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Is it your goal to do a pull up? Our comprehensive guide offers intelligent programming to build your pull up strength while avoiding common pitfalls.

Step 1: Assess your current strength

Begin by determining your current pull up capacity with good form. This will help you determine what exercise you should focus on first on your journey.

Just starting your journey and can’t do a pull up yet? Use the outlined plan below but use variations in this order:

  1. Inverted rows & lat pulldowns with varied grips
  2. Eccentric (lowering only) reps with varied grips
  3. Rack chins

Although you can use all these exercises at once as they provide lighter, more accessible variations to strengthen the pulling motions required for your first pull up, it can be difficult to squeeze everything in. You can refer to our sample progression plan for beginners below which will guide you through the variations.

Can do 5 or more pull ups consecutively? Follow the routine outlined below to get more pull ups. 

Step 2: The program

When it comes to increasing pull up strength, the biggest mistake people often make — strangely enough — is trying to do too many pull ups.

Let us explain. 

The way to increase your pull up strength should be pretty simple — just do more pull ups, right? In essence, yes — but the way you program your pull ups can make all the difference between whether you see long-term progression or wind up doing a lot of work wihtout seeing progress after weeks or months.

Scenario 1:

Comfortable with a set of 5 pull ups? A common mistake is to go straight into a set of 5 reps, resting, then doing another set of as many as you can handle, which often means 3-4 reps. And the next will likely see you through just 1-2 reps.

  • Set 1: 5 reps
  • Set 2: 3 or 4 reps
  • Set 3: 1 or 2 reps

Total: 9-11 reps

You’ve worked hard, yes, but will see slow or little progress. Ideally, you should do a minimum of 18 reps but aim for 25-30 total reps per workout.

But, if you can only do 5 pull ups, how do we spread this out intelligently to hit that minimum number?

Scenario 2:

Comfortable with a set of 5 pull ups? A set of 2 or 3 will be comfortably achievable with good technique. In order to hit the minimum number of 18 and ideally the target of 25-30 total reps, you would need to do 6-9 total sets.

This is how you can pace yourself to maintain good technique, maximize strength, and hit the sufficient volume required for strength gains.

  • Set 1: 2-3 reps
  • Set 2: 2-3 reps
  • Set 3: 2-3 reps
  • Set 4: 2-3 reps
  • Set 5: 2-3 reps
  • Set 6: 2-3 reps
  • Set 7: 2-3 reps
  • Set 8: 2-3 reps
  • Set 9: 2-3 reps

Total: 18-27 reps

The net result here is nearly 30 high quality reps with good technique, over double that of the first scenario.

Pull up plan 

Those are just examples. To lay out this intelligently for you, we recommend setting achievable goals. You can start with 6 sets of 2 to hit 12 reps, with the goal of making the 12 reps as perfect and easy as possible — the goal is not to max out, it’s to lay the foundation to build your strength over time.

Once you can do 6 sets of 2, you can add an additional rep and go to 6 sets of 3. At this point, you may start to fatigue by the final sets — so stick with this until you’re able to comfortably do all 6 sets of 3 reps with good form.

Next, you can start to add in extra sets: going from 6 sets to 7, 8, 9, and finally 10 sets for a total of 30 reps.

Here’s how it’ll look:

  • Phase 1: 6 sets of 2 (12 total reps)
  • Phase 2: 6 sets of 3 (18 total reps
  • Phase 3: 7 sets of 3 (21 total reps)
  • Phase 4: 8 sets of 3 (24 total reps)
  • Phase 5: 9 sets of 3 (27 total reps)
  • Phase 6: 10 sets of 3 (30 total reps)

Once you can achieve 10 sets of 3 reps, you can test your pull up strength — you’ll typically find that you can now handle more reps. 

Alternatively, you can skip the test and start the cycle again with a higher number of reps per set. I.e. starting at 6 sets of 4 and going through the phases again.

How long should you rest between sets?

The biggest question you may have for this pull up plan is rest. Most rest recommendations fall between 1-3 minutes for maximizing strength, but you can determine your own rest periods based on your performance that day. 

You will always be the best judge of when you are ready to go. So if you feel confident in your ability to perform the next set with perfect technique, go for it. 

This means that in your earlier sets, your rest time may be as little as 30 seconds, while in your later sets, it may creep closer to the 3 minute mark.

Remember: rest is essential as we are chasing good technique, not maxing out. 

Pull up progression: 2-4 pull ups

If you’re able to do 2-4 reps, use eccentric (lowering only) reps. You will be stronger on the lowering phase of the rep, so you’ll typically find that if you can do 2-4 pull ups, you should be able to do 5 eccentric only reps. 

Try lowering yourself slowly between 3-5 seconds. The key is to make sure you’re being honest and not using any momentum. Instead of jumping up onto the bar, setup a step so you can get up, slowly lift your legs, and slowly lower down.

With these eccentrics, you can follow the exact same progression plan outlined above. 

Pull up progression: no pull ups

If you can’t perform a single pull up, you can introduce the variations mentioned above. You can experiment based on your strength, equipment access, and preference. Find a setup that allows you to comfortably hit 5 reps, then proceed with the same set and rep protocol as above.

Once you find yourself more comfortable with the pulling motions, you can use eccentric reps, then progress to your full pull ups.

Conclusion: A holistic approach to fat loss success

In terms of frequency for this program, it boils down to what else you’re doing for training. For most people, this will slot in perfectly fine at the start of an upper body workout or even as a standalone session one day per week. 

If you find you’re recovering well on this program, you can look to add it in again later in the week. When repeating it, aim to keep at least 2 days between each pull up workout, if not longer.

It is not recommend to do this workout more than twice a week unless you’re very advanced and are scaling your training appropriately to be able to recover from this. If not, you may quickly run into overtraining issues, particularly at your elbows.

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