Pull up progression

Overview: Pull ups work the muscles in your upper back (the latissimus dorsi, and the trapezius), in your shoulders (the anterior deltoids), and in your arms (the biceps and brachialis). The closer together the hands are placed, the more the emphasis is on the biceps. The further they are, the more emphasis on the lats. And of course, pull ups will also test your grip strength.

Form: Pull ups are normally performed with your hands facing away from you, while chin ups are done with your hands facing towards you (and chin ups also emphasize the biceps more). Of the two, chin ups are generally considered to be the slightly easier version.

Notes: If you do not have a pull up bar, these few alternatives will allow you to get started.

About the progression: Transitions between the first few variations are tough in this progression. However, the horizontal pulls progression works similar muscles to pull ups, and it has a much gentler gradient. The two benefit from each other greatly.

Choose one of the following variations as a starting point and perform 3 sets of between 4 and 8 repetitions with periods of between 1 and 2 min of rest between each set. When you can do 3 sets of 8, move on to the next exercise in the progression.

1. Leg assisted pull ups. Place a chair under your pull up bar, and assist yourself with one leg as you pull your body up. The key here is that you control how much help you get from your assisting leg. Try to reduce this assistance over time. This can be done by placing just the tip of your toes on the chair under you. Video demonstration.
2. Jackknife pull ups. Place a high object under and in front of your pull up bar (a sturdy chair or -even better- a table). Placement is key for jackknife pull ups to be effective: ideally, the table or chair should be high enough for your legs to rest on it at 90 degrees or less to your torso, with your waist bent. Push with your heels into the chair or table and straighten your waist whilst bringing your chin to the bar. Here's a video demonstration: jackknife pull ups.
3. Eccentric pull ups. Jump up in the pull up position with your chin above the bar, then slowly lower yourself down to the count of 5 seconds.
 4. Half pull ups (top half). Start in mid range, and pull yourself up through half the range of motion, until your chin clears the bar. Then lower yourself back to mid range (elbows bent at 90 degrees).

5. Pull ups. From a dead hang, pull yourself up till your chin clears the bar.
 6. Close grip pull ups. Same as a pull up, but with your hands close together. This variation places added emphasis on your biceps.
7. Wide grip pull ups. Same as a pull up, but with your hands further than shoulder width apart. This variation places added emphasis on your latissimus dorsi.
8. Archer pull ups. Focus on pulling with one arm, with minimal assistance from the other. The other arm should gradually straighten over the bar during the pulling motion. Only go up to 6 on each arm, alternating each arm, rather than the 8 reps the basic routine calls for. This variation of pull ups is key to working your way to a muscle up. If 4 archer pull ups are too much to begin with, start with 3 on each arm.
Here's a quick video demonstration of archer pull ups.
9. Sternum pull ups. This move shifts the emphasis away from the latissimus dorsi, but it is another key step in the progression towards a muscle up. Perform a pull up until the bar is at chest level. Make sure your elbows remain close to your body throughout the later part of the move, and that they drive back past your shoulders. This move is not to be confused with the 'gironda sternum pull up', through which your back is arched. Video demonstration.
 10. Belly button pull ups. Same as above, but pull more explosively until your belly button is level with the bar. Again, your elbows should brush past your sides, and drive back past your shoulders. Video demonstration.
 11. One arm towel-assisted pull ups. The lower your grip is on the towel, the less assistance your other arm will actually provide. Also try to modify your grip on the towel to reduce the assitance (hold with only 2 fingers for instance). Only go up to 6 reps on each arm, alternating each arm, rather than the 8 reps the basic routine calls for.
 12. One arm towel-assisted pull ups and eccentrics. Let go of the towel once your chin clears the bar, and lower yourself over a count of 5 seconds. Only go up to 6 reps on each arm, alternating each arm, rather than the 8 reps the basic routine calls for.
 13. Half one arm pull ups (top half). Start in mid range, and pull yourself up through half the range of motion, until your chin clears the bar. Then lower yourself back to mid range (elbows bent at 90 degrees).
14. One arm pull ups. From a dead hang, pull yourself up through the whole range of motion.

30 comments:

  1. Hello, congratulations for the new site. Very usefull things here.
    Quick question: I currently on progression 8 in pullups. Seems to me that 9 is very hard compared with sternum and belly button pullups. One arm chins is for few - even assisted with the other arm -, and consider by many harder than muscle-ups themselves. Any other sugestion to progress from 8? I´m interested in training for muscle-ups. In dips, I stalled completely in 11 (12 reps), with little hope to do even one repetition of progression 12, I think.

    For sternum and belly buttons pullups, do you recommend kipping to reach the adequate height in the bar?

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    1. No, archer pull ups are definitely easier. Your other arm does a bit of work ; it just extends to the side as you pull up... I might need to make a video on these at some point...
      And no, I wouldn't recommend kipping (for a whole bunch of reasons).

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  2. Hello El Diablo, first of all thank you for this amazing page. You are doing an amazing job here. Definitly one of the best if not the best routine for bodyweight training.

    Now to my question: At the moment I stuck at the 6th progression. I am usually able to do 8 pull ups on my 1st set but don't make it through 5 reps on the 2nd and 3rd set. Its like that for the last 2 months. But what I also noticed recently is a big Left-right imbalances. Now I am wondering if this has something to do with my slow to zero progress on pull ups.

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    1. Ok, couple of suggestions: rather than 8,5,5 , aim for 6,6,6, next time, then see if you can get to 7,6,6 etc. This is only gonna take you so far though. When you get stuck again, switch to a push/pull split routine (see the routine customization page).
      The left/right imbalance you speak of probably doesn't help, but it will be taken care of once you move on to unilateral exercises such as archer pull ups and one arm pull ups...

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    2. Hey El, thanks to your advice I was able to prgoress to 8,8,7 for the first time very easy. But after taking 2 days off I went today to 8,6,6. So I am thinking of going back to 7,7,7 on my next workout. And although I am not very satisfied with my progress, I still see it as a challange. Keeps me kind of motivated.
      Still unsure about the spilt though because of the decrease in my numbers after 2 days off. But I will give it a try if I am not able to progress through 7,7,7.

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    3. That's how it goes... Sometimes you do regress. But you have the right idea, go back to 7,7,7 and see how it goes from there!

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  3. Here's my thing about pull ups...I have a very small house and absolutely no place to either use a pull up bar like those they sell that can hang over a doorway or a straight bar that could be set up between the doorway (I'm afraid it won't support my weight, and I can't install the fixations that come with them to make them more reliable, otherwise the door won't close, i.e.: all those:http://www.amazon.ca/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_8?url=search-alias%3Dsporting&field-keywords=pull%20up%20bar&sprefix=pull+up+%2Caps%2C172).

    I don't want to have a permanent pull bar that's hanging off my ceiling and I don't have room for a ''body tower'' that can be used for dips and pull ups either.

    Are there any other options? I'm very interested in this program, is there another exercise that could replace pull ups? Or a piece of equipment that I've missed somewhere? Can I just skip that portion of the workout? I know I'm gonna miss something if I do that's why I'm seeking other alternatives.


    Thanks,
    Patrick

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A tree outside? a park? Take a look at these: http://www.startbodyweight.com/2013/10/pull-up-bar-alternatives.html

      I wouldn't advice skipping pull ups ; your routine will just become imbalanced, and this could cause problems in the long term.

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  4. Pullups are tough for me... was going to do more grease-the-groove training, and sprinkle them through the day. Would you add more sets if doing this? instead of 3X8, do 4X8 or 5X8 even?

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    1. The basic principle of the 'grease the groove' method is not to do sets, and not to work to failure, but rather small amounts throughout the day. If you decide to grease the groove, then drop the pull ups from the routine all together.

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  5. Hi Diablo, i'm going to start with the 666 Workout tomorrow. Do you suggest to do it or to skip it and start with this new one? Wich one is better for build strength, the 6x6 reps or the 3x8 reps?

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  6. hey there,

    I've been stuck on level 5 ~ normal pullups for a while. I am only able to do about 2 sets of 5 reps and then one set of 4 reps. I was thinking of either increasing to 5 sets, move on to the next variation with less reps, or add a bit of weight. At the moment I am overweight so that maybe stalling my progress.

    what do you think?

    thanks for everything man!!

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    1. There's no right or wrong answer to this question. Often, a simple change of routine will be enough to see you progress past a plateau. All these things you suggest might work. You might also try deloading to 3 sets of -say- three reps, and try increasing gradually again (this is what I would do in the first instance). Failing that, any of the things you mention might work. In addition, look into the 'grease the groove' technique.

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  7. Ho El Diablo, I have a question about the technical part of a pull up. I noticed that when performing pull ups, I tend to move my torso backwards, and later, when I am not so much below the bar, I move forward, using back muscles more. Then I go down in a straight line. Therefore, my pull up movement is more of a triangle rather than a line. Is that okay for my muscle training, or should I rather try to move vertically only?

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    1. There's a natural arc like that which occurs with pull ups: it depends on your grip, and on the extent to which you engage your lats.
      It'd be hard to tell you what's going on without seeing a video.

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    2. Forgive me the delay, was a bit busy in the meantime. Here's the video, hope I presented the back bending I mentioned before.
      Cheers.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgZv5IdnnLE&feature=youtu.be

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    3. Your mechanics are basically fine. There's a bit of back arching occuring, and it would be a good idea to practice hollow body hold ( https://www.fitstream.com/images/bodyweight-training/bodyweight-exercises/hollow-body-hold.png ) to counter that. Other than that, your form means you are focussing more on biceps than lats: to engage the lats more, and therefore have -as you say- a straighter line during your pull ups, you should try to squeeze your elbows towards your sides during the pulling part of the movement. Don't think about pulling with your arms, think about bringing your elbows to your sides.

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    4. Thank you a lot for a swift response, will try to puch those elbows - I'd do chin ups if I wanted to focus biceps.

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  8. I have a question to ask. The archer pull ups are very difficult and i'm working on them for 4 weeks now. I find very difficult to do 5x5 reps and my best was 5-5-4-4-3. Do you suggest to keep trying archer or it's better skip them and go on to sternum pull ups?

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    1. If you are doing 5 sets, then yes 5x5 is going to be difficult. You're probably ready to move on to sternum pull ups.

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    2. Many thanks and congratulations for the site!

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  9. Hi, I have a question. can i do horizontal pull up instead of pull up?

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    1. Try using the reddit Start Bodyweight group for your questions: http://www.reddit.com/r/startbodyweight/

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  10. Hi. So, I am a 14 year old boy, 157cm, 40kg, trying to gain weight and muscle using this programme. I have been progressing well lately for all except pull ups.
    I've been doing negatives and assisted pull ups but I am still unable to do a pull up. So, can I do a weighted one leg assisted pull up(using chair) and when i reach the top of the bar, I have a static hold after removing my leg from the chair for as long as possible, and then do negatives(go down as slow as I can). I would count all that as 1 rep and would be doing 3 sets x 8 incorporated with all the other exercises. Will this be too much to get strength gains instead of endurance or will this be really good to getting to doing a pull up?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Try using the reddit Start Bodyweight group for your questions: http://www.reddit.com/r/startbodyweight/

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  11. I went from eccentrics 888 to chin ups 333. Is that an ok progression into normal pull ups?

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  12. Are 11 to 14 done with palms facing towards you?

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  13. One arm chins (OACs) are easier than One arm pullups (OAPs). I'd work both variations.

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  14. Hi! First off, great website.

    I was just wondering. Say for a workout Im doing pullups. Do I start from step 1 and go until the step that I'm not able to complete?
    If cannot continue after step 7, do I just keep doing step 7 for a couple weeks?

    Also, what do you think of the armstrong pull up program to increase my reps/gain strength to do muscle ups?

    Thank you for taking the time to read and possibly answer my question. You are a true inspiration and I'm a big fan!

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