Pull-ups are one of the hardest bodyweight exercises. Most men can only do one pull-up and most women cannot even do one. If you plan on going into any branch of the military, you’ll have to be pretty good at doing pull-ups. But even if you don’t, you should still try to get better at them. Most trainers will agree that a good measurement for how many pull-ups you should be able to do is a pull-up to pushup ratio of 1:3.
So, if you can do 30 pushups in a row, you should be able to 10 pull-ups. Once you can do six to eight pull-ups in a row, it’s no longer a matter of strength; it’s a matter of endurance. You’re strong enough to lift your own bodyweight; you just don’t have enough anaerobic (muscular) endurance to do it repeatedly without tiring quickly. In this article I will teach you how to increase the number of pull-ups you can do, whether you can already do 10 or you can’t do a single one.
If you can’t do one pull-up, there are a couple of things you’ll need to do: You’ll need to strengthen the muscles you use to do a pull-up, and you’ll probably need to lose some fat. There’s a reason you never see a fat person doing pull-ups. Fat is just dead weight. The fatter you are, the harder any bodyweight exercise is going to be.
To lose fat you’ll have to clean up your diet and start doing some fat burning workouts, such as running, sprinting, circuit training, aerobics, etc… To strengthen you arms and back you will need to do weight training exercise that simulate pull-ups. I recommend lat pull downs, bent over rows, upright rows, and curls. You should do three sets of each of these exercises every other day in the six to eight rep range. Keep increasing the weight until you can eventually do one pull-up. Keep in mind, pull-ups also require core strength; so don’t neglect your core. Do crunches and planks before or after your workouts to build up your core in addition to your arms and back.
Okay, so you can do one or two pull-ups now. At this stage you just barely have the strength to do a pull-up, so you’ll be working on increasing strength and endurance. You’re going to do many small sets to accomplish this. I recommend 10 sets of one rep to start. So, do one pull-up, then rest for 30 seconds, then do another one and so on.
Keep this up for a week, doing pull-ups every other day. The next week do seven sets of two reps. The week after that do six sets of three reps. Do you see what’s happening here? Each week your number of sets is decreasing by one but your total number of reps is increasing. Keep following this progression each week until you are doing three sets of six reps.
So, now you can do three sets of six pull-ups, which is pretty good. But did you notice what happened? When you were dong five sets of four and four sets of five, you were doing a total of 20 reps; you just completed them in fewer sets on the week that you did four sets of five. On the week you did three sets of six you only did a total of 18 pull-ups, so now you have to increase your total number again. You’re going to do this by stepping up to five sets of six.
Now you can do five sets of six pull-ups. At this point you are going to repeat what you did in step two but with higher rep sets. After you’ve done five sets of six reps for a week, do four sets of seven reps the following week. The week after that do three sets of eight. This progression should be somewhat easy because each week you’re going down one set and decreasing the total number of reps.
So, you’re finally there. You can do three sets of eight pull-ups. Now you just have to increase your endurance. To do this just repeat the process you’ve been doing. Go up to five sets of eight, then down to four sets of nine, then three sets of 10. You can do this indefinitely until you reach the number you want.
Note: Some weeks you might not be able to squeeze out those last one or two reps on the last one or two sets; it just happens sometimes. If and when this happens, it’s okay; just hop back up on the bar as fast as you can and squeeze out that last rep.