Ask Stew: Best Pullup System/Program?

Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Frances Candelaria
Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Frances Candelaria

Whether you're training in pullups to do your first pullup ever or to get over 20 repetitions, it takes time and specific training programming to take your bodyweight and pull it over a bar. Here is an international question that arrived this week at the end of our Pull Your Own Weight Campaign for pullup improvement. (see links below)

I'm a student of Physical Education in Brazil and I would like to study about exercise in pull ups. I visited your website and I read that you have much news about pull ups.

I'd like to know if you have information about the best training for pull ups? How does a person who does not do pull ups? Is there a difference between men and women?

Thank you – João

João – Thanks for the question. With regards to information about the BEST TRAINING FOR PULLUPS, I have to say that there are many methods available to the public on improvement in pullups from daily pullups, weighted pullups, isometric holds, and a variety of set / repetition schemes to turn this quick article into a book. So, I do not have an answer for the BEST method to improve pullups — at least proven by science. My own experience to perform in the double digits in pullups is to do three different workouts every OTHER day for several weeks:

Day 1 – PT Pyramid Day 3 – Super Set Day 5 or 6 – Max Rep Sets

I have seen many over the past 20 years go from 10 to 20+ using this method for 6-8 weeks.

I also have seen people increase their pullups by 50-100 percent in as little as 14 days by doing this overload principle version: Pullup Push

FIRST PULLUPS (Male or Female): From my experience, there is no "one size fits all" improvement program for pullups. I have found that starting out by getting your arms used to holding your body weight over the bar (negatives / holds / jumping pullups) is a great way to start your first pullup. If that is too difficult, using resistance aids like rubber bands, a partner to push you up, or machines like pulldowns or Gravitrons can help build strength. Losing weight also helps if you are overweight, or even have 10-15 pounds of extra weight.

I have seen many women do pullups and many more who could not. The same is true for men. It is not a sex issue — it is a PRACTICE issue. If you practice doing pullups, you will be able to do them eventually. It may take some time, weight loss, weights, or time spent hanging on a pullup bar, but the pullups will eventually follow hard work.

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