My Pull-Up Journey: A guide to achieving your new maximum pull-up count

Why do this guide? 

Hi everyone, I decided to write this guide in response to Andy’s question on my ‘Secret’ to improving my Pullups so quickly from 1 to 28 in 5 weeks. I believe anyone and everyone can do this. All it takes is patience and persistence.

Need some motivation? Here you go!

Background

I started my pullup journey at the not-so-tender age of 14. Back then my secondary school had a small gym where the canoeists and I hung out very often. Every morning, if I was early for school, I would head straight to the gym and do one set of pullups just to see how many I could do that day. After two years of kayaking training, I started out with 7 pullups. In 1 year, that count increased to 36 and at the end of secondary school (16 years old), I was able to do 45 in a row.

I chose to continue the sport of sprint kayaking and my passion to beat my maximum Pullup count traveled with me to National Junior College (NJC). The canoeing team in NJC had a tradition of conducting morning physical training at 630am before school started. Not wanting to risk the wrath of my teacher and seniors by arriving late, I would always arrive 15-20mins earlier and do my own training for warmup. That was when I started the practice of doing 100 pullups, split into 4 sets of 25 a day.

Tragedy struck when I pulled one of my upper back muscles doing this. Thinking back, it could have been one of those days when I didn’t bother warming up and started cold. I could not lift my arm for 2 weeks but I was more determined than ever to get back on that bar. Cautiously, I worked my way back to the routine and eventually, I managed to hit 60 pullups in a row during training one day.

Honestly, I never thought much about this ability to do many pullups. I was never proud of it. It was really something I enjoyed challenging myself with and came with practice, not talent. So over time, it slowly descended from my long list of priorities.

Recently, someone from Singapore broke the Guiness World record of most number of pullups done in a minute. That got my attention. 😏 So, since recovering from injury, I’ve started training my pullups again.

The Methods

Below are the methods I’ve used and found helpful in improving my maximum Pull-up count. They are arranged according to frequency of training meaning how often you train your pullups or do exercises that help with pullups. It is essential to note that to increase your maximum count, one should focus on strength endurance – the ability of your muscles to generate force for long periods of time, although intermittently, as you can just hang on the bar for a short breather.

Also, after you’re able to dish out a bunch of pull-ups, the limiting factor becomes one’s ability to hold on to the bar for long periods of time. In other words, your grip strength. I don’r recommend any grip strength training because you already train that every time you jump up to grab the bar but feel free to supplement with your own!

Method 1: Traditional Strength Training/Bodybuilding Style

Currently, I’m following this method. This means I go hard for one training and then take a few days off to let my muscles recover. For example, today is strength day. As part of my workout, I did 4 sets of weighted pull-ups and I’m satisfied with that. So for at least the next 2 days, my training will focus on other aspects of fitness and I won’t have another strength day until I feel ready for it again. How do I tell if I’m ready? Usually I go by feeling. As long as my pull-up muscles aren’t aching anymore, its time to make them work again!

Additionally, you can utilize the aid of machines to help you, especially if you are a beginner. The assisted pull-up machine is a great starting tool. Seasoned ‘pull-upians’ will still find the Lat Pull-Down machine useful. Hey, whatever works, works!

Method 2: 1 Max Set a Day

I developed this method as a way to work around limited time to workout or exercise, especially when I was serving my nation in the Singapore Armed Forces for two years. During Basic Military Training, some days were just too preoccupied with weapons training or outfield training so there was hardly any time catered for exercise. I wanted to break the existing record of 50 pull-ups set by some guy in the special forces but at that time, I had neglected doing pull-ups for quite awhile so it wasn’t easy training them back up again.

Training your maximum pull-up in sets like in Method 1 is easy because you are doing sub-maximal sets. This method may be a little taxing on your willpower, especially on days when you are already exhausted by the day’s work or toil. Essentially it is just as the name suggests. You test yourself every day, once a day. You don’t necessarily have to hit your maximum or better the previous day’s count but you should come close. Since you are doing only one set a day, you probably won’t ache as much as with Method 1 but you may. That’s where you have to make the difficult decision to skip a day (which can be very wise) or just grind it out and see how many you can hit without pulling a muscle. Caution though, make sure you warm up well with some arm swings or imaginary pull-ups and maybe a super sub-maximal set. (Think 5 if you can already do 20)

Method 3: Greasing the Grove

Method one was train once every few days, method 2 was once a day so can you guess what this one entails? Hah! You guessed it! Its training pull-ups everyday, several times a day.

I think it was the legendary kettlebell master Pavel Tsatsouline who coined the term Grease the Groove. Basically, its about practice. You practice a move several times a day to induce neurological and physiological adaptations. Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent. You will find that by simply doing sub-maximal sets several times a day, your improvements will come seemingly effortlessly. You don’t have to push as intensely as in Method 1 while you can also avoid having to test yourself every so often like in Method 2.

Using this method, you can test yourself once a week with a maximal pull-up set to ‘inscribe your suspected improvements in stone’. All you need is a readily accessible pull-up bar nearby throughout the day. If you have one of those DIY pull-up bars at home, simply do one every time you walk past the bar. If that is too frequent for you, just do a sub-maximal amount, say 5, before every meal so your meal becomes a reward for your efforts. Start with a really low count and slowly add more as the weeks roll by. Using this method, you don’t even need to do any pull-up training whenever you hit the weight room.

That’s a wrap! Thank you for taking time to read what I have to offer and please leave your suggestions/opinions in the comments. You can be assured of more articles to come. All the best!

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