My Top 5 Favorite Pullup and Chinup Workouts

5 Complete Pullup and Chinup Workouts to Help You Build Muscle, Increase Your Strength, and Skyrocket Your Numbers

I’ve written about pullup training many times before (see links below), and even published a complete 3 month pullup training program that I’ve used with my clients quite successfully over the years. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t more fun to be had from this great exercise. And so, I present to you five of my personal favorite pullup and chinup workouts. These are just too much fun to NOT share with you! And get this – they actually work!

I’ve used each and every one of these to build both my and my clients pullup numbers and increase strength and hypertrophy when the goal has been there. And if probability is on my side, these can work for you, too.

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Once you’ve learned these workouts, zounds of people will gather around you – just begging for a turn!

5) The “Can’t Lie To Yourself” Max Effort Workout

This one is extremely simple, and also extremely brutal. I don’t like doing this one very often, but when I do, I’m always glad once I’m finished because it’s quite an accomplishment.

Here it is:

5 sets of maximum pullups – rest no longer than 3 minutes between sets

Simple, but definitely not easy. If you’d like to make this one a little more bearable, and play it smart, then after your warmup, complete the workout like this:

-set of pullups at 80% of maximum intensity (e.g. if you can only do 10 reps, then you will do 8 this set)
-set of pullups at 85% of maximum intensity
-set of pullups at 90% of maximum intensity
-set of pullups at 95% of maximum intensity
-set of pullups at 100% of maximum intensity (leave nothing left, and don’t let go of the bar unless you’re about to fall off)

*no more than 3 minutes of rest between sets

So, I’ll leave it at that. You can get back to me on this one, right?

Note: It should go without saying, that you should also perform a proper warmup and cooldown routine during these workouts. Some of them can act as part of an activity-specific warmup (e.g. the pyramid workout below), but it would be time well-spent to do some joint mobility and movement/muscle activation drills beforehand and some yoga or stretching afterwards.

 4) The 100 Reps in as Little Time as Possible Workout

If you’re short on time, but want to get a decent bit of work in, then a timed workout is a great option. It doesn’t necessarily have to be 100 reps, and you can apply any time limit depending on your schedule, but the idea is to get as many pullups done in as little time possible.

So, if you select 100 reps, and you commit to 10/minute, that workout will only take 10 minutes (or 20 minutes if you commit to 5/minute, etc.).

Suggestion: when deciding on a repetition amount, I suggest using a minimum of 25 to get a training effect. If you’re a beginner, and you’re not even thinking in terms of full pullups yet, then you can substitute assisted repetitions, negative repetitions, or flexed-arm hangs.

Another spin-off from this workout is to do 100 reps in as few sets as possible. For example: 15, 13, 12, 12, 11, 10, 10, 9, 8 reps = 100 total reps.

It’s very tough, but hey, at least it won’t take long!

3) The Death Climb Pullup and Chinup Workout

This is another tough one, and you’ll enjoy it if you’re a glutton for punishment. Plus, it’s great if you have a decent bit of time available and want to max out on training volume.

Instructions: Select a repetition amount based on approximately 20-30% of your maximum. So, if you can do 10 pullups, then you would use sets of 2-3 reps. Perform a set of 2-3 pullups, and then rest for a short time (ie 10-30 seconds – the shorter the better), then perform another set, and repeat that sequence until either a) you can no longer perform pullups with good technique, or b) you’re experiencing any significant discomfort, or c) you start seeing stars, throw up, or forget where you are. The goal is to do as many good repetitions as possible, so rest accordingly.

Note: This is a great workout to vary the type of grip you’re using each set: pullup grip, chinup grip, parallel-grip pullups, etc. Check out some other grip ideas here.

2) The Pullup and Chinup Pyramid Workout

I’ve enjoyed pyramid training ever since I got serious about fitness training, and it’s because there are so many great things about doing a pyramid workout built right into the design. With pullups and chinups, I like doing pyramids in 1-repetition increments like this:

The progression 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 = 100 pullups

Rest only as needed to complete the next set. You’ll notice that this workout has a built-in activity-specific warmup and cooldown that occurs naturally as you progress up and down the pyramid. Alternatively, you can climb the pyramid in increments of 2’s, 3’s, etc.

I like to vary my grip each set with pyramids, too. The highest I’ve ever gotten is 15 – how high can you get?

1) The Personal Record Pullup Workout

This is by far my favorite stand-alone pullup workout, and I like to use this protocol in many different workouts, too (not just pullup workouts). This is a great way to set a new personal record, and my personal training clients have seemed to like it for that reason, too.

1st set (warmup set) – After a general warmup, usually some joint mobility exercises if you’re training with me, you will perform one – just one – warmup set of pullups/chinups/whatever exercise you’re testing that day. The goal is not to expend much energy or fatigue yourself at all. It is meant to prime the working muscles and, more importantly, practice and reinforce good technique for the following two sets. Keep your exertion level no higher than 40% of your maximum ability. When finished, rest for two minutes.

2nd set (set for building intensity) – Perform a set of pullups for enough reps to reach 60-80% of your maximum ability. Do not push past 80%! Save it for the last set. You can think of this set as an opportunity to send your body a signal that you’re about to work very hard, but don’t allow yourself to over-exert yourself. It’s priming you for the last set. Once finished, rest for 2-3 minutes.

3rd set (maximum effort set) – This is a max effort set and is where you’ll be going for a new personal record. Give it everything you’ve got, and go for a 100% performance. Decide ahead of time that you’re going to set a personal record and commit beforehand that you’re going to push yourself even when it gets tough, even when you think you can’t do another repetition. Then do it. Once finished, rest as needed and then bask in your glory.

And if you still need some help with technique, training ideas, or program design, then check out the links below. Mi casa es tu casa.

Update: Want to do more pull-ups? Check out my free 5-day Pull-up Training Crash Course. I’ll hook you up with a free program, some special reports and tutorials, and my very best tips on mastering the pull-up and chin-up exercises. If you want to improve your pull-up strength and performance as soon as this week, then Click Here to learn more about the free course.

More Pullup and Chinup Training Information:

Pull-up Training 101: The Basics on How to do More Pull-ups and Chin-ups

My FREE 5-Day Pull-up Training Crash Course

The Right Way to do Pullups and Chinups (Pullup Technique How-To Video)

How to Rapidly Increase Your Pullup Numbers in 3 Months or Less (Complete Program)

How to Achieve Your First Unassisted Pullup

The 1 Minute Pullup Challenge

9 Different Types of Pullups (Demo Video)

The Kipping Pullups VS Deadhang Pullups Debate Finally Put To Sleep

Doorway Pullup Bar – Everyone Needs One Of These!

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CST Coach, CST-KS
Health-First Fitness Coach

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9 Responses

  1. John (aka Wish I Were Riding)

    These all sound great, but to be honest, I hate reading about pull-ups since I can only do 3 max when I’m fresh.

  2. SteveinFL

    I’ve hit a pullup plateau at 6 reps. So I need to lose 5-10 lbs by dieting and also change my workout. Today I tried the Pyramid Workout working up to a set of 5 and then back down. It was actually pretty easy, but I wanted to start out slowly. I’m going to do this every other day and see if I can get to 10 pullups.

    Thanks for the pullup workout ideas John. I am going to try them all.

    There’s something about pullups, pushups, 1 leg squats and other bodyweight exercises that just makes me feel STRONG all the time. It’s great to know I can jump up and grab a ledge, bar or tree and pull myself up anytime.

    • Hi Steve,
      I did John’s 3-month pullup regimen, and at the time, I could only do 2-3 pullups. After the regimen, my max is now 6 and it definitely helped me lose some weight and give my upper body a nice V-shape (along with cardio & weight training and proper diet). You can see my experience on my blog: mitsk2002.wordpress.com

      Now I’m in your position: my max number of pullups is 6, and I want to lose some tummy fat. I’m toying around with different HIIT & strength training workouts, and also trying to eat 5 small meals per day. The 5 small meals is proving to be difficult.

      Anyways, good luck on your goal! John is a great resource.

    • I hear ya, Steve – it’s a good feeling.

  3. John, could you apply the same workouts to any strength training exercise? For example, pushups, handstand pushups, dips, planks, etc.?

    • Mitsu,

      Yes, the general format can be applied. I’d probably make some small changes for each exercise, but if you pay special attention to the instructions and use your intuition, you should be able to make it more appropriate for not just the exercise you choose, but also for your current conditioning level.

      PS – congrats on the fantastic progress!

  4. Hey
    this article is really great, I’ve been doing chin ups for like last three years with little breaks and my maximum is 18. Just i have one question , since obviously i don’t understand English very well in some points. With the first routine, I do 14 chin ups then rest three minutes and then do 15(considering my maximum is 18) and so on, so the rest is between each of ‘doing’ the exercise?

  5. It’s comforting to know that you can rest for 3 minutes after each set because I sure breathe heavy after each set. This has to be one of the most informative pullup article lists out there! I will definitely try them out and let you know the results.

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