There is no bodyweight training without the most iconic and fundamental exercise, the pull-up. It’s fundamentally the most important basic exercise to develop great upper body strength and muscles. Of course, the pull-up isn’t the only one essential out there.
Every time you see a dedicated bodyweight fitness athlete with a massive and shredded upper body, you can bet he does pull-ups consistently several times a week, year after year. So there is no doubt regarding its importance.
Therefore, it almost makes no difference in how you want to do pull-ups as long as you work hard around them. Every time you do a pull-up workout, you train your strength, muscular endurance and for hypertrophy too. After almost a decade of continuous bodyweight training, I can affirm that pull-ups are rarely conditioning or endurance exercises only. It’s more than that!
I’ve done it all when it comes to training pull-ups, from weighted pull-ups to every single bodyweight variation possible, from the lightest to the hardest one, moving from one training method to another. I’ve done hundreds of pull-ups in a single workout and nearly 1000 in a week only because I was curious about what happens when I push the limits beyond my capabilities.
I accumulated sufficient experience to know almost all there is about pull-ups and the results they produce. And in this article, I want to give you three of my best bodyweight pull-up workouts.
The Classic Sets & Reps Pull Up Workout
This is the classic bodybuilding type of workout, and it’s not random that I chose the brand name: Old School Calisthenics. I like classic training, and fundamentally everything is simple and effective. Thus, according to science, there are two pull-up variations of greatest use:
- Standard pull-ups with a pronated grip, and
- Chinups, with a supinated grip.
The same muscle fibers are employed with any grip. One recruits more biceps and the other a little more the back muscles (Download the scientific document about muscle activity and kinesiology in bodyweight fitness). Eventually, they complete each other, so there is no need to overcomplicate things. These are the pull-ups you need to master firstly, but it doesn’t mean you can’t use wider or more narrowed hand positioning. The workout is:
- 10 sets of 10 pull-ups.
You will be doing 100 reps in total. Whether it’s very hard or easy, it all depends on your strength and endurance level. For an athlete who has mastered pull-ups and is used to volume training, 100 pull-ups in a workout will be of moderate intensity. Thus, he may pause less between sets to make the workout more difficult and make the muscle fibers work better. A beginner in bodyweight training will probably cheat a bit on form and range, which is not the end of the world, but if you find yourself in this situation, I suggest you do sets of 4-6 pull-ups.
Cheating on the form is pretty much not desired in any of the situations. However, you could shorten the range of motion a little because you mostly need powerful and repeated contractions for hypertrophy, not necessarily a full and deep range of movement. The range of motion matters for building functional strength. If you care about developing both strength and muscles, then try to perform as correctly as possible.
Pause one minute from set to set. Advanced athletes can pause 45 seconds and beginners even 1 minute and a half between the sets. Again, advanced athletes can also use a higher time under tension (or high tempo) for every rep done. You could do a more explosive movement on the concentric part and come back slow, in 2-3 seconds, on the eccentric or negative portion. You could also hold 1-3 seconds on top when your chin is over the bar (or rings). It requires great strength to be able to perform 100 pull-ups using a higher tempo.
Execution is more important than doing a complex workout
Execution is key, and that’s what I want to emphasize. At first look, this workout might strike as rubbish. Focus on it and perform at your best possible using all the components I talked about. You will notice the effectiveness and how tough this routine becomes once you take it very seriously and execute it perfectly. Your muscles will scream for mercy, and the best part of it is that you will not only be training for aesthetics, but you will build great functional strength and power over time.
You need a simple workout so you can focus on execution or performance. A complicated pull-up routine that is based on multiple variants and methods is often unnecessary. Hence, do not get very methodical nor train like a robot. Pull-ups are compound moves and work the body systematically, leaving no weaknesses behind. Rest assured!
Furthermore, a few workouts will produce almost no desired effect except for some muscle soreness. Five months of consistent pull-up workouts will make noticeable improvements.
The Pyramid Pull Up Workout
When you train in a pyramid or a ladder method, you practically build up intensity gradually by adding more reps every subsequent set.
The effect is almost the same as the classic workout, except that pyramid pull-up workouts are most effective in developing more and faster muscular endurance. The breaktime is usually shorter, and for this reason, they feel tougher. The second pull-up workout is:
- 2 -> 4 -> 6 -> 8 -> 10 -> 8 -> 6 -> 4 -> 2 reps.
In total, there are 50 pull-ups, and that’s a complete cycle. Try to do at least 2 cycles with a rest of 3 minutes between them.
Begin with the first set of 2 pull-ups, pause a few seconds and start the following set of 4 pull-ups. Continue like this and keep increasing the pause as you get fatigued. The break time has to be at the minimum possible.
I like it very much when I do this bodyweight pull-up workout with a training partner because the pause I usually take in this situation is no longer than how much my mate requires to do his reps. And vice-versa.
Again, you can use different grips and widths at your will: watch the only 3 pull-ups and volume needed! Beginners in calisthenics who feel weak at pull-ups can go up to 6 and perhaps try more than 3 cycles in total.
Progressive Bodyweight Pull Up Workout
Once you feel strong enough and willing to try a new pull-up workout of a different training method, I recorded this uncut pull-up routine made of progressive pull-up variations, from the toughest to the easiest one:
This workout is really tough because you need grip strength first, coordination, and pulling strength. That means it requires strong tendons as well! At this stage, standard pull-ups feel pretty normal.
You should watch the whole video to see the execution and how focused I am when I do my pull-ups.