A few months back I wrote an article on my 4 best pull-ups progressions and people seemed to go crazy over it. I had so much amazing feedback from it and actually picked up quite a lot of online business as a result.
I think the main reason it was so well received was that the reader could tell how passionate I was about my pull-ups. I devoted up to 5 hours a week myself to actually complete that program, which was a testament to this.
Since then, in the four short months between Tactical Strength Challenges, I’ve managed to further increase my maximum bodyweight pull-ups from 31 to 36. So what did I do this time?
Well… I stopped trying so hard to improve and went onto what was supposed to be a maintenance plan. By happy accident, I found that dramatically changing the training variable from volume to density absolutely exploded my pull-up numbers. As I write this between contests, my max set is 41. I must admit I have lost weight since the last test and that definitely makes a difference, but still, that’s incredible wouldn’t you say?
My main aim for this “maintenance program” was to cut the amount of time I was spending on pull-ups. Since the Tactical Strength Challenge tests pull-ups, snatching and deadlifts, and I was feeling confident in my pull-ups, my theory was that my time would be better invested into snatching and deadlifting. I gave myself only 20 minutes each week for pull-ups and that was it.
What’s the plan?
Two sessions of ten minutes each week is all you need. You must have 2 or 3 days rest between these sessions so Monday and Friday, for example, works very well. If you don’t abide by the rest periods, you will not recover and your numbers will slowly but surely fall backwards. I recently had a client go from 12 to 24 pull-ups in 14 weeks on this protocol. Make sure you do a maximum effort test before starting this program so you can quantify your gains. To really benefit from this program you will need to be able to do 10 strict pull-ups.
The two sessions are exactly the same, however if you have no intention of competing in the TSC and you just want to boost your pulling numbers, I have also had great success in alternating between pull-ups (palms facing away from you) and chin-ups (palms facing towards you) from session to session.
You will start this program with a simple ladder protocol (1,2,3,1,2,3 etc) for 10 minutes. Rest is to be kept to a minimum, but give yourself long enough so you don’t blow out. I usually pick a spot on the gym floor and walk around it after each and every set. You could also set a timer to make your rest times strict if you prefer, but I’ve always freestyled my rest periods with no hassles.
The aim for this session is to complete 15-16 rounds of 1,2,3 ladders (totalling 90 to 100 reps) with good strict pull-up form. If you drop well short of these targets, that’s totally fine. You will achieve more reps every single session without fail, I assure you.
Once you have successfully achieved your 100 reps, try it using ladders of 1,2,3,4 instead. This will be more challenging and you will need to be more tactical with your rest periods. You might need to ease into this initially to get an idea of what numbers you’re going to be comfortable chasing.
Once you’ve eased in, the same target of 100 reps applies. From my experience, it usually takes about 3-4 weeks depending on where your starting point was. From this this point we move to the last of the ladders and shift gears to 1,2,3,4,5 ladders for 10 minutes. I would often take a slightly longer break between each set of 4 and 5, especially from the 7-minute mark and onwards.
What happens when I can do 100 reps?
The first time I did this program, I pretty well knew I could get 100 in 10 minutes as I can usually get 100 reps in 4 sets, so I went right on to the last ladder (1,2,3,4,5) to set a baseline. Once I was happy with that, I decided to restart the program from the very beginning (1,2,3) with a 5kg vest. You can progress in this same manner for many months by resetting the ladder progression with extra weight. For best results, stick to this protocol for at least 12 weeks, ideally 16 to 20.
Things to expect
Growth: Your back, like your maximum pull-ups, will explode on this protocol. Give your body the right fuel and recovery and I think you will be very happy with what you find.
Personal bests: Based on my own experience and those of my clients that have tried this, I’d say a person who can get 10 good reps prior to this program could double their best efforts in 16 weeks.
Soreness: Going into a high density program like this will create some soreness. Although the body is pretty adaptable, you’re likely to experience some level of soreness every time you increase your reps by adding another ladder. It’s critical that you allow enough rest between sessions. I also used magnesium as a supplement to my diet to help with this.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, I expected this protocol to just help me maintain my strength and current pull-up numbers. Instead, I ended up stumbling onto something that has reliably improved not only my performance, but also the performance of the clients I’ve had try it. Not bad for a 20 minute commitment per week!
It goes to show that just getting back to the basics, and doing those basics well, is all you really need to improve. With so much information available to us at the click of a button, it’s easy to overthink things and really overcomplicate training when in reality all we need is a bit of consistency.
Want to kick your training up a notch?
I’m currently accepting new clients into my online training program. Following the protocol laid out in this article will immensely help your pull-ups, there are other things you can be doing to maximise your results across the board.
With a bit of accountability and someone to keep you on the straight and narrow, you’d be surprised how much more you can get out of your training. There are only limited places available, so get in touch and tell me what you’d most like to achieve.