Introduction: How to Quickly Increase Pullup Strength

About: I make weapons, and other things...

Hey guys, so today's tutorial will be a bit different from my usual ones - instead of showing you how to make something I will be sharing and explaining what I have found to be the most effective way of increasing pullup/chinup strength. This method actually helped me to overcome a training plateau and increase my weighted chinup 1-rep max from 60 to 70kg (132 to 155lbs) in just one month.

As a calisthenics and pullup enthusiast for the last three years, I can honestly say that this training method has been the absolute best and most effective one I have used so far and the principles of it can be applied to most bodyweight and weighted exercises.

Now before we start, I should mention that this method is NOT designed to increase your ability to do high numbers of pullups and although you will very likely notice your rep count increasing through the use of this method, it is not the primary goal. This method is for building your maximum strength at pullups, measured by using added weight.

If you are new to pullup training and are more interested in first increasing your reps, I'd suggest looking for a programme more specifically tailored to doing that; however, if you can already do 8+ pullups with decent form and are looking to develop strength, or if you are working towards harder exercises like one-arm pullups and muscleups, or are trying to push through a plateau in your training, then you are in the right place.

For a bit of context, weighted pullups/chinups have always been my favourite exercise and are, in my opinion, one of the absolute best all-round upper body exercises you can do for improving strength, and it has been a long-term goal of mine to achieve a one-arm pullup and an 80kg weighted pullup, so I am always looking for the most effective ways to train for maximal strength.

Another benefit of this method of training is that it only requires two approximately half-hour training sessions per week and can be fitted in around most people's existing routines.

Some Strength Training Information:

Ok, so first things first, let me explain a little about the principles
of strength training and how they differ from training for high reps. If you already know about this sort of thing, feel free to skip this.

So, in strength training the goal is, simply put, to train your body to
generate the greatest amount of force possible, safely and in a controlled way.

To do this, we use the principle of progressive overload, which
essentially means gradually increasing the amount of weight or resistance we train with. This gives your body the stimulus it needs to grow stronger by improving neural pathways, building muscle and tendon fiber, and ultimately leads to a greater ability to activate more muscle fibers in order to lift more weight.

When doing strength-based training it is also important to work at
close to your maximum strength level in order to improve, since doing lots of reps with a light weight will not give your body the same overload stimulus as doing just a few with a high weight. However, when working at 90-95% of your 1-rep max it can be hard to do a substantial number of total reps in a workout that uses a typical 2-4 set approach. The solution - a high volume, high intensity, low frequency style of training.

Let me elaborate..


In terms of equipment, all you will need is:

  • pullup bar
  • weight belt (I have a tutorial on how to make one at low cost, which can hold over 2000lbs here)
  • selection of weight plates, including some microplates - 0.5kg, 1kg (1lb, 2lbs) etc
  • a book or online document to keep track of your progress.

Step 1: The Training

To begin training with this method, the first thing you need to do is get a baseline for your current strength level.

On a day when you haven't already trained your back or arms for at least 48 hours, find an amount of weight that you can do 5 pullups/chinups with when attached to you. The reps should still have good form, eg no kicking/kipping and you should get your chin fully above the bar for each one. The last rep should be a real struggle though; if you feel like you could have got another rep or two, increase the weight. Once you have found your 5-rep max, as we call it, you are ready to start training.

Don't start the programme the same day you tested your max, as you will already be tired out and it will skew the results. On a fresh day, get your equipment ready and make sure you have a timer to hand.

Attach your 5-rep max weight to your weight belt and do 4 pullups - on this first set you will always be going to 1 rep below your maximum; the idea of this is to not completely fatigue your muscles at the start of the workout.

Once you have done the 4 reps, set a timer for 3:30. As soon as this timer ends, do another 3 reps.

Repeat this until you fail to get a full 3 reps in a set.

The aim is to get at least 5 sets in which you get the required number of reps. If you can keep doing sets of 3 clean (but difficult) reps while only resting 3:30 then you should; don't stop doing sets, until you reach the point where you fail to get to 3 reps.

Once you eventually fail a set, record how many sets you successfully completed, including the first one in which you did 4 reps, and make sure to include the date and what weight you were using - I like to use a Google sheet to keep track of this.

So, what now? Well, you would do this workout twice a week, with as many days between each one as possible, for example, Monday and Friday. The number of sets you completed will tell you how much (if any) weight to add to the next workout. You should always try to get at least 5 sets; if you complete 5 or fewer full sets then the weight will remain the same next workout.

If you are able to do more than 5 sets, for each additional set you complete, you will add 0.5kg (1lb) to the weight you use next workout. So if you completed 7 sets, you would add 1kg to the next workout, and so on. This method of progression is very effective since as your strength increases, the difficulty is proportionately increased.

While it may feel like it is a tiny amount of weight to add, do not be tempted to add, say 2 kg for each additional set, as this will only make you plateau and slow your progress down the line. Let's say you did 6 sets with 10kg added weight on your first session, the next time you would use 10.5kg and would likely only be able to do 4 or 5 sets. Every time you add weight, even a very small amount, your set number will go down and you will have to build it back up to where you can do more than 5 sets again.

I find this usually takes from 1 to 2 weeks, and despite the fact that before I started training like this I thought I had reached my limit for improvement, since I had been stuck at the same 1-rep max for ages, I have been able to average an increase of 1kg per week in the workouts and my 1-rep max has increased from 60 to 70kg (155lbs).

The most important thing is to not force improvements when your body isn't ready, as this will only lead to injury and annoyance. Also, don't get depressed if you have sessions where you fail on the 3rd set after doing 5 sets the week before with the same weight - it happens, and performance varies from day to day.

Make sure you keep a good record of your training so you can easily track your progress and ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS warm up - trust me I know from experience, having a muscle in your neck go into spasm from not warming up properly is not fun at all.

Step 2: An Overview

So here is a quick overview of the session layout and progression, since the last page was quite a long-winded and complicated description.

  • First set - 4 reps
  • Second set onwards - 3 reps
  • Rest 3:30 mins between every set
  • Aim for at least 5 sets
  • Stop once you fail to get the full 3 reps in a set
  • If you did 5 full sets or fewer, keep the weight the same next session
  • If you did more than 5 full sets, add 0.5kg to the weight you use next session for every full set above 5 you did
  • Do this workout twice a week with 2-3 days between each session
  • Keep track of all your results and progress
  • Warm up before each session

Step 3: Time to Start Training

Ok so that's it, now it's time to get on the bar and get working! I guarantee that if you stick to this method and don't try to over-accelerate progress, you'll start seeing gains within the first couple of weeks.

Another thing is that this method of training is by no means limited to pullups; they are just one of the best exercises to use it for since, unlike deadlifts, benchpress, squats etc, failing a rep is not as dangerous when working with near to your maximum weight. Dips, pistol-squats, curls, overhead press, front squat are examples that come to mind as other exercises you can use this method with. If you do try it with other exercises, I'd love to know how it goes!

Also, if you have any questions or feedback feel free to leave a comment below :-)

Anyways, that's it for today, I really hope you all found this useful and will consider trying out this method; if you liked this tutorial, it would be great if you could show your support by voting for this and checking out my other entries in the Exercise Speed Challenge

Stay safe, train hard, and have a great day!