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.
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.
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CST Coach, CST-KS
Health-First Fitness Coach