By Wes Kennedy
It’s a question I hear all the time. Though it can be demoralizing when you feel like you’re plateauing, there are a few things you can do that’ll get you out of that rut.
First of all, you’ll want to test yourself to determine what the weak link in your chain is. There are many common problem areas that could be holding you back—it might be your grip strength, your elbow flexors, or your scapular control, among other things.
But no matter what your weak spot is, proper use of strength-endurance training methods is sure to get you back on track to improving your pull-ups. Here are three of the most reliable workouts, listed from lowest to highest intensity.
1. Every Minute on the Minute
This type of training consists of performing a submaximal number of repetitions every minute on the minute, and is prescribed as an unbroken set. For instance, say you’re able to perform a maximum of 6 pronated pull-ups in a row. Using this type of training, you might complete 2 or 3 of them every minute on the minute for 10 minutes, resulting in a grand total of 20 – 30 pull-ups.
Though it’s most common to see these prescribed on the minute, you’ll find variations in the timeframe that’s used—sometimes you’ll perform exercises every 30 or 45 seconds, or every 2 minutes, for instance.
Why’s this so good for getting better at pull-ups? It allows for measurable, noticeable progress, even with very simple progressions. For instance, say you start with 5 pull-ups every minute for 10 minutes, resulting in 50 pull-ups total. If you up your total training volume by 10% over a 6-week period, you’ll surpass 80 pull-ups by the end of the sixth week—an increase of over 50%.
Some people like to get creative with this type of training—over time, you can pair movements together and incorporate active rest between sets, so you can better simulate real-world conditions.
Pre-fatigue training involves performing a submaximal set of an exercise under fatigue, at the end of another movement. Typically, pre-fatigue training is done after some sort of cyclical activity, such as running, biking, rowing, or swimming. Because of this, you’ll be in an oxygen debt before beginning your pull-ups.
Here’s what a pre-fatigue training might look like:
Run 200m @ 85-90% aerobic effort
4 Pronated Pull-Ups @ 20X0 tempo
X 5 sets
Near-maximal strength-endurance training means that you’ll be performing close to as many reps as possible, without overtaxing your central nervous system with multiple 100% maximal efforts. Remember: the key here is to train your body to succeed—not to fail—by increasing efforts incrementally over time.
This might entail doing AMRAP -1 (one less rep than your maximum) pronated pull-ups in 5 unbroken sets, split up by 2 minutes of rest between each set.
Note that this is the highest intensity method of the three listed here. It’s a common misconception that “higher intensity” means “better;” in fact, high intensity workouts shouldn’t be overused, as doing so will lead to stagnation. Exactly what particular mix of low and high intensity workouts is best for you will depend on where you are in the training cycle, your training age, and your biological age, among other factors.
These three methods are sure-fire ways to increase your pull-ups, even when you’ve hit a plateau. But regardless of which method you use, I’d be remiss not to emphasize the importance of finding what the weak link in your chain is when it comes to pull-ups. Depending on this, you’ll want to supplement your workouts with supporting exercises to eliminate your weak spots. These could include hollow holds, hollow rocks, slow eccentric pulling work, farmer’s holds, hanging holds, reverse E-Z bar curls (yes!, don’t knock it), Powell raises, dumbbell external rotations, face pulls, band pull-aparts, and more. When you identify and improve your weaknesses, the above exercises will be much more useful in improving your pull-ups overall.
If you push yourself, take care of your body, and incorporate the above exercises into your workouts, you’ll be able to quickly and efficiently do more pull-ups than ever before.
What do you do to increase your pull-ups? Post your methods and ideas in the comments below.
Wesley Kennedy is the founder and CEO of Elite Training Programs, which offers online fitness coaching to Special Operations candidates and Corporate Executives. A veteran of the Canadian Special Forces, Wesley is also passionate about helping business clients reach their maximum potential by transferring his military know-how into actionable, no-nonsense strategies and advice. He invites you to visit his website for more information about himself and his packages, or follow Elite Training Programs on Facebook for regular updates. Wesley has either written for or been featured at SOFREP, Military.com, The Loadout Room, T-Nation, Super Strength Show, STACK.com, Transition Hero, Livestrong, and more.