Pullups are hands down one of the best exercises for developing your back and increasing your overall fitness level. They’re old-school, basic, and a natural movement pattern of human beings. Instead of hitting the gym week after week trying to see “how much you bench,” why not try and see how many pullups you can crank out?
We asked former Mr. New Jersey and Natural Mr. America Mike Duffy, C.P.T., for his top tips to consistently get more pullups.
1. Do negatives
Negative training is the focus on lowering portion of the movement versus the actual lift. Focusing on negatives will target and develop muscle fibers differently, resulting in a boost in endurance. “Grab hold of the chinup bar and jump up so that your chest is close to the bar,” Duffy says. “Then, lower yourself for 4-6 seconds and repeat.” Perform a few sets of negatives each week on back day and you’ll begin to notice improvements in your overall ability to get more reps.
2. Use assistance bands
Pullups aren’t neccessarily easy; some novice gym-goers have trouble even getting one or two. Duffy recommends grabbing assistance bands, which you wrap around the bar and place under your feet. “These elastic bands will counterbalance your bodyweight and help assist you with getting more pullups,” says Duffy. Even advanced athletes can benefit from assistance bands—they might help get you one, two, or three more reps than you normally would without assistance. Novice trainees can train with assistance bands each week, and more advanced athletes could sprinkle the use of the bands every other week.
3. Perform forced reps
Similar to using assistance bands, forced reps are about using a training partner to help you get a few more additional reps that you couldn’t get on your own. Have a training partner give you a boost to crank out 2-3 more reps. Watch how your strength and endurance soar week over week.
4. Do heavy biceps curls
Your biceps are the secondary muscle groups to the back when performing pullups. Duffy recommends mixing in heavy biceps curls every other week or so. Shoot for 4-6 reps, whereas the other weeks, shoot for 8-12 reps.
5. Do heavy pulldowns
“Heavy pulldowns build up your lats, biceps, and forearms, which are the exact muscles and range of motion needed to do a pullup,” Duffy says. We recommend working the following: Weeks 1, 2, and 4 perform 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps with heavy weight, for Weeks 3, 5, and 6 perform 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps with lighter weight.
6. Perform TRX modified pullups
Performing several different variations or modifications of the pullup with the TRX “changes the angle of your pullup,” says Duffy. These slight changes in the movement pattern will develop different areas of the muscles in your back, forearms, and biceps to build up more muscular strength and endurance. Work with the TRX on modified pullups once per week for a total of 3-5 sets to muscular failure.
7. Perform squat pullups
The purpose of the squat pullup is to utilize both your legs and your arms to complete a full pullup. “As your arms tire out, you can use more of your legs,” Duffy says. “This will slowly help you build more strength in your lats.”
How to perform:
Set yourself up in the Smith machine and adjust the bar as needed. Start in a deep squat position and hold on to the bar with your arms fully extended. Use your lats until failure, and, as you tire, start using more of your legs in the movement.
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