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Every man should be able to perform five reps of the pullup. Here’s how to get there
The pullup is one of the best training movements you can do. It’s unparalleled for building grip, upper-body, and core strength, and should be a staple in your routine.
Your goal: five pullups with perfect form. That’s a solid standard for most men. Once you can perform five, load up the movement instead of increasing the number of reps. The reason: After a certain age, the pullup can cause elbow pain when you perform a high number of them. We refer to it as Middle Age Pullup Syndrome or MAPS.
Not at five yet? Let’s get you there. Add the following four things to your workout routine to help you conquer the move once and for all. (Oh, and when I ask if you’re at 5 yet, I’m talking about 5 serious pullups.)
Master the Bottom of the Pullup
Gray Cook, P.T., founder of the Functional Movement System, told me that if you own the bottom of the pullup (the straight-arm hang) and if you own the top of the pullup (the bent-arm hold), then your body will figure out the middle part.
You need to be able to hang from a bar long enough to perform 5 pullups. So grab the bar and hang. If you can’t do this for at least 30 seconds, your grip isn’t strong enough.
Do this every day. In fact, do this every day until the Angel of Death visits you. Then work your way up to hanging for a minute. The extra time will help you reach your pullup goal. Once you can hang from both arms for a minute, hang from only one arm.
Master the Top of the Pullup
Now jump up and hold your chin above the pullup bar as long as you can. You can use any grip you want—palms facing you or palms facing away from you. Practice this until you can hold it for a minute with no wiggling.
Roll Out Your Abs
If there’s one “secret” to the pullup, it’s to show up with an amazing set of abs.
In my gym, we mix in reps of the ab wheel rollout with the pullup. You’ll notice that the rollout looks like a pullup on the floor. It mimics the same feeling in your core—tight, braced abs—that you get when you perform a pullup on the bar.
Plus, the ab wheel rollout is easy on your elbows. Switching between the ab wheel and the pullup will decrease your risk of injury.
Practice the Pullup
Once you become proficient in the three things above, it’s time to start practicing pullups. The following routine is based on the idea of the Russian Fighters’ Pullup Program from Pavel Tsatsouline, cofounder of StrongFirst, Inc., which involves sneaking up your number of reps.
Do it: Perform the designated sets of pullups throughout your workout for each day. I suggest doing a couple sets after your warmup, and then a couple more after your hip and leg session. You don’t have to do the days consecutively. Start with three a week. It should take you about a month to complete.
At the end of the program, rest for a few days and then test your max. I guarantee you’ll blow past 5 reps. When you do, add more load and repeat the program again. (Remember, we want to protect those elbows.)
Day 1: 3 pullups, 2 pullups, 1 pullup, 1pullup
Day 2: 3, 2, 1, 1
Day 3: 3, 2, 2, 1
Day 4: 3, 3, 2, 1
Day 5: 4, 3, 2, 1
Day 6: Off
Day 7: 4, 3, 2, 1, 1
Day 8: 4, 3, 2, 2, 1
Day 9: 4, 3, 3, 2, 1
Day 10: 4, 4, 3, 2, 1
Day 11: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Day 12: Off