pullup competition




If you want to beef up your biceps and back, pull-ups are hard to beat. However, for a lot of people, they are also the exercise most likely to produce a training plateau. You hit a certain number of reps and then – boom – you can’t increase your numbers. Frustrating!

If you are stuck in a pull-up performance rut, use these strategies to get things moving again. 


It’s about to get heavy – weighted pull-ups 


As with all bodyweight exercises, the most convenient way to make progress with pull-ups is to do more reps. While this will increase your endurance, it won’t do anything for your strength. However, getting stronger is a reliable way to make regular bodyweight pull-ups easier so you can do more reps. 

Using a weight vest, a pull-up belt, your body armor, or by simply clamping a dumbbell between your knees, make your pull-up workouts more strength-centric by increasing the load. Start out with about 10% of your bodyweight and work up from there. It’s perfectly acceptable to do sets of 3-5 reps. Keep at it for a few weeks and then return to bodyweight pull-ups. You’ll be amazed at how easy they feel in comparison. 


Partial rep torture – the 1 ½ rep method 


This pull-up boosting strategy is useful when weighted pull-ups are off the menu, but you still want to make your workout more demanding. Pull your chin up to the bar as normal but then lower yourself only halfway down. Pull your chin back up to the bar, and then smoothly descend to the bottom. That's one rep – keep going! You won’t be able to do as many reps per set, but you will expose your lats and biceps to much more muscle-building stress and tension. 


Lighten the load – drop a few pounds 


If you are serious about increasing your pull-up performance, it pays to shed any unwanted weight that’s holding you back. Losing even 10 pounds of fat will make pull-ups considerably easier. There is a reason that rock climbers and gymnasts are lean and have slender legs – it makes their extraordinary feats of pull-up strength much easier. 

You don’t have to lose lower body muscle mass, but you should definitely consider losing some fat if your abs are currently in deep hibernation! 


Sun’s out, guns out – pump up your biceps 


Pull-ups are a back and biceps exercise, but the biceps are classed as a synergistic which means they are considered to be secondary to the larger, more powerful lats. While anatomically that may be the case, they are also the weak link that will prevent you from reaching your full pull-up potential. 

Fix this problem with some targeted biceps training. Forget cable curls, concentration curls, and preacher curls. Instead, build muscle size and strength with heavy barbell curls and reverse curls. Four sets of eight reps is an excellent place to start, making sure you strive to increase your weights from week to week. 


Stairway to pull-up heaven – ladder training 


The best way to get better at pull-ups is to do more pull-ups. That might seem like common sense, but it's also paradoxical. How can you do more of an exercise that you find so hard? The answer is ladders.

Imagine you can only do eight pull-ups and, try as you might, you cannot get past this barrier. With ladders, you use a neat little trick to do more reps per set so you can "practice" doing a higher volume of reps.


For example: 

1 rep – rest 5-10 seconds

2 reps – rest 5-10 seconds

3 reps – rest 5-10 seconds

4 reps – rest 5-10 seconds

5 reps – rest 5-10 seconds


Rather than eight reps, you have now done 15! That's a massive increase in training volume even though you topped out at only five reps. For your next ladder, stop when you are no longer able to make it to the next “rung” e.g. 


1 rep – rest 5-10 seconds

2 reps – rest 5-10 seconds

3 reps – rest 5-10 seconds

4 reps – rest 5-10 seconds (can’t do 5 reps)


This still adds up to an impressive ten reps. 

Are you still struggling to master pull-ups? Make sure you check out our article that gives tips for scaling the pull-up