If you’re looking to increase your pull-ups from 0 to 25+ reps, then here’s a step-by-step guide:
Step One: Inverted Row Progression
The place to start and the best way to increase pull ups fast is with a barbell set up at shoulder level on a rack. You are going to follow an inverted row progression that will train you to involve your core in the pull up movement. Grab the bar with the same hand width as if you were doing a pull up, then perform a row by extending to arm’s length and pulling your torso back to the bar.
Now let go with one hand so that you are performing one-armed rows. Have your body directly alongside the bar so that you are standing tall at the start and finish of the move. As you pull back to the bar, make sure that your elbow remains out to the side of your body. Do not allow your torso to twist. Pull with your upper back muscles.
Perform three sets of 10-15 reps of this one arm row. As you get stronger, move your feet a few inches past the bar so that you are pulling at a greater angle.
Move through three body position progressions until you are virtually pulling your body straight up to the bar.
Perform these one arm inverted rows every other day for 2 weeks. By doing this, you will improve pull up strength.
Step Two: Performing Pull Ups Properly
To increase the number of pull ups you can do, you first need to learn how to do them properly. Many people struggle with this exercise because they allow their body to be too loose when they are hanging from the bar, which creates energy leaks that sap away your strength. To prevent them, follow these cues when you are hanging from the bar.
- Hang from a bar, keeping your legs straight and slightly angled forward from the hips.
- Grip the bar as deeply into the meat of your palms as possible.
- Contract your quads and keep them tight throughout.
- Squeeze your legs together.
- Tense your abs.
- Point your toes down.
- Look up at the bar.
- Imagine that you are pulling the bar down to your body while driving your elbows up.
- Reach up to the bar with your chest as you pull your body up with your upper back muscles.
Step Three: Auxiliary Exercises
There are several key exercises that can help increase the number of pull ups you can do. Incorporate them into your regular training program two times per week to fortify your ability to do more pull ups.
Hanging Leg Raises
The first area of focus should be your abdominals. When you are hanging under the bar, your abs are integral to keeping your body still and secure in order to prevent energy leaks.
Add hanging leg raises to your routine to build up your ab strength. Here’s how to do them:
- Hang from a bar, taking hold with an overhand, shoulder-width grip and your body fully extended.
- Pull your shoulders down as you hinge from the hips to bring your legs as high as possible.
- Keep your torso tight as you lift your body.
- Pull down on the bar throughout this action.
- Hold the top position for 15-20 seconds.
To get good at the exercise and increase pull up reps, you’ve got to get better at pulling in general. Even though the deadlift involves pulling in the opposite direction, it involves the same key muscles as the pull up. It will also enhance your grip strength. Get better at one and you will get better at the other. Follow these pointers to improve your deadlift:
- Take a slightly wider than shoulder-width stance in front of the bar.
- Maintain a natural curvature of the spine as you hinge at the hips to drive your butt back and down.
- Grab the bar with a shoulder-width overhand grip.
- Push your heels into the ground as the bar comes up.
- Lift up until the hips and knees are fully extended.
Straight Arm Scapular Pulldowns
Scapular strength is an important but often overlooked aspect of pull up performance. The straight arm scapular pulldown is a great exercise to strengthen and stabilize your scapula, and thus get more pull ups. Here’s how to do it:
- Attach a rope handle to a high pulley cable.
- Stand about two feet from the machine and hold the ends of the rope handle at arm’s length in line with your shoulders.
- Keeping your arms fully extended, pull through your lats and scapula to bring your hands down to your mid-thighs. Do not bend your elbows.
Step Four: 20-Day Pull Up Progression
Now we are ready to begin a science-based pull up progression to get to that 20 rep per set goal.
This progression will be broken up into 5 training blocks. Each block consists of 4 days of pull ups, starting with a pull up test. That gives us a total of 20 days to complete this progression.
The only equipment you’ll need is a pull up bar and a stopwatch. Let’s break it down day-by-day:
Pull Up Test – Simply perform as many reps as you can with good form.
Then rest for 2 minutes.
Now set your stopwatch for 5 minutes and do as many reps as possible with good form. Rest as needed but strive to get the number as high as you can before the time runs out.
Today you are going to start with chin ups rather than the pull up. With chin ups, your palms are facing toward you. Your goal is to get twice as many reps as you did for your pull up test yesterday. Again, you can pause as needed. There is no stopwatch to work with, so just focus on good form and hitting your number.
The second part of today’s progression has you going back to the pull up. This time, your goal is to perform 40% more reps than you did with yesterday’s test. It may take several sets of pull ups to reach your target.
Today, you will repeat the same pattern as yesterday but with a different initial pull up variation. This time you will be doing the Commando Pull Up. In this exercise you are standing to the side of the bar and grabbing it with a palm facing neutral grip. Pull up to one side of the bar on one rep and then alternate on the next. Once again, your goal here is to get double the number of reps you achieved on your Day One test.
Next, go back to the conventional pull up, with the goal of adding 50% to your first day test total. Once again, you can take 2 or 3 sets to get to your new total as required.
Today you will begin with a dead hang exercise designed to strengthen and build endurance through the scapular area as well as your grip strength. Simply hang from the bar at arm’s length. Now depress your shoulder blades and pull your scapulae down and back. Hang in this position for as long as you can, timing yourself.
Once you have completed your max time dead hang, it’s back to the regular pull up. This time, your goal is to get 60% more reps than you did during your Day One test. Remember that you can rest as needed.
You have now completed the first of five pull up progression training phases. For the next four phases, you will follow this exact same pattern, starting with a test day and then performing the same exercises as you did on Days 2-4. Of course, the difference will be in the progression. On your Day Five test, you will achieve more reps than you did on Day One. Now all your targets for that phase will be based around that new number.
When it comes to the dead hangs that you perform on the fourth day of each phase, make it your goal to improve by at least 5 seconds each time.
At the end of twenty days, you will have completed 5 four-day phases. During each succeeding phase, you will have been challenging yourself with progressively more repetitions on each exercise. Now on Day 21, it is time for you to reveal the results of all your hard work. This test shows your progression and is the best way to improve pull ups fast.
You are going to repeat the two-phase test that you did on the first day. The first part involves doing as many reps as you can in one single set with no rest and with good form. You should confidently be able to get twenty reps!
The second part of the test involves setting your timer for 5 minutes and performing as many reps of pull ups as you can. Just as on Day One, you can rest as needed. However, your goal here is to pump out twice as many reps as you did during your Day One test. Once you achieve that goal (and you will!), give yourself a massive high five – you have now officially mastered the pull up!
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I use an assisted pull up machine?
An assisted pull up machine is good for beginners to help them progress their strength level. When you can do more than 2-3 reps, however, it is time to switch to the pull up bar.
What is a good pull ups workout for beginners?
If you cannot do one pull up, then use an assisted machine. Simply follow the 20-day routine detailed above using the assisted pull up rather than the unaided pull up bar. If you do not have access to a machine, use banded pull ups. When you can increase pull up count to 5 reps with this aid, then switch from banded pull ups to the unaided bar. Check out this article on the best pull up bars to see our recommendations.
Can I increase pull ups in two weeks?
Yes, you can increase your pull up numbers in two weeks. You can even improve pull ups in a week, however the above program to increase pull up count takes 20 days. By Day 14, you will be able to do more pull ups.
Should I add weight?
Yes, but you need to be strong enough to handle it. First, follow a pull ups workout for beginners, then only when you can perform 20 reps with perfect form, you can add weight with the aid of a dip belt.