How to Get Better at Pullups


The pullup is a simple exercise, but it’s one that works.

Lat pulldowns pale in comparison to the mighty pullup. Working on a lat machine doesn’t activate as many muscles as getting your chin over the bar—and it looks way less impressive. If you want a big, strong upper body, you have to master the classic pullup.

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Whether you still can’t do a single pullup rep, you want to do more, or you’re ready to add weight and see your lats grow like crazy, we’ve got the plan for you.

Your goal: I can’t do a pullup, but I want to

Start doing iso-eccentric pullups. Grab onto a bar and jump up so your chest touches it. Try to hold that position for five seconds. If you can, take five seconds to lower yourself back down. (If you can’t, keep working at the hold until you can.) If you can lower yourself with control, perform another rep. When you can bang out 10 reps in this fashion, you’ll be able to do at least one regular pullup.

Your goal: I want to do more pullups

Write down your personal record—the most reps you can do with good form. The next time you do pullups, take half your PR and do four sets of that number. So if your PR was 10, you’ll do four sets of five reps. The next week, add one rep to each set. For Week 3, go back to one half of your PR number, and add 5lbs using a weighted belt. Continue progressing in this fashion.

The program looks like this:

Week 1 — 4×1/2 PR

Week 2 — 4×1/2 PR + 1 rep

Week 3 — 4×1/2 PR with 5 lbs

Week 4 — 4×1/2 PR + 1 rep with 5 lbs

Week 5 — 4×1/2 PR with 10 lbs

Week 6 — 4×1/2 PR + 1 rep with 10 lbs

Week 7 — 4×1/2 PR with 15 lbs

Week 8 — 4×1/2 PR + 1 rep with 15 lbs

Week 9 — retest your max

Your goal: I want to add more weight to my pullups

Find the load that allows you to do only five pullups with good form. Now add that amount to your bodyweight. Each week you’ll work up to a heavy set that uses a percentage of that total, and perform as many reps as possible. Perform several warm-up sets, increasing the weight until you reach the percentage you’re using on that day. (If the percentages give you a weight that is less than your bodyweight, use your bodyweight.) Do this for three weeks as shown below.

Week 1 — 70% x AMAP

Week 2 — 80% x AMAP

Week 3 — 90% x AMAP

After Week 3, add 2.5-5lbs to each percentage. After 12 weeks of this, take an easy week (only do a few reps of bodyweight pullups), and then the next week see how much weight you can use for a heavy set of five again.

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