T Nation

Pull-ups training the top half

Time to post once again about training weak points in the Pull-up/Chin-up movement.

Last time I talked about how to improve your Pull-up from the bottom. This time let’s take a look at how to improve if your weak point is the top half of the Pull-up.

Many guys can get up out of the hole in the Pull-up but for some reason have a difficult time making it up to the bar each time, in order to complete a successful set. I am going to give you two techniques today that should help blast your chin up and over the bar!

The first technique is to train with a weight vest. However, I don’t want you to load a lot of weight. Just 5lbs. or 10lbs. will do fine.

Grab that Pull-up bar and perform half reps at the top half. You will only go low enough so that your arms are at a 90 degree angle, then back up to the bar.

Here is the catch: you are going to go until the middle of your neck is even with the bar! This may seem a bit difficult at first, so lower your expectations. Many of you will not be able to perform this with any weight at all, and that is fine. when you can do 10 clean half reps in this manner it will be time to add weight!

Perform only two sets of these at the end of your Pull-up routine. Do not go to failure! We are not trying to burn you out, we are trying to build you up!

I have seen this one technique add several Pull-ups to a person one set best!

The second technique is one that has helped my Chinning in a big way.

You will need an elastic band for this next technique. Loop one end of the band to a heavy dumbbell on the floor. Run the other end through your weight lifting belt. The following is very important: As you stand with your hands on the Pull-up bar the elastic band must be just barely tight, but not stretched!

Now begin your set. As you Pull-up the band will tighten. And just as you get your chin over the bar it will be at it’s tightest point.

This technique will teach you to use speed on the top half of the movement. As the force that you are pulling against gets more difficult with every inch! Speed is one thing you really need if you are having trouble at the top.

Make sure that you are using a band that will give you no less than 6 to 8 reps for the set. Some of you will have extreme difficulty performing even one rep with a very weak band. Don’t let that bother you simply tie off the lower end of the band at a higher level so that there is less tension at the top. A few inches makes a huge difference. Perform only two sets at the end of your normal Pull-up routine.

Do not use both of these techniques at the same time. Pick one and perform it faithfully for six to eight weeks. Then take a break. When you come back use the other one. In most cases I have found that trainees will usually prefer one of these over the other one. It takes time to see which one works best for you.

As always feel free to ask questions if something is not clear to you. I want you to train properly and successfully!

My best to all of you!


Sounds great! Thanks! I think I will throw that in to my WS training.

Good post ZEB. Btw, do you recommend negatives to bring up lat strength?

I sent you a PM so let me know if you got it.



I like negatives mainly for those who have a difficult time performing even one regular rep.

If you are able to perform 10 reps and are trying to crank up the numbers, I would not recommend negatives.

If you are attempting to add weight and training for size and strength negatives can be useful.

It all depends on yoru goals!

I can’t wait to add try these techniques. I’ve been waiting for this post since you teased it in the “out of the hole” program as this is clearly my current weak point.

BTW. Using your original program has taken me from 0 to 6 strict pulls. Many Thanks.

old dogg

I’m mostly training for strength and size. My current rep range is somewhere between 7-9 for chin-ups. I don’t do pull-ups as much because of tendonitis in my forearm.

Instead of doing the half-ways after my regular pull-ups would it be alright to do those on a separate day for 2-3 sets? Also will this work for someone doing pull/chin-ups only once a week? Thanks.


I respect the fact that everyone is different. However, personally I have never seen anyone make a great deal of progress in their Pull/Chin-up routine working it only once per week.

If you are talking about adding an additional day for “half-ways” why not just do three sets of regular Pull-ups that same day, and then an additional two sets of “half-ways?”

That will give you two days per week of Pull-up training-

Great series ZEB. I actually tried the top half weighteds the other night.

I did a chin work out like this:
25lb - 9 reps
35lb - 6
35lb - 4
45lb - 2

then i did top halfs with 10 lb.
I struggled to get 6 the first set and only got 3 the second.

I’m sure part of this is from being wore out from the first part of my workout, but i really thought I could get more than that.

I also knew I was weaker at the top(I think most peole are), but never thought to work only the top half.

Nice work ZEB, it seems like people really like your series here.


Those are pretty impressive weighted sets. How much do you weigh?


oops…i hit submit w/o finishing my thought

I weigh 210-215, I haven’t weighed myself since I moved(a couple weeks).

My goal right now is to get get 10 reps bodyweight+45lb plate. Right now, I can probably get 5 or 6 reps.

I will make a new goal once I hit 10, but I’m not sure yet what it will be…maybe a one-handed chin with a 45. Who knows.

Keep chinning!

Well, I’m starting to realize just how weak I am at the top of my pulls.

Today I tried pulling with a mini(the least strong of the jumpstretch bands) wrapped around my neck.

I did pull-ups(palms away) about shoulder width grip. I got reps of 6, 3, and 2.

I then did chins(palms facing me) with a narrow grip. I did 4, 3, 2.

After my first set, I struggled to get my chin over the bar for each additional rep.

I never knew just how weak I was at top. I have now made that a mini-priority of mine.


You are a step ahead of most people! Most trainees have no idea where their weak point is.

Just think of how many reps you will be able to perform if strengthen your weak point.


Good stuff - simple and smart. I’m at 16 pull-ups on my way to 20, and I’ve been thinking to much about workload, practice, density, etcetera. I’ll try finishing off my pull-up practice with a couple sets of half-reps, and see what that does for my forearm endurance.


Ross Hunt

Speaking of forearm, or grip training. I think that when you start to crank out higher reps, or do reps with added weight, your grip becomes a factor.

One of the best ways to train your grip for Pull-ups is to perform the bar hang.

While I have a strong grip from years of training, I still do the bar hang once per week for time. At the end of my Pull-up session I will grab the bar and simply hang until I drop.

I think the best way to train the grip for Pull-ups is with this method. I have not found a huge carry over with grippers. Even the Iron man grippers are not quite the same thing as performing the bar hang.