The Pull-up may be a basic exercise for you, for some, it may be a dream, for others even just a warm-up. For me, the pull-up is a move every human should be able to do. It’s kind of a basic movement. We should be able to pull ourselves up over some objects. Today, “2017”, not moving is a disease. Our bodies adapt to not being active, and sure we cannot pull out bodyweight up. Furthermore, we are often too heavy. The other thing is, that we need to grow up with movement, our body forms as we are young. Chances are, if you did not play around with pull-ups as a kid, you will not be able to do them as an adult, for sure not without training for it.
Besides that, if talking about the pull-up as a plain exercise, it is the ultimate vertical pulling exercise, with no doubt. Pull-ups do wonder for your upper back, you will get that upper back you are looking for. Did you ever see someone who is really good with pull-ups and has no insane upper back? The pull-up is functional as well, it transfers very well to other sports or exercises. Actually, you can do the pull-up independent from your level. You can use bands if you cannot do the pull-ups or you can use extra weight if it gets too easy.
Advice for beginners
There are many ways to learn the pull-up, but I like to go for it systematically. Train for it twice a week, do 2 pulling exercises each workout: one vertical (the pull-up) and one horizontal (rowing or maybe Australian pull-ups). Do 8 – 10 repetitions for 3 sets on each exercise. Choose a difficulty level where you can do at least 8 repetitions for 3 sets. When you can do 3 sets of 10 repetitions increase the difficulty. Here is an example:
Your first workout: 8 – 8 – 10 with a green assistance band
Your second workout: 10 – 10 -10 green assistance band
Your third workout: 7 – 6 – 6 purple assistance band —> Less assistance!
* Difficulty levels can be bands, Gravitron machines etc.
* It could be that your next level as in the example will be below 8 repetitions. No big deal, nevertheless work your self up to 10 repetitions X3.
* Same with the second horizontal pulling exercise. If you work with weights, increase the weights, when doing it with bodyweight change the leverage.
Advice for the intermediate level: More than 10 repetitions in a row
When reaching this level you will find it hard to progress. Many athletes get stuck at this level. Sure you can train your stamina and therefore increase your repetitions but my best advice to you is to increase your strength. This way you will increase your “pull-up strength” thus you will increase your repetition and add more muscle. You will need to train for it twice a week, one session will be for strength 3 – 5 repetitions, the second one for hypertrophy (building muscle) 8 – 10 repetitions. You will need to add weights to your pull-ups. The best way to do so will be with a weight belt. A weight vest can also work, the downside is you can’t put the really heavy weight on with it. Increase the weight when it’s time in increments of 2,5kg or 5lb. This is how a workout might look like:
Light workout on Monday: X3 sets of 8 repetitions with your body weight.
Heavy workout on Thursday: X6 sets of 3 repetitions with added 15kg/33lb.
* The same for beginners: increase the difficulty when you reach X3 sets of 5 repetitions on the heavy day and X3 sets of 10 repetitions on a light day.
* On heavy days when doing 3 repetitions do X6 sets, when doing 4 repetitions do X5 sets and when doing 5 repetitions go for X3 sets.
* Same with the second horizontal pulling exercise. If you work with weights, increase the weights, when doing it with bodyweight change the leverage – or even add a small weight to your bodyweight progression.
* Keep good form. This is very important. Increase the weight only if your pull-ups are perfect.
There are many more methods in progressing with pull-ups, specifically periodizing your training, which is very important especially for the advanced. It’s important that you programme the rest of your training correctly and keep your nutrition and stress levels on track. All those points, however, would fill another whole blog or even several blogs.