Pull Ups – How To Increase Your Numbers

Pull Ups – How To Increase Your Numbers

For all of us P90X’ers, pull ups have always been the bane of our existence! At least that was the hardest move for me at the beginning simply because I couldn’t even do one. There are several reasons why so many people struggle with pull ups or chin ups:

  1. Poor technique
  2. Excess body weight
Let’s look at these 2 points briefly:

Poor Technique: One of the most common misunderstandings when doing pull ups is for people to try to use their arms to pull themselves up rather than engage the back muscles, specifically learning to fire the lats first. Let’s face it, your biceps are not strong enough to pull all your body weight, but your back muscles are very big and powerful and when we learn proper technique, we teach are nervous system to fire all the muscle groups in the right sequence  in order to properly execute the move.

Out of all the forum posts, magazine articles and other information that I’ve read regarding pull ups, nothing showed me more than the small clip included in the Insanity Asylum workouts on which Shaun T shows the proper progression to do pull ups. This brief instructional video allowed me to fully understand how to fire my lats first and how to progress from not being able to do pull ups to increasing my numbers in a very short period of time.
Excess Body Weight: Not too long ago I was reading an article about pull ups on T-Nation.com and the author put it simply: “If you can do 1 pull up, your problem is not lack of strength, you’re too fat!”. In other words, if you want to master your pull ups and chin ups, it is important to reduce excess body weight.

How To Increase Your Pull Up Numbers

If you are following P90X, you have probably seen Tony Horton give you options to use either bands or a chair. I tried both and both exercises gave me something different:

Bands allowed me to build muscle strength on my back. The chair allowed me to simulate the pull up move and start teaching my body how to hang from a bar and pull itself up. BUT… there’s an invisible third option called Pull Up Revolution.
This little gadget is actually pretty cool. What you do is clip it onto your pull up bar and then you have three elastic bands that you can adjust to the proper height in order to fit your own body. Once this is in place, you put one foot on the strap and so you are “floating” while hanging on to the bar.

When you are in the extended position, the bands provide the most tension but as you begin to pull yourself up the resistance on the bands decreases. I love how simple but effective this little sucker really is. This works so much better than the chair because your body is actually hanging from the bar and you are actually pulling yourself up entirely. This allows you to develop good form and also teaching your muscles how to properly engage throughout this exercise.

As you get stronger and stronger as well as reducing your body weight, you can begin to let go of the Pull Up Revolution and bang out a couple of reps here and there. And at this point you’ll be ready for the next step:

Grease The Groove

I learned this term from Pavel Tsatsouline. Pavel is a former trainer for the soviet special forces and kettlebell master. In his book “Power To The People” he talks about doing certain exercises for low reps but many times a day. So, for example: every time you walk by your pull up bar do 1-3 reps. (or as many as you can but always staying 2-3 shy of your max) What  this does is to build training volume without fatiguing your muscles. The one thing is that each move needs to be done with perfect form because you are getting the move ingrained in your nervous system!!!

This seems very simple but trust me, it is a very powerful method. If you enjoy learning about strengthening your body using only body weight give this book a read. You can also check Pavel’s website: www.dragondoor.com

Pull Up Pyramids

If you have read this far, then you are ready for the final step in conquering the pull up: Once you are strong enough to do 5-7 pull ups, you need to step it up and use pyramids to increase your volume without fatiguing your muscles. This will be on top of your regular training so be careful and always leave at least 4 hours in between pyramids and your regular training to allow your muscles to be fully recovered.

Pyramids are a very powerful concept and you do them like this:

Let’s say you can only do 5 pull ups, then your pyramid would look like this:

Do 1 set each day for a full week: 1+2+3+2+1. What that means is: do 1 pull up, rest 5-10 seconds then do 2 pull ups. Rest 5-10 seconds then do 3 pull ups. Rest 5-10 seconds and now do 2 and then 1. Without spending a lot of time working your back muscles and fatiguing them, you just banged out 9 pull ups. In a full week you would’ve done 63 pull ups. Which if you keep this up for a month you will have done 252 pull ups. Not too shabby and the best part is that this allows you to build your strength over time.

But what about if instead of going to 3 you went to 5? then look at the numbers: 1+2+3+4+5+4+3+2+1 = That’s 25 pull ups in a matter of minutes, that’s 175 on a week and 700 in a month!!!

These are just a few options and what worked for me. We are all different and what you need to keep in mind is that there is not a single best way to do things, you need to figure out for yourself what is the best approach for your own situation.

About Linda Bell

Linda Bell is in the fortunate position of being able to combine doing something she loves with spending a lot more time with those she loves. She and her family occupy an unassuming cottage in the midst of splendid chaos AKA ‘the garden’ in England. Somewhere in that garden lurks the family dog and a feline with a penchant for getting into trouble. Linda loves researching and writing about health and fitness, something that is dear to her heart after some years spent working in a fitness centre overseas.