T Nation

PFT Pullup Plateau

I’m headed to Marine OCS in May, so my number one training goal is pullups. Crunches are maxed, run is OK not great (21:04), but my pullups suck, can get 10 pullups or 12 chinups in a max set. That was good enough for OCS selection, but it’s gonna be pretty bad if I show up in Quantico like that.

I’ve been doing the Armstrong Pullup Program, which both Marine friends and strangers swear by, for nearly two months now:

http://grove.ufl.edu/~marine/docs/armstrong.pdf

Have gotten nothing out of it. Have not missed a workout, but have made minimal progress, picked up some reps on certain days, but overall max is the same. Am I doing too many days and/or not enough reps?

I’ve cut my other lifting down a lot, now lift Mon-Wed-Fri, always do that day’s pullups first, then 4x6 or 5x5 on a big lift (bench, DL, front squat), then chest, shoulders, and traps, no back work aside from the pullups, curls on Monday and Friday only. Nutrition is pretty good, no longer trying to gain (USMC weight limit, I am just under), but get a good breakfast, about one gram protein per lb. bodyweight, don’t eat crap, basic supps, Surge has kept soreness minimal.

Read a couple good old forum posts on chins (ZEB, Charlemagne’s), but they seem to run counter to everything I’ve heard preached on MarineOCS.com, which is to max out a lot. I don’t care about my max weighted chin at all, just getting to 20. Any suggestions, especially from Marines?

I don’t have any advice, but just wanted to mention that I’ve always thought 20 pullups was a respectible accomplishment. Good luck. I’m curious, does every marine have to get 20? How strict are they on form - is kipping allowed?

Pullups don’t work all of your back muscles. Add horizontal pulling and external rotation of the shoulder exercises.

I think once you “wake up” some lazy muscles, you’ll gain some reps very quickly.

I recommend trying this routine posted by one of the local authors on this site. He offers an excellent progression plan for building up your chin-ups/ pull-ups.

Maybe you should ask this in the War Room, I’m guessing they would have the answer for you.

I tried doing Keep your Chin up, and following it strictly just didn’t give me the right gains.

I had to mod it until it I couldnt call it the same program anymore. You may have to do the same too.

I found my chins went up when I learned to be lat-dominant in my movement.

Secondly, teaching myself speed was the next most important factor to maxing my number of chins. Most people will look confuzzled when I tell you to do DE work for your chins, but it really helped.

It would get to the point where I would literally push myself down from the top of the chin to get down faster, because, the shorter the set, the more reps I could complete. I guess you can equate it to powerlifters ‘rowing’ a bench bar to their chest instead of letting it drop. Or Olympic lifters ‘pulling’ themselves underneath a clean.

Thirdly, moving part of my training to rings helped. I dont know if you have access to rings. If you dont, you can do towel chins instead, which is a bit closer to rings than bar.

Fourthly, and the least important, improving my max chin DID help improve my max number of reps.

So I basically did something like this:

Day 1 - Dynamic Effort Chin
3x3 ‘jumping lat pull down’
4x3 muscle up on bar (or kipped muscle up when I couldn’t)

Day 2 - Max Effort 3RM Chin
work up over 6 sets to a 3RM weighted chin up
2x(20-30) lat pull down

Day 3 - Rep day
morning
1x(max) pull ups, not kipped, but bouncing at bottom, rest-pause for a few more reps
night,
1x(max) pull ups, not kipped, but bouncing at bottom, rest-pause for a few more reps

Day 4 - Ring day

Muscle up on rings, practice with spotter
3x(max) chin ups on rings
Front lever practice on bar

I never locked my elbows when I was bouncing or doing speed work. I DID lock my elbows all other times.
I used to throw in 2 sets ‘locking elbow’ preacher curls every second session.

Over the course of the year I got from 8 pullups to 22. They dropped back to 16 fairly quickly when I wasnt working like this any more. And now I could do maybe 14?

I read up the Armstrong Pullup programme,and I don’t really ‘get it’.
It seems to be written from the viewpoint of someone who is/was already good at them.
Although the ‘Keep Your Chin Up’ Programme is written for chinups,not pullups,I have used a similar approach and improved my pullups (sets/reps/form) tenfold,and I am a heavy guy with long arms-pullups and chins don’t come naturally to me!

The basic principles were the same-
Improving Grip Strength
Trying different grips on the bar
Experimenting with negatives
Experimenting with static holds
Adding weight (chin/dip belt)

I found holding at the top for as long as possible,then lowering myself as slowly as possible,like you’re holding on for life from a ledge or something,really helped build strength and endurance,kind of a mix of negative and isometric training.

I came back from OCS in august…20 is for the top score on the pull-ups. This summer I could do 27 in full camies and boots. You really just need to do pull ups. The pull up requires a lot of different muscles including chest. OCS you do a lot of push ups so the stronger your chest the better you’ll be off for both. Don’t focus just on pull-ups…increase your overall chest, back, arm strength and the pull-ups will come.

recon ron is the way to go

http://webpages.charter.net/bert/reconron.html

Wait, you need to do more pull ups (palms facing away)?
Suprising. I would have thought chin ups are standard for fitness testing.

You have to chin heavy, and you have to row. I am absolutely convinced of this. Over the past four months I’ve gained 18 lbs yet can do more pull-ups. I never chinned more than once a week (for a month not at all) and never more than 6 reps. I did rows once or twice a week.

I’m guessing if I practiced now with higher reps I’d be able to squeeze a few more out. But I think it’s important to build maximal strength first.

It looks like we’re the same height/weight…for me, 18 pull-ups is equivalent to 3 chin-ups with an extra 65 lbs.

[quote]ataktheday wrote:
I don’t have any advice, but just wanted to mention that I’ve always thought 20 pullups was a respectible accomplishment. Good luck. I’m curious, does every marine have to get 20? How strict are they on form - is kipping allowed?[/quote]

No kipping. Every Marine does not have to get twenty, among officers you need at least ten to get a (low) first class PFT, but I think a lot of officers do get twenty.

[quote]jss11483 wrote:
I came back from OCS in august…20 is for the top score on the pull-ups. This summer I could do 27 in full camies and boots. You really just need to do pull ups. The pull up requires a lot of different muscles including chest. OCS you do a lot of push ups so the stronger your chest the better you’ll be off for both. Don’t focus just on pull-ups…increase your overall chest, back, arm strength and the pull-ups will come.[/quote]

27 in boots and utes? That’s legit. I’m doing 3 max sets of pushups a day, per Armstrong, and barbell and dumbbell bench press, so chest strength is OK, the endurance side needs work (max in the low 50s in pushups).

Thanks for all the advice on here so far. I guess there are two schools of thought when it comes to increasing chins or pullups:

  1. Frequency, usually submaximal number of reps. Pavel, Grease the Groove, Recon Ron, Armstrong to some degree.

or

  1. Get stronger. Thibadeau’s plan, weighted chins, etc.

I have always heard people preaching option 1, but it has not gotten me far. Maybe I need to do more reps, but not max out? Guess I may give CT’s program a run, just seems like only one day a week is not enough work on the muscles. Then again, sets of 20 negatives does sound brutal.

[quote]GDollars37 wrote:
Thanks for all the advice on here so far. I guess there are two schools of thought when it comes to increasing chins or pullups:

  1. Frequency, usually submaximal number of reps. Pavel, Grease the Groove, Recon Ron, Armstrong to some degree.

or

  1. Get stronger. Thibadeau’s plan, weighted chins, etc.

I have always heard people preaching option 1, but it has not gotten me far. Maybe I need to do more reps, but not max out? Guess I may give CT’s program a run, just seems like only one day a week is not enough work on the muscles. Then again, sets of 20 negatives does sound brutal.[/quote]

That is the problem I found with CT’s program - the eccentrics greatly slowed my rep speed. As I stated before rep speed is one of the most important parts to getting high numbers.

The same debate between powerlifters and their three lifts exist - but instead, frequency or volume?
That is where Westside comes in, which uses both, instead of periodizing the training. One day really is not enough, and I think, although CT knows what he is talking about for hypertrophy, CT lacks experience in endurance training. I say this because I couldnt but treat the Keep Your Chin Up program like a hypertrophy session like in a 4 or 5 day split, and I actually DID put on muscle. I did not get stronger or faster and gained little endurance benifits.

That’s why I pretty much used westside format. But let me tell you now I am not a westside preacher, it was just useful in helping me understand how to form a plan of attack in trying to meet my goals.

People say Micro-cycles dont work, and that Macro cycles are the way to go, but that is a limited perspective.
Just remember when figuring out what works for you - the more frequency, the less volume you should be doing each session. Read through the principle of High Frequency Training by Waterbury - don’t do HFT, just understand how little people do each session when they try it. You can literally get in and out of a gym in 20-25mins!

Hope this helps,

Nade

[quote]wfifer wrote:
You have to chin heavy, and you have to row. I am absolutely convinced of this. Over the past four months I’ve gained 18 lbs yet can do more pull-ups. I never chinned more than once a week (for a month not at all) and never more than 6 reps. I did rows once or twice a week.

I’m guessing if I practiced now with higher reps I’d be able to squeeze a few more out. But I think it’s important to build maximal strength first.
[/quote]

I experienced the same. Rarely do I perform more than 6 reps, but the total number of bodyweight pull-ups I can do has increased simply because by getting stronger, they feel much easier.

Also agree on focusing on speed.

That’s really impresive that most marine officers can do 20 pullups. My respect for the marines just went up. I’m considering taking this on as my next goal. Max reps as of this morning was 12. And that was with some minor swinging of the legs for the last few reps. I’ve never set this as a goal before because it seems like the definition of a pull ups is so vague.

I understand that the marines don’t allow kipping, but can you move your legs at all? How far down to you have to go? Straight arms? Until shoulders are up some? What about bouncing at the bottom - is that allowed?

OK, I read the definition of marine pull up on Wikipedia:

“The standard Marine Corps pull-up begins at the “dead-hang” or arms locked out with the body hanging motionless. A successful pull-up is performed without excess motion, having the chin rise above the bar, and lower down to the “dead-hang” position. Without these three stipulations, a pull-up will not be counted. Furthermore, changes in grip are allowed as long as the feet don’t touch the ground, or the hands/arms come in contact with the pull-up bar.”

So I guess some body motion is allowable, all you need to do is lock your elbows, and you can bounce. I figured chin above bar was a given.

I’m surprised the marines don’t have problems with tendonitis. 20 still seems like a lot to me, but I’m going to try to go for it.

[quote]GDollars37 wrote:
Thanks for all the advice on here so far. I guess there are two schools of thought when it comes to increasing chins or pullups:

  1. Frequency, usually submaximal number of reps. Pavel, Grease the Groove, Recon Ron, Armstrong to some degree.

or

  1. Get stronger. Thibadeau’s plan, weighted chins, etc.

I have always heard people preaching option 1, but it has not gotten me far. Maybe I need to do more reps, but not max out? Guess I may give CT’s program a run, just seems like only one day a week is not enough work on the muscles. Then again, sets of 20 negatives does sound brutal.[/quote]

The best thing for you is most likely the program you’re not doing. (definitely stole this idea from an article i read on here, but i totally agree) The body is amazing at adapting to what workout you’re doing so if you have consistently gone for frequency the get strong method is probably a good bet.

If you can get ten pullups with weight…ten without weight will be easier and you won’t fatigue as quickly.

I went from a 12 rep max on wide grip pull ups to an 18 rep max in something like 8 weeks using the ‘gymnasts extended set chinning routine’ twice a week for two sets. I would recommend it.