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Why You Can’t Do a Pull-up

The pull-up is often seen as a fundamental movement that feels just about impossible. For some, the key seems to be losing that extra weight. For others, it lies in strength. I am here to tell you that regardless of your weight, strength is still what is needed. If you are faced with the need to perform a pull-up type movement outside of the gym, the fact that you are over your “ideal” body weight won’t matter.  What will matter is whether you have the strength to overcome the obstacle in front of you.

When laying out your training to achieve the pull-up, there are four important factors to consider:

Intensity:

This could arguably be THE most important of the four. Intensity is considered the most weight one can lift. So 100% intensity is the maximum weight you can pull-up one time. It is important that you have some intensity in your training every 3 days or so. Intensity can also be approached differently every week to maximize your potential. I always recommend starting with 70% intensity (something you can do 10 of), then increasing 5% every week until you are at 90%.  Then, decrease back down to 75% the next week, and finally shoot for 100+% the following week. This is a general strength & conditioning supercompensation method. There are many variations of this method, but this one is simple.

Frequency:

If you had to learn to fight in order to save your family, would you practice fighting disciplines once per week? HELL NO! You would practice that shit EVERY single day until you could no longer practice and still receive any benefit. So why when we have a fitness goal do we only target the goal 1-3 times per week? Practicing every day is what is going to accelerate your progress. I deem frequency as the 2nd most important factor for achieving your first pull-up. Practice the movement every single day if you really want it!

Variation:

Is there only one way to accomplish something? Of course not. There are many ways one can achieve something, and like the CrossFit Ideology states, they are constantly varied. Your pull-up practice is no different. Horizontal pulls, single arm pulls, fast pulls, slow pulls, position holds, band assisted, partner assisted, ropes… etc. There are limitless ways for you to vary the pull-up movement. You don’t continue getting better at football by throwing the football and running the football every day. You do drills that focus on accuracy only, speed only, agility, and much more. If that is how you approach getting better at a pull-up, there is no doubt you can be successful.

Volume:

This is the last of the factors. Though it is last it does not make it “not important.” The fact that it is a factor at all means that it is very important. Volume in strength training is usually referred to as the total amount that you have lifted in one session or week. So, if you are doing 70% (let’s call this 100lbs) for 10 reps. 10 x (weight)=volume. Your volume for that set would be 1,000lbs. 3 sets at that volume is 3,000lbs. Varying intensity, type of pull, and volume will assure that your body doesn’t become complacent in learning the skill. I like to have a week where I really focus on higher volume than normal to throw my body a curve ball and keep it guessing. If it is a high intensity day, just add sets, if it is a lower intensity day or a different kind of pull, maybe throw 30 reps in there or something of the sort to really push you to your limit!

 

These are the 4 factors that I have identified as being crucial to achieving the pull-up. It does not mean there aren’t more out there. This is just what I have noticed both from personal experience as well as people I have coached.

 

Lastly, I would like to discuss how to walk the path in a healthy manner. A sudden change in routine can cause a good bit of inflammation in a joint. Knowing when to back off on volume and intensity can be VERY important. When you have an ache that is not just muscle soreness, it may be MORE detrimental to your health to continue pursuing the goal with high intensity or volume. This is because those high intensities and volumes are designed to tear you apart, literally, so that you can come back stronger. If you aren’t recovered, you aren’t recovered. There are only a few things you can do to speed up your recovery, and there’s NOTHING you can do to just be recovered all of a sudden. I recommend on those days or weeks when backing off the intensity or volume is necessary, you should attempt to strengthen your back using different pulls that do not require the same exact range of motion. My top example of this is a pull-down on the Crossover Symmetry. It gets you to engage the lats and hardly impacts the joint at all. This movement is essentially just a straight arm pull that requires you to use your scapula over your actual arms.

That being said, recovery is the most important part in learning a skill and getting stronger. Make sure you are getting plenty of food and sleep and that you are warming up very well! If one of those elements are off, it may just be the culprit in your lack of progress!

 

Below is a sample pull up program that is designed to get you a pull-up in 12 weeks. Like any program it is merely a template! Some days you may need to take it easier, some days you might even need to go a little bit harder. Only you can decide that for yourself!

PULL-UP IN 12 WEEKS

Week 1: 

Mon: 2 x 3* Tempo Pull-ups 5113 Tempo,*2 x 5 Pull-ups

Tues: Accumulate 1 minute in Dead Hang. 20 Pull-downs

Wed: 2 x 3 Bent-over Row (With Barbell)

Thurs: 2 x 7 Pull-ups

Fri: Hold the “top” row position. Accumulate :30 seconds. 2 x 10 Row (Barbell, rings, inverted, etc.)

Sat: 2 x 1 Pull-up

Week 2: 

Mon: 3 x 3 Tempo Pull-ups 5113 Tempo, 3 x 5 Pull-ups

Tues: Accumulate 1:30 minutes in Dead Hang. 30 Pull-downs

Wed: 3 x 3 Bent-over Row (With Barbell)

Thurs: 3 x 6 Pull-ups

Fri: Hold the “top” row position. Accumulate :45 seconds. 3 x 10 Row (Barbell, rings, inverted, etc.)

Sat: 3 x 2 Pull-up

Week 3:

Mon: 4 x 3 Tempo Pull-ups 5113 Tempo,4 x 5 Pull-ups

Tues: Accumulate 2:00 minutes in Dead Hang. 40 Pull-downs

Wed: 4 x 3 Bent-over Row (With Barbell)

Thurs: 4 x 5 Pull-ups

Fri: Hold the “top” row position. Accumulate 1:00 seconds. 4 x 10 Row (Barbell, rings, inverted, etc.)

Sat: 4 x 1 Pull-up

Week 4: 

Mon: 5 x 3 Tempo Pull-ups 5113 Tempo,5 x 5 Pull-ups

Tues: Accumulate 2:00 minutes in Dead Hang. 50 Pull-downs

Wed: 5 x 3 Bent-over Row (With Barbell)

Thurs: 5 x 5 Pull-ups

Fri: Hold the “top” row position. Accumulate 1:15 seconds. 5 x 10 Row (Barbell, rings, inverted, etc.)

Sat: 5 x 2 Pull-up

Week 5: 

Mon: 3 x 5 Tempo Pull-ups 3113 Tempo, 5 x 5 Pull-ups

Tues: 3 x 6 Bent-Over Rows, 3 x 6 Pull-ups

Wed: Pull-up Chin over bar hold :30 seconds, 3 x 10 Row (Barbell, rings, inverted, etc.)

Thurs: 5 x 3 Pull-ups

Fri: 3 x 5 Tempo Pull-ups 3113 Tempo,5 x 5 Pull-ups

Sat: 3 x 6 Bent-Over Rows, 3 x 6 Pull-ups

Week 6: 

Mon: Pull-up Chin over bar hold :45 seconds, 4 x 10 Row (Barbell, rings, inverted, etc.)

Tues: 5 x 3 Pull-ups

Wed: 3 x 5 Tempo Pull-ups 3113 Tempo,5 x 5 Pull-ups

Thurs: 3 x 6 Bent-Over Rows, 3 x 6 Pull-ups

Fri: Pull-up Chin over bar hold :45 seconds, 3 x 10 Row (Barbell, rings, inverted, etc.)

Sat: 6 x 3 Pull-ups

Week 7:

Mon: 4 x 5 Tempo Pull-ups 3113 Tempo, 4 x 5 Pull-ups

Tues: 4 x 6 Bent-Over Rows, 4 x 6 Pull-ups

Wed: Pull-up Chin over bar hold :45 seconds, 5 x 10 Row (Barbell, rings, inverted, etc.)

Thurs: 6 x 3 Pull-ups

Fri: 4 x 5 Tempo Pull-ups 3113 Tempo, 4 x 5 Pull-ups

Sat: 4 x 6 Bent-Over Rows, 4 x 6 Pull-ups

Week 8:

Mon: Pull-up Chin over bar hold :60 seconds, 3 x 10 Row (Barbell, rings, inverted, etc.)

Tues: 7 x 3 Pull-ups

Wed: 5 x 5 Tempo Pull-ups 3113 Tempo,3 x 5 Pull-ups

Thurs: 4 x 6 Bent-Over Rows, 4 x 6 Pull-ups

Fri: Pull-up Chin over bar hold :60 seconds, 4 x 10 Row (Barbell, rings, inverted, etc.)

Sat: 7 x 3 Pull-ups

Week 9:

Mon: 7 x 3 Pull-ups

Tues: 2 x 8 Row (Barbell, rings, inverted, etc.), 6 x 6 Pull-ups

Wed: 8 x 2 Pull-ups

Thurs: 10 x 1 :10 second negatives, 3 x 10 Row (Barbell, rings, inverted, etc.)

Fri: 4 x 10 Pull-ups

Sat: 9 x 1 Pull-ups

Week 10:

Mon: 7 x 3 Pull-ups

Tues: 2 x 8 Row (Barbell, rings, inverted, etc.), 6 x 6 Pull-ups

Wed: 8 x 2 Pull-ups

Thurs: 10 x 1 :10 second negatives, 3 x 10 Row (Barbell, rings, inverted, etc.)

Fri: 3 x 10 Pull-ups

Sat: 9 x 1 Pull-ups

Week 11:

Mon: 8 x 3 Pull-ups

Tues: 2 x 8 Row (Barbell, rings, inverted, etc.), 6 x 6 Pull-ups

Wed: 9 x 2 Pull-ups

Thurs: 10 x 1 :10 second negatives, 3 x 10 Row (Barbell, rings, inverted, etc.)

Fri: 4 x 10 Pull-ups

Sat: 9 x 1 Pull-ups

Week 12:

Mon: 8 x 3 Pull-ups

Tues: 2 x 8 Row (Barbell, rings, inverted, etc.), 6 x 6 Pull-ups

Wed: 9 x 2 Pull-ups

Thurs: 10 x 1 :10 second negatives, 3 x 10 Row (Barbell, rings, inverted, etc.)

Fri: 3 x 10 Pull-ups

Sat: 9 x 1 Pull-ups

* 3 x 5 The first number is the number of sets you must perform. The second number is the number of repetitions per set. The idea is to always be on the threshold of failure by the last repetition for this set. This means that someone who already has pull-ups would add weight to ensure that threshold is reached.

* 5115 Tempo. Tempo means that there is a timed pattern to the movement. The first number is the number of seconds spent in the “eccentric” phase. This means the part where you resist gravity’s pull on you. In the pull-up and most other movements it is the lowering phase. The second number would be the static, or isometric position held immediately following the eccentric phase. The 3rd number is tied to the “concentric” phase of the exercise. This would be the part of the pull-up where you are pulling your chin over the bar. The final number is the number of seconds you spend at the static, or isometric position held immediately after the concentric phase. This is usually the “top” position and is usually the most difficult static position in the movement.