Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Training Back 101: How to do 20 pull ups

    It's probably one of the most under rated exercises in the gym, on back day guys will sit at the isolated lat pull down, or rack up weight at the dead lift, but one of the greatest mass builders, as well as greatest exercises for over all athletic development is the pull up.So lets talk about how to make massive lats and do more pull ups in the gym, a few tips before we get to the program:

You body weight: Go to do a pull up, but put a 20 pound dumbbell between your legs and do it, didn't get as many as usual right? As always you want to keep body fat as low as possible, even with an extra 10 pounds you may be sacrificing a rep or two.

Momentum: is not your friend, but it's not your enemy either, if you need to use momentum for 2-3 reps at the end, go for it, but if you are swinging like a 14 year old female gymnast from the first rep you are going to have to use the assisted pull up machine until you can do real pull ups.

Abs: Hell, we love abs anyway right? Well a strong core is going to be key in keeping all that weight below your hips stable, don't neglect ab and core training, ever.

Ok every other tip will factor into the program, here's the program that put me from around 10-15 pull ups to 20-26 pull ups at my body weight (205lbs/92kg) and chin ups for reps with an 80lb dumbell between my legs.

Phase 1: 50 chin ups... no matter what.

Start your back day with 50 chin ups, you are going to do this for 6 weeks. It may take 3 sets, it may take 15 sets, when I first did this in the early 2000's I remember finishing it up with sets of 1! Oh and you are not done after that, follow with a medium grip cable row, close grip cable row, and some lower back extensions.

Week 1-6:

50 chin ups, in as many sets as it takes
*extreme beginners (4 or less pull ups on first set) can use the assisted chin up machine or do L-chin ups on the smith machine
Medium grip cable pull down: 15, 15, 15
Close grip seated cable pull: 15, 15, 15
Lower back extensions: 3 sets of 15-20

You will have a good foundation now to begin some serious back training!
Follow this for the next 4-8 weeks:

Our first exercise will be of course, the pull up. X will be your number that is slightly below your max for the 1st two sets. The first two sets are not done to failure, if your max is 12 reps, do 8, the following can be done till failure. The following 3 sets will involve you putting a dumbbell between your legs and lifting with it, if you are fortunate enough to have a chain belt at your gym that will be a better option.

Pull Ups  X/ X/ max+20lb dbell/ X+40dbell/ X+heavy (what can you manage) for reps, drop the weight and keep going!
L-Pull Ups 3 sets to absolute failure: done on the smith machine.
*Set the bar around your bottom abdominal quadrant, use an overhand medium grip and climb your feet out as much as you are comfortable with, straight out will be more difficult than legs bent.
Dbell Rows, or Seated Cable Row: follow a normal routine, pyramid
Assisted Pull Ups medium grip: 2 sets to fail 
Lower Back extensions: 3 sets of 15

Intensity techniques: Cant do that many? Or have energy at the end, Jump Pull Ups, jump up to the top of the bar with your hands on it and do the negatives, try for 10 reps. Have a workout buddy? Assisted pull ups by the legs are much better than with the machine. Use whatever mental techniques you must to summon the energy, one I use: STOP COUNTING. Get under the bar and have your spotter count as you go to failure, I use this on clients too and notice people always stop at benchmark numbers, 10, 15, 20, etc., when they stopped counting the majority hit higher reps. Stop counting and go till failure! If you have to, recite your phone number as you begin to lose count. Lift with your back and not your arms, those of you who feel it more in your arms, don't worry, it only means you are weak. Just kidding, actually it means you have weak bi's that will compensate in time.

   Make the pull up your best friend and keep track of every time you hit a new high, which after awhile will be rare. Buy a few new shirts as you may not fit into the old ones after this. If you are wearing a relatively tight shirt at the start of this workout, you should have difficulty taking it off right after. Happy back day!

Consult a doctor or medical professional before beginning any fitness or weight training program.

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"I can't do one pull up" article coming soon... or sooner if enough people request it.


  1. Hi, great post! I'm going to add the 50 chin ups on my routine.
    I've been working out focused on pull ups with neutral grip because I have elbow problem and it seems like it doesn't hurt with the grip.
    How often do you think I should do pull up work out? Everyday or shoud I rest a day for a heal?
    Thank you!

  2. I would only do it one to two times per week, if you are not sore the next day you may be doing something wrong, most common mistake with pull ups is using too much momentum. You really dont want to use momentum till the last 2-3 reps. If you really want to jack up the pull ups do it maybe on monday and thursday, but otherwise once a week should suffice. Keep me posted and feel free to hit me up on facebook as well.