Effective Pull-Ups for Military Training by a Special Forces Operator

navy seal pull upsBy a US military Special Forces Operator, RKC, name withheld to protect his status.

I have a few different methods of training for pullups:

Tip #1.
If I am training for a Physical Fitness Test, the goal is to accomplish the maximum number of repetitions. I have found that I need to increase my total pullup volume if I am training for max reps. One workout that I have been doing for almost 10 years consists of the following:

Tip #2
regular pullups, 2 chinups (hands in), 2 narrow grip, 2 wide grip, 2 commando pullups (one hand facing in, one out). After I have done two types of each of the five different pullups, I then do 4 repetitions of each, then 6 repetitions and eventually working up to 10 reps of each type of pullup.

I take as much time as I need, and the total number of pullups is 150 (if you go all the way to 10 reps per set). The constant variety of pullups keeps things interesting and I think it can help prevent some overuse injuries. I have found that the sheer volume of pullups really helps if I am going for maximum numbers. I started doing this workout when I was preparing for my service training, and I would do this workout 2-3 times per week. (That was back when I was young and my body seemed to recover instantly…)

The older I get, the more concerned I am with safety and smart training. I would not recommend jumping right into high volume pullup training. I would start out with 4-5 times an individual’s current one set maximum. (i.e. if my once set max is 15 pullups, I would start with 60-75 total pullups on a volume day and gradually increase the volume.) This will help to prevent overuse injuries, tendonitis, etc.

At the last PFT test did 42 (strict). I usually maintain pretty good form on the pull-ups. Occasionally, if I am doing a faster paced metabolic conditioning workout I will use a slight kip in order to maintain my momentum and increase my speed. I don’t really like the exaggerated style kips, and I have found that I can achieve better results using less kipping and slower more controlled movements.

  1. The second type of training that I have had success with is pyramids: 2-4-6-8-10-12-etc. This type of training increases the load gradually, and I take as much rest time as I need between sets. My goal was to work up to 20 pullups. Sometimes if I was feeling especially energetic, I would repeat the pyramid with bodyweight dips following the pullups. Or, I could work my way back down the pyramid with pullups for more volume.

The third type of training that I use is weighted pullups. You can use a weighted vest or use a belt and chain and connect weights. This just develops pure strength. I use a training format very similar to what you recommend in your book

I do 4-5 sets of 5 repetitions with increasingly heavy weights and plenty of rest time.

Here is an example:

3×5 bodyweight pullups (warm-up)
5×40 lbs
5×50 lbs
5×60 lbs
5×70 lbs

I never work to failure, and I have 3-5 minutes of rest between sets. I stop increasing the load when I can no longer complete 5 solid pullups. Using this method, I have been able to complete four sets of five pullups with 5×120 on the last set. I have never really tested my one rep maximum, but I once did a pullup with good form and 160 lbs. around my waist at bodyweight of 195. That was after a few months of consisted weighted pullup training. I can do 1-2 good one-arm pullups with my right arm, but it would take a few weeks to get the left arm back up to speed. I was training for one-arm pull-ups a few years back, but I have not trained for them in a few years.

I currently train pull-ups 1-2 times per week. I am not training for any particular fitness test right now, so I train just enough to maintain my strength. I will normally try to do one session per week of the weighted pullups and one session of volume pullups. I normally do not like to do more than one month straight of high volume workouts because I think that they are harder on the body. If I were training for a PFT, I would stick with a volume and weighted day, and I would add some “Grease the Groove” style sets throughout the rest of the week. Once again, I never train to failure, and if I feel any tightness in the shoulders, or elbows, I will back off.

I have been using kettlebells almost exclusively since the RKC. I feel great, and I think that I will definitely continue using kettlebells as one of my main workout tools.

The turkish get up (TGU) in particular has been very good for my shoulders and core. You use a moderate amount of core while doing pull ups so it is good to work.

Question: Where can I find more information about Special Forces? Check out the US Army’s website here:

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