T Nation

Increasing Pull Ups


Hey, guys. I'm applying to West Point and applying for Army ROTC scholarships and one of the requirements is to pass a physical fitness test, or PFT. Pull ups are included and quite frankly, I suck at them. I can do about 2-3 good ones. I'll most likely be taking a the PFT at the end of May, leaving me three months to go from 2-3 pull ups to (what I would like to be able to do) 12-15.

Got any ideas, or is it just as simple as doing them as often as possible?



do pull ups 3 to 2 times a week depending on how good you recover from them.

do 13 sets of 3 reps + do 1 more rep to make a total of 40 slowly increase the amount of reps you do and decrease the amount of sets you have to do to get to 40 pull ups(not in one time but in total) do this until you can do 4sets of 10 pull ups it actually worked for my brother and i just started my first day of it now.


Thanks, man. I appreciate it. I just saw this in your training log, too haha.




But seriously, what xanatomyxchartx said. Volume, and lots of it. I have heard of some people getting stronger from one good pullup session a week but in my experience, I find that volume and frequency are the best ways to improve bodyweight exercises. I have also found pulldowns to work for me, but since I'm a smaller guy, pulling a stack is significantly more than my body weight (I can hang from pulldowns and the weight wont budge. I have to hook my legs somewhere and yank it down.) If you are a bigger guy, this may serve no benefit since you might not be able to load them up enough.


Haha. Right now he just has me doing band-assisted pull-ups with a light band. I hate to doubt the man, but I'm not sure that it will get me to where I need to be in the allotted time. I was thinking about doing them almost every day. I can do them at the end of each of my workouts and I can do them after my cardio on my off days.



Once you get up to 6 here is an awesome and easy program to follow. I did this before boot camp and got me up to 20 pullups.



I had to go from only being able to do 5 pullups to being able to do 20 for a screening to get into the military program Im in now, and I got there by doing pyramids, starting at 1 up to max effort and then back down to 1, I would do this pyramid a few times a day, alot of other people I know said doing weighted pull ups helps. I went from being able to do 5 to being able to do over 20 pretty easily in a few months from doing the pyramids daily.


It's as simple as doing them 3 times a day. 12-15 is easy to work up to.


Personally, I have to do as many reps as possible once every week or two to see rep maximum progress. Doing sets of 5 throughout the day helps my back get stronger and grow but little for my rep max. My rep max at the moment is 11, and the most I've ever had is 21.

And of course, if it's an option, losing weight will help.


1-2 days/week of heavy weighted pullups (vary the grips)

2-3 days/week of submaximal pullups for reps (vary the grips)

make sure you use the grip you will be testing with at least once a week.

FWIW, I'm 260-265lbs and can knock out 10-12 pullups. Thats up from 2-3 reps four weeks ago.


To me, it's as simple as doing them often. I do them on almost all my training days. FWIW I can do about 30 something @ 214-218lbs.


I'm not great at them either so I recommend doing the opposite of what I've been doing on pullups the last year. 2 things mentioned so far that stand out

  1. Higher frequency, rarely hear about this not working

  2. Band assisted for your rep range isn't a bad option. Various rep ranges are limited when you can only do 2-3. Once you get to 6 or so do less bands and probably none when your at 10.

I have not been doing either of those, so they must work!


One thing that helped me increase pullup numbers alot, is 1-2 times per week, maybe in your case 2-3 times per week given time constraints, would be to simply hang from the pullup bar (using thicker bar/towel),

do this for like 5 'sets' of maybe 30 sec, increasing time as you see fit given your weekly progress.

This gives you a really strong grip and will enable you to maximise your back strength, you are only as strong as your weakest link ( im assuming there are no straps allowed)

Addiontally start with your hands parell using the V bar attachment from the seated row machine, these are the easiest kind of pullups and once you can get ten there, move to harder variations


Doing them every day will work.


That's what I figured the easiest and most logical solution would be.



When I went through the PO-PO academy, we had to knock out 10 reps everytime we walked (or sprinted) past the pull up bars. That was anywhere from once to 12 times a day...Volume sucked at first, but after a couple weeks, was not an issue. Like others have said, best way to improve on them is by doing them.


tl;dr: way more Volume, weighted chins, prehab upper back stuff, abs abs abs... or alt: fuck all that and ask ed.

T-Nation DemiGod Alpha's method on improving pullup performance

Former Navy SEAL Stew Smith's method for doubling your pullup performance

Since your reps are lower, it's usually good to start off improving yourself structurally. Especially from your log it seems like you have an issue keeping your upper back tight. So I would also do some research for:

  • Face Pulls, face pulls, more face pulls
  • Weighted Negatives
  • Iso holds (at various positions/weak pull points, usually, dead hang, very top or midway)
  • Band assisted variations
  • ytwi drill (rear delt drill)
  • side bends, holding planks and anti flexion ab exercises for time (stronger abs ∝ pullup strength)
  • tennis ball rolling trigger points in rear delts
  • Increasing your overall daily volume, 3x/wk, then 4x/wk, then daily, but just small additions at a time, give your body a chance to acclimate first then add more volume.

If I were in your position... and if your strength allows for it... I would utilize stew smith's method but instead of the pyramid day I would throw in weighted chins. I like 10 sets of 1-3 straight across. Think like wendler, it doesn't have to be your damn max, but 10-30total reps with 10lbs is going to do more for your strenth-wise than the same thing with just bodyweight (ie, a lighter weight). I'm always going to be in favor or getting stronger. But if you can't do weighted chins yet then weighted negatives sub VERY well in this regard. They are a bitch to setup sometimes though, but be imaginative. Also I would make sure you're doing your ab work. A lot of people have issues with swaying or laterally or front to back and usually related to weak abs and just not staying tight. That will NOT slide at west point lol.

BUT WHAT I WOULD REALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLY DO IN YOUR POSITION...is ask your Olympian god-like coach for his advice and solution to this issue since you are currently under his masterful tutelage. What I would not do is let the advice of some random ass internet stranger (such as myself) fuck up Coach Coan's awesome programming. I'm 1/2 joking but 100% serious... you should ask Ed. Good luck!


Cutting fat is also an option


Different things work for different ppl.
Logistics permitting - I'd start with high volume (1-2 sets 3-5 times a day) + a pullup - only workout once a week when you do 100 pullups any way you can do them.
Don't go till failure on the sets you're doing throughout the day - if your max is say 4 on the 1st set and 3 on the second do 3 and 2 respectively.


For what it's worth, I've seen a 145 pound female who could barely do one pull up, do three sets of 8-10 with a mini band under each foot. I saw the exact same thing happen with a 210 pound male. Aside from echoing others about just asking Ed, you could ask him if using samaller bands would be a good idea. I just realized you may have a stigma attached to all your questions since, you train ED COAN! Does Ed pronounce his last name cone, or co-en. I've heard different people say if differently.