The Pullup. It’s one of the standards of strength that you’re expected to do in so many uniformed services. Pullups are a great indicator of upper body strength. It shows that you’re not overweight, or you’re very strong. Beyond that, being able to do pullups is pretty impressive, especially if you can crank out 20-30 in a row. Being able to do more pullups is something that so many people want, and struggle to achieve, and many hit a wall between a max of 10-15. In this article, I’m going to list 6 things you should be doing to increase your pullups.
1. Do More Pullups
This is probably the most obvious one, but it’s often overlooked. The fact is, pullups are not made easier by increasing strength, but can be bettered by solidifying the neuromuscular adaptations of the movement, allowing your body to use all the necessary muscles more efficiently, with less energy. A great way to do this, is to get a doorway pullup bar.
There is a method called ‘Greasing the Groove’, and you can see it in more detail at StrongFirst – Greasing The Groove Explained. To put it simply, it’s the method of doing the same exercise over and over again, while never reaching muscular fatigue. This means that you never go to failure, and allows you to do more total reps throughout the day.
To use this method, find out your max reps. Then you’d do half whenever you walked through the door with the pullup bar on. Say it’s 5, then you would do 2-3 pullups. If it was 10, you’d do 5. You’d do this as many times throughout the day as you can, and every week or two, retest your max, and keep doing it. This method is not designed to increase strength, but to increase the neuromuscular pathways to make you more efficient at doing them.
2. The Weighted Pullup
Once you’re able to do at least 10, you should move onto weighted pullups, as being able to lift more weight in a pullup, will make it so much easier to do body-weight pullups. If you think about it backwards, imagine how many more pullups you could do if you dropped 20kg right now? Treat weighted pullups just like any other lift, like Bench Press and Squat. Implement progressive overload. You can also use the ‘Greasing the Groove’ method listed previously with this. Check out our other article 10 Ways To Get Stronger Faster for some tips if you’re not progressing.
3. Lose Weight
This follows the reasoning outlined in the last point. If you put on weight, it’s harder to do pullups. If you lose weight, it’s easier. Someone who could do 10 pullups at 90kg, could do a lot more if they dropped 20kg. I found this personally, when I could only barely do a muscle up, but when I lost 10kg, I was cranking out several in a row. Of course, you want to lose weight properly, so you don’t lose too much muscle and strength.
4. Remember your Lats
The Lats are commonly referred to as ‘Wings’ in the bodybuilding community, cause of their look. When someones got a nice pair of wings on them you know they can crank out some pullups.
When you do a pullup, you need to make sure you’re not pulling with your arms, but your back. Your Lats is the muscle group you should be focusing on when you initiate the pullup. If you can’t feel it, get someone to poke you a couple times while doing pullups. If you’ve ever seen someone touching their training partners muscles when they’re lifting, this is why. When you feel the touch, you can much more easily focus on that muscle, and it’s much easier to consciously activate. This is known as the Mind Muscle Connection (MMC). To help use the lats over the arms, focus on pulling with the elbows down, as if your forearm was simply a rope with a hook at the end. That is the most commonly used cue for pulling with your back.
5. Switch It Up
Doing only one variation of pullups will make you better at it, but you could be missing some progression by not having variety. There are 3 most commonly used grips. Pronated (Palms facing away), Neutral (Palms facing each other), and Supinated (Palms facing you). It’s generally referred to as a pullup with a pronated or neutral grip, and a chinup with a supinated.
Beyond the different grips, you can also do wide grip or close grip, towel pullups, one hand pullups, use rings, fat gripz, or even baseballs hanging from a chain.
6. Grip Strength
The body cannot lift what it can’t hold. As a result, the stronger your grip, the more you can lift. It’s been shown that gripping the bar as tightly as possible even when doing lifts such as the Bench Press, which doesn’t really need much grip, has increased the amount you can lift through causing your rotator cuff to ready itself. Not only that, but you can actually grip more weight with one hand, if you grip the other hand hard as well. Because of this, increasing your grip strength will help your pullups, and make it easier if you do them weighted.
Follow these 6 tips, and your pullup max reps will shoot up in no time! If you want to progress onto the muscle up, check out this article Muscle Up Progression: How To Do Your First Muscle Up.