sent me the guide lines. I was able to beat his record with a total of 402 lbs. of total weight. A year later I contacted Guinness World Records to see if they had a category for just the weight added then they sent me a record breakers pack. A few rules are an overhand grip (pronated grip) must be used, the body must remain straight throughout, i.e. no bending at the waist (we will accept slight bending at the knees). The weight needs to be weighted before and after the attempt. Among the witnesses must be at least one person familiar with proper pullup technique (i.e. personal trainer).
What was your training routine like to prepare for a world record attempt?
While training for my weighted pull up world record I did weighted pull ups 4 days a week following various routines. On different days, I would train 4-5 sets with light weight for 6-12 reps, medium weight for 3-5 reps and heavy weight 1-2 reps. On other days I would pyramid up and back down though each of those for 6 sets. I have a daily log posted on my website on what I did each day.
Any special diet considerations or nutrition strategies?
I would consume 200 grams of protein and enough calories to maintain my bodyweight.
If you could pin-point one thing that had the biggest impact on your success, what would it be?
Having competition has made the biggest impact of my success. Being active and preparing for competition whether it is online or in real life is the best motivation.
What other exercises do you use in your training program besides pull-ups?
While training for a pull up contest I find doing pull ups is the best thing; everything else upper body gets put on hold. When I hit a plateau I will let up and train with rows, curls, and shoulders. When I take a complete break I train 5 days a week back, chest, arms, legs shoulders. I have also built a power lifting routine around Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength; which I gained 20 lbs. from.
Note from John: Starting Strength is a great book, and a must-read for strength athletes, but you probably knew that already!
Do you find any value in specific assistance exercises to improve pull-up and chin-up performance?
Unless you are unable to do a single rep, assistance is fine. Once you can do a couple of reps with your own body weight unassisted reps are the way to go.
Are there any other advanced pull-up variations, besides weighed pull-ups, that you like to use and why?
I have not tried any other pull up variations as part of my routine. I feel anything that isn’t straight up and down could cause injury.
And how about the rarely seen one-arm pull-up? How did you go about working up to this feat of strength?
These are one of the pull up variations that I would only attempt once and a while. I never trained for them specifically. I feel training with weighted pull ups has helped and I just made attempts until I was able to do them. There are many was to train for them but I just never did.
Do you know of any recognized strength standards when it comes to weighted pull-ups (e.g. 50% of bodyweight for 5 reps, 2/3 of bodyweight for 3 reps, etc.)?
There aren’t ratios for body weight and added weight. It all depends on your type of training and how conditioned you are. Around the same time I could do 100 lbs. for 12, 160 lbs. for 6, and 180 lbs. for 2, and 205 lbs. for 1. For max bodyweight reps I do them fast and steady. Once I break tempo with a few seconds rest I always get just 5 more, every time.
What would you recommend for someone who cannot do a single pull-up yet?
I would first start with chin-ups if you can do those. Assisted pull ups are the best option but you have to be careful not to add to much assistance. If your goal is to do 1-2 reps you should be adding only enough assistance to do 1-5 reps.
Is there a logical progression of exercises that one can use to build up to heavy weighted pull-ups and other advanced variations?
The best way to get better at weighted pull ups is weighted pull ups. Curls and rows will be useful but your primary focus should be weighted pull ups.
Have you experienced any injuries, and if so, how did you deal with them?
I have had lingering bicep pain I believe is caused by inflammation from over hand grip pull ups. Your bicep is not in its strongest position while doing pull ups. It is half way between supination and pronation and any strain can lead to a lingering pain. I went to see a specialist. The orthopedic surgeon review my bicep MRI and couldn’t not find anything wrong that might require surgery.
What are some of your preferred recovery methods (e.g. active recovery, stretching, yoga, joint mobility, etc.)?
I have not though about recovery methods for pull ups. When I’m done training, I just rest.
What are some of the unique challenges or limiting factors that come with heavy pull-up training and how do you address them?
A comfortable dip belt to hold the weight and strong enough chain. I will upgrade the chain and clips on a cheap belt if it looks like it won’t hold the weight. If you plan on adding over 135 lbs. you should spend the money on a strong nylon or leather belt.
What are some of the common mistakes you’ve seen from beginners who start doing weighted pull-ups?
Not performing warm-up sets with light weight. Kipping on weighted pull ups.
What are some of your favorite pull-up training tools and equipment (especially home gym equipment) and why? Any must-have investments?
Dip belt is a must have, and wear it the same way constantly. Either between your legs (preferred); or across the front of your thighs. Changing the center of gravity will slightly affect the direction your back muscles pull. Some people will run the chain back though the second D ring. I just go through the weights and back up and let my hips hold the weight, not my waist.
You want to avoid cheap belts made in Pakistan; they are bought in bulk by online venders at a dollar a piece and resold for $20+.
Go with a Spud Inc. dip belt, or get a custom leather belt from Bob’s Belts. Those are the two I recommend. A strong, straight bar mounted high enough you can do a pull up with only a slight bend in your knees. Wrapping your pull up bar is also helpful, I use tennis racket wrap.
What are the benefits of building your own equipment and what are some of the more popular/useful options out there that someone could consider?
Building a bar may not be the best choice for everyone. I made my own bar from the ceiling because I wanted a 360 unobstructed view of my body for GWR. Also it needed to be high enough that I would only have a “slight bend in my knees”.
You could build a bar outside or add a bar to an existing squat rack. All you need is an imagination.
Could you share one of your favorite pull-up workouts?
One of my favorite pull up routines for endurance is 100 reps in the shortest time possible. Your form needs to be good – no kipping – the same way you would normally do them. You can rest between any number of sets. This is a great way to increase the number of quality pull ups you can do in one set.
I’ve seen footage of you doing extremely heavy weighted pull-ups, one-arm pull-ups, and many other impressing feats of strength and athleticism that most people could only dream of doing. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to work toward achieving some of the impressive feats you have?
Train weighted pull ups consistently and mix up your routine if you stop seeing results. Also, avoid injuring yourself. The key to hitting a heavy single rep is in your warm up. When I make attempts for over 200 lbs. I will do around 5 reps with 45 lbs., 3 with 90, 2 with 135, and 1 with 160. If your goal is to do 30 pull ups, you want to train in the rep range you will want to be it or train with a short enough break that you have that muscular fatigue.
Do you have any plans for setting or breaking more world records in the future?
I would like to beat my own record with 225 lbs. added: five 45 lb. plates. I also suspect someone might beat it before then.
Where is the best place to find more information about you and your work?
I have detailed information about how and where I train on my website http://www.extremistpullup.com. I also post videos and information on my athlete Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ExtremistPullup.
OK, just one more video. Not surprisingly, Steven took first place in a pull-up contest at the Oklahoma State Fair last month, and here’s the footage to prove it…
If you enjoyed this interview, please share it with your friends!
Health-First Fitness Coach