While browsing the various pull up programs online I came across 7 weeks to 50 pull ups. The other one I considered was the Armstrong program but this won out on simplicity.
To be more accurate, it’s three programs. Which program you start on depends on your current maximum reps. These should be performed to full extension and with the chin over the bar at the top.
- 0-6 reps: Prep Level
- 7-13 reps: Phase 1 Program
- 14+ reps: Phase 2 Program
I had hoped to immediately qualify for phase 2 but in hindsight I needed that gentler start to training. I managed 12 reps, meaning I was at the high end of reps to qualify for Phase 1.
Phase 1 Program
I’m including my full warm up and warm down, adapted from the program itself:
- Arm circles x 10 each way
- Arms across body x 10
- Side bend with fingers interlocked overhead x 10
- Resistance Band external rotation x 10
- Cat Camels x 5
- Resistance Band Face Pulls x 10
- Side Plank with active top leg x 15 secs
- Prone Superman x 8
- Resistance Band bicep activation x 8
- Resistance Band Lat activation x 10
- Commando Pull ups 2 sets 1 per side
The Pull up Program
I quite like a bar graph to display the full program, it makes it easy to see the progressions and changes. You’re starting from the bottom each day, so on the first day you do 5 pull ups, then 4 chin ups, then 5 neutral grip pull ups, and so on.. Rest periods are a minimum of 60-90 seconds with no specified upper limit. I generally stuck with 2-3 minutes for phase 1.
I had a few failures, which you can see in my training log. I dealt with failures by taking a 20 second break and continuing on until all reps were completed. At the end of week 7 I took 5 days off and tested my pull ups again.
Going into it I knew I was capable of 14 reps, which would allow me to qualify for the Phase 2 program. I lost momentum at rep 12 but was able to grind out a few more under fatigue meaning a best of 18 pull ups.
- Tree hugs – 2 x 10 secs
- Arm Cross Body hold – 10 secs
- Overhead Tricep stretch – 15 secs
- Neck side stretch with hand assist – 10 secs
- Chin to sky – 10 seces
- Chest stretch on wall/rack – 15 secs
- Bicep stretch on wall/rack – 15 secs
- Resistance Band Lat stretch – 15 secs
Phase 2 Program
I hadn’t actually looked at the phase 2 program until I’d completed phase 1. Once I did I was intrigued enough to give it a go, so I took 7-10 days off and started phase 2.
In many ways phase 2 was simpler, only alternating between pull ups and chin ups. I was handling the volume very well and managed the first four weeks without missing a rep. Looking back it was possibly the introduction of a final set to failure that meant I plateaued. After managing 24 reps on the start of week 5 day 3, I never got beyond 25 reps the rest of the program. Not only that, but when I retested after the end of week 7 I still only managed 25 reps. It’s possible grip was an issue, as this is around the 1 minute mark when I can’t hang too long between reps without losing the bar. I ended up taking another 5 days off and trying a second retest, but again I finished on 25 pull ups.
I settled on three exercises, choosing two and doing two sets of each after every workout. The three exercises were:
- Hollow Body Hold (typically 20-30 secs)
- Side Plank with Raised Feet (typically 50-75 secs)
- Wall Press Heel Taps (around 40-60 total contacts)
I really like this program and I don’t want the final weeks to detract from what was some excellent progress. In around 15 weeks my maximum reps more than doubled from 12 to 25. I also had food poisoning to contend with in phase 1 and a tooth infection in phase 2 that meant going back and re-doing weeks 2 and 3. If it wasn’t such a lofty goal as 50 reps I could sit back and be pleased with what I achieved.
Maintenance is said to be at least 10 reps 2-3 times per week. While I don’t intend on pushing on towards 50 pull ups I will try to hold onto the gains I’ve made. There are also some harder pull up variations I might incorporate, like towel pull ups, weighted pull ups and the commando pull ups. I feel like improving grip strength and endurance is the key to unlocking those higher rep ranges.
Best of luck if you’re trying to get better at pull ups!