Pyramid Training for Pullups with John Sifferman

posted in: Exercises, Strength Training, Videos, Workouts | 10

Pyramid training is a very effective means of increasing your strength and endurance. I have used pyramid training with great success for increasing my pullup numbers. I remember one pyramid training program I did years ago that involved a lot of bodyweight exercise.

It was a military PT program, and I committed myself to it for 12 weeks. When I started, I could do 7 full, military-grade pullups. That means your chin is clearly over the bar every repetition, and your elbows lock at the bottom of EVERY repetition. There is no room for sissy pullups in the Navy, and I didn’t leave any room for them in my pyramid training program. After 12 weeks, I could do 31 pullups in one set, and I attribute my excellent success to pyramid training.

Here is a pyramid training video to help you increase your pullup numbers:

Pyramid Training for Pullups

Note: here’s my review of that doorway pull-up bar I’m using – been using it for several years, and it’s still going strong.

The progression is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 = 25 total pullups

Alternatively, you can do doubles like this: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 = 50 pullups

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

Rest times need not be strict with pyramid training. The most important rule is that you set a target number and get there. Completion is more important than the speed at which you progress through the levels. Generally, I use as little as 15 seconds of rest on lower levels, and up to 60 seconds on upper levels.

Pyramid training isn’t only effective for pullups, it can be used for any exercise. Some other favorites are bodyweight squats, lunges, bench step-ups, pushups, and plank holds for time (each set is a longer time limit).

Try pyramid training out and your body will thank you.

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 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

How to Rapidly Increase Your Pullup Numbers in 3 Months or Less

The Right Way to do Pullups and Chinups

How to Achieve Your First Unassisted Pullup

9 Different Types of Pullups (Demo Video)

Kipping Pullups VS Deadhang Pullups

Doorway Pullup Bar Product Review

To your health and success,


10 Responses

  1. Hi John.
    How many times a day (1/2/3), and how many days a week (every day, every other day, three times a week…) did you do them?
    And how much should I rest before I retest my pullups?
    (btw, I can do 8 good form pullups)

  2. Hi Chanz,

    Pyramid training is high volume, so you’ll need to be careful how much you do. Use your intuition – you’ll know if you’re overdoing it.

    I recommend you only do one session per training day, and no more than 3 times/week. Usually, I would do a pyramid workout 1-2 times every week when building volume. I would also supplement that session with other strength sessions depending on my goal. Pyramid training should not be an exclusive program design protocol that you use all the time. It’s a useful method, but it requires balance like anything else.

    To your health and success,


  3. Hi John,
    I just stumbled across your website today and I found it very interesting. I have been doing crossfit with a friend for almost a year, but I got hurt really bad doing a WOD with high reps of GHD situps. I read your critique of Crossfit and now I understand what you meant. Although I like the gains I made, some of the elitism and extremism of the WODs undoubtedly resulted in my injury. Would you have any tips for making a Crossfit WOD safer? Thank you for your time and keep up the good work,

    • Hi Dustin,

      I’m sorry to hear about your injury. There are many things you can do to help prevent injury from Crossfit training. First is to perform a daily joint mobility session, from head to toe.

      joint mobility routine here:

      Second, start practicing yoga after your sessions to release any built-up tension. I recommend Prasara Yoga since it teaches you to deconstruct your training session and perform yoga that is appropriate to the exercises you used during training.

      Finally, incorporate a new aspect into all of your training – that is levels of perceived technique, discomfort, and effort.

      Your technique level should never fall below an 8/10 (10 being perfect technique). This means that performing ALL exercises with perfect technique should be your primary concern. If your technique fails, then you’re done. That’s often looked down upon in CrossFit because the goal is increasing your numbers for performance gains and PR’s, not ensuring injury prevention. But if you know what’s good for you, you’ll stop exercising or tone down the intensity enough to maintain excellent technique.

      Secondly, is a discomfort rating, don’t do anything that causes pain above a 3/10 (10 being the worst pain you’ve ever felt). If it’s painful, then it’s damaged or damaging your body and you need to stop. Don’t wait for it to become a 5/10. Figure out what the problem is and fix it.

      Third, your exertion or effort rating can be pushed as high as you can maintain excellent technique and minimal discomfort. If you’ve got perfect technique and minimal discomfort, feel free to push your effort rating up as high as possible (10/10).

      There you go – that’s the band-aid solution to preventing injury with CrossFit. This won’t guarantee you won’t get injured though, since the process is much more complicated that this quick-fix can address. However, adopting these elements into your practice this will do your body a lot of good.

      If you’re willing, I’d love for you to post a brief summary of your story with CrossFit and the details of your injury, so that others can become aware about the inherent problems with the system:



  4. Hey John,

    Just read this post, and I was wondering exactly what workout program you did to go from 7 to 31. I can do about 15 now, but I would like to be doing 25+ 4 months from now for military purposes, so your results are pretty much what I’m looking for!

    Also, what I have done in the past and what you mention in the video is to switch grips… the test that I am preparing for only allows one grip, palms away, so should I use just that grip or switch it up anyway?



    • Hey Joe,

      I was using a slightly-modified program out of Stew Smith’s Maximum Fitness book.

      For training purposes, I would still recommend alternating grips. You’ll get better total muscle development, and the difference in PT exam performance will be negligible.

  5. Hi John,

    Your article is incomplete.
    At the begining you could do 7 full, at the end you could 31 pullups in one set… 24 pullups in 3 month it’s harder!

    But to reach this goal, a lot of information doesn’t appear.

    How many training did you per week ?
    The other workout day, was weighted pullups?
    What sports/ training did you practiced in supplements?
    strechting, diet,…

    (sorry for my english)

    • Hi Myke,

      See the links in the More Information section above to answer some of your questions.

  6. Hey there John,

    My name is Paul and I came across your advice on pull-ups on Google. It looks like a great product but not sure it’s for me. I’m already at 40-45 straight pull-ups (dead hang w/ a very minor kip) but i need to get to 60-ish and i have about 3 months to do it.

    I’m more than happy to pay you for your advice but would like to chat w/ you first. Any chance I may give you a call sometime brother ?

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