My 6 Week Pull-Up Experiment (Target = 20)

I’m tired of being a pull-up weakling. Just a few years ago, I was barely able to do 4 pull-ups. Maybe it’s just a guy thing (or just me) but this meant feeling a bit hesitant just hanging on the bar at the gym after seeing some random guy bust out 20 reps at the END of his workout. Now I’m smart enough to know it’s not a competition and that everyone goes at their own pace but I have to admit, struggling to do just 4 measly pull-ups was embarrassing especially when I wasn’t exactly new to the gym.

Even this baby can do pull ups:

Over the years, I gradually moved up to about 8 pull-ups. It wasn’t until I started bouldering that I was able to get up to 12 reps. This was my all time max and I’ve pretty much been stuck there ever since.

Being able to hit 12 reps is okay but it seems like every time I hit the gym, there’s always at least one person who can do at least 20 pull-ups like it’s a walk in the park. Back when I was doing 4 reps, I remember thinking how sweet it would be if I was one of those 20+ rep guys. Even though I’m at 12 reps now, I still think that.

So I decided to stop wishing and start working on hitting 20 pull-ups once and for all. Aside from the feeling of accomplishment, there are actually a lot of benefits to increasing your pull-up count. With this one simple motion, you strengthen your core, back, biceps, triceps, forearms, lats, traps, fingers, and well, I guess your confidence in doing pull-ups. Strengthening these muscles in your upper body will allow you to increase your output capacity in other exercises as well.

Here’s an interesting piece of information I found on a Livestrong article:

“The Candidate Fitness Assessment is used to determine the physical fitness level of candidates seeking to enter the U.S. military services. According to the CFA, the average number of pullups performed by men is nine and by women is three. Men who are able to perform 18 consecutive pullups and women who can perform seven are considered to possess a high level of fitness.”

I’m not looking to join the military but 20 pull-ups seems like a nice target.

The Experiment (Finished experiment. See results at the bottom)


My goal is to do 20 pull-ups (normal grip) with good form in 6 weeks (February 25, 2013) using a specific program (see below). Currently at 12 reps.


I’m tired of just wishing I could do 20 pull-ups.

Training Method:

I came across a site by a slack liner who talked about a pull up program developed by Major Charles Lewis Armstrong in his attempt to set the world record in the number of pull ups. I believe he had the record at one point but it has since been broken by others. The program basically consists of doing various sets of pull ups 5 days a week for 6-8 weeks. The site goes into more details but if you want, you can get the PDF of the program here.

Note: The program has push-ups as part of the routine but I’m skipping this part since I also work out at the gym. It does say it’s important but I guess I’ll just have to see. If I don’t see any improvements half way through, I’ll add it in.

Here’s the basic layout of the program:

Pull-ups for 5 days straight, 2 days rest (I’m doing it from Monday – Friday).

This is interesting seeing that working out one muscle group this many times a week would usually be seen as over training but that’s what experimenting is about, testing ideas, so I’ll have to see what happens.

Monday: 5 sets of pull-ups to failure with 90 seconds rest in between each set. Make sure to keep good form. Don’t involve your legs.

Tuesday: Do 1 rep, rest 10 seconds, do 2 reps, rest 20 seconds, do 3 reps, rest 30 seconds, etc. Continue until you do less reps than the set before, then rest 60 seconds and do one more set until failure.

Wednesday: Choose a rep number then do 9 sets with the same number of reps for each set. (3 sets normal grip, 3 set close grip (knuckles facing you), 3 sets wide grip) Wide grip uses more of your lats while the close grip uses more of your biceps.

I started with 2 reps for a total of 18 reps. Rest 60 seconds in between each set. The first few sets may be easy but it gets tough around the 7th set. If you can’t make it to the 9th set with the number of reps you chose, you chose too high. If you can do the 9th set easily, you chose a rep number that’s too low. Adjust it for next time. This number should increase each week as you get stronger.

Thursday: Do the same as the previous day, only this time, use normal grip for all 9 sets.

Friday: Do the routine that was the hardest for you. (This could change each week.)

Current Progress (January 23rd, 2013)

I’m currently in the middle of my 2nd week. Since the first routine of the week is doing pull-ups until failure for 5 sets, I’ll be basing my performance on that first set. I’m still currently at 12 reps (only did 10 the first week actually) but I’ve made some improvements on various sets so it’ll be interesting to see if I hit my goal of 20 pull-ups. If I don’t see enough improvements by week 4, I’ll adjust the program by doing weighted pull-ups as well as add in the push-ups part of the program.

Lastly, I was curious to see what sort of numbers record holders were doing and this is what I found in case you’re interested: World Records for Pull Ups

Results (February 23rd, 2013)

After 6 weeks of doing pull-ups, I got up to 15. That’s 5 short of my target.

A few things that happened that probably impacted the results negatively was my switch up in workout routines I do at the gym. I basically started doing more things and as a result, my body was sorer than usual. This also caused me to skip a handful of days of doing pullups. I also skipped a few days simply because I forgot.

It would’ve been great to hit 20 pullups within those 6 weeks but hitting 15, 3 more than my max is pretty decent. I’m going to continue doing pullups, just not every day, until I reach 20. It will probably take me a couple of months and I’ll most likely have to add weights, something I ended up not doing during the program.

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  1. Belal January 31, 2013
    • Kevin January 31, 2013

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