Dr. Bell, I can’t seem to improve my Pull-Ups whatsoever. Do you have any advice on things I can do to improve them?
Before I go into detail on Program Design and how to improve your Pull-Up performance, I want to make sure you know the best way to perform a Pull-Up. You probably already know, that Pull-Ups are performed with an “Over-Hand Grip,” where your knuckles face you, as opposed to the Chin-Up, where your palms face you.
Understand first and foremost, your Latissimus Dorsi (Lats) and your upper back muscles should be the focus and NOT your arms. Most beginners think about pulling the bar to their shoulders. This will put their focus on the Brachialis, the muscle under the Biceps Brachii. Both are muscles of the upper arm that cannot generate anywhere near the total force production of the Lats and other back muscles.
To focus on the back muscles, think about driving your elbows down. You can also increase the leverage of the back by changing your body position. Instead of being a straight hang, curve your body forward so your torso-hips-legs form a “C.” Grab the bar with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
While most fitness tests require you to get your chin above the bar, instead you will focus on touching your upper chest to the bar.
In training, on the way up (Concentric Contraction) exhale and take 2 seconds to complete the Pull-Up. Going down (Eccentric Contraction) inhale, 4 seconds. When you want to test yourself, you can go as fast as you like, but the 2-4 system is more effective at gaining strength.
For Program Design, start with the F.I.T.T. Principle
Principle: Frequency, Intensity, Time & Type
Frequency: 3 Days/Week (a day of rest between, i.e. M,W,F or Tu,Th,Sa)
Intensity: Start with one or two Warm-Up Sets of 15 Reps Lat Pull Downs to the Front (Work Sets are performed with Body Weight).
Time: Week One: One sets of “As Many As Possible”
Week Two: Two sets of “As Many As Possible”
Week Three: Three sets of “As Many As Possible”
Week Four: Four sets of “As Many As Possible”
(All of the above: 4 minute Rest Interval (RI)
Week Five: Four sets of “As Many As Possible” RI: 3.5 minutes
Week Six: Four sets of “As Many As Possible” RI: 3.0 minutes
Week Seven: Four sets of “As Many As Possible” RI: 2.5 minutes
Week Eight: Four sets of “As Many As Possible” RI: 2.0 minutes
Test again after Week Eight. If you want to continue to improve, change your Program Design (Type) to any of the following:
Eccentric Training (Need to Add Load), Forced Reps (Need a Spotter), Weight Belt to add to weight (Increasing Load), or you can use any other Program Design listed in your IFPA Personal Training Manual “The Book on Personal Training.”
Don’t neglect your other muscle groups since symmetry is important for optimal performance.
I also suggest you use the “Priority System” which means you will do your Pull-Up Routine first in your workout.