It seems like every article on pull-ups is about how to go from zero reps to one, but what about those of us trying to do MORE pull-ups? Sometimes, straight sets and reps can be boring or unproductive if you’re trying to go from a pull-up intermediate to a master of your own bodyweight.
Here are three workout schemes I often program for intermediate to advanced lifters:
1. TIMED SETS
Instead of using traditional sets and reps, try setting a time limit and performing as many quality reps as possible. I snagged this method from Greg Robins when he first starting writing my workouts a few years ago.
I like this method because in order to do more pull-ups, you have to have pristine technique and stay away from failed reps. Set the clock and pace yourself. Take mini-breaks just before you fatigue. If you get too aggressive and gas out, you won’t last the entire set.
Try this workout on for size:
- Max pull-ups in 2 minutes
- Rest 2 minutes
- Max pull-ups in 2 minutes
Sounds simple enough, but it’s incredibly challenging to pace yourself without failing any reps. Try this once a week for four weeks and aim to increase the total number of reps completed each week.
2. MECHANICAL DROP SETS
The beauty of pull-ups is that there are tons of ways to vary the training stimulus by switching your grip (neutral, supinated, pronated, mixed, angled) and width (narrow, medium, wide, thick). Using multiple combinations within a set not only hits your muscles from multiple angles, but lets you do more pull-ups overall by decreasing the difficulty of the exercise as you fatigue.
Here’s my favorite way to use this method for someone who can do 10 or more pull-ups at a time:
- Wide Pronated Grip x 3-4 reps
- Medium Neutral Grip x 4-5 reps
- Narrow Supinated Grip x 5-6 reps
This allows you to do anywhere from 12-15 reps per set without gassing out on a difficult variation.
Here’s an example of my client Leslie using this exact method with band assistance:
I also love this method for people in pull-up “no man’s land” who can do a couple bodyweight pull-ups but can’t quite crank out sets of five or more at a time yet. It lets them get in way more volume than they normally could. Simple start the set with unassisted reps, then use a band or eccentric-only reps to complete the set. For example:
- Neutral grip pull-ups (no assistance) x 3 reps
- Band-assisted wide grip pull-ups x 3 reps
- Eccentric-only wide grip pull-ups x 2 reps
That adds up to eight reps per set, which is a better rep range to build muscle and technical proficiency that sets of five or less.
3. CONTRAST SETS
Weighted pull-ups pose a similar challenge to the intermediate lifter: what do I do if I can only do a couple weighted reps? The answer: contrast sets.
Another variation of the mechanical drop set, try doing a few reps with added weight, then immediately remove the weight and finish the set with bodyweight only. This again lets you get more volume overall, and the potentiation effect of heavy weight will fire up your nervous system and make your bodyweight reps feel light as a feather.
- Weighted pull-ups x 2-3 reps with a weight you could do 5 times
- Bodyweight pull-ups x 2 reps shy of failure
I love this method because you get to do more pull-ups in both a strength and hypertrophy rep range. Have fun having to buy bigger shirts, guys and gals.
DO MORE PULL-UPS + ??? = PROFIT
Will doing more pull-ups make you rich, famous and irresistible to potential mates? Probably not, maybe and most definitely. If that’s not reason enough to try these advanced workouts, I don’t know what is.