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Pull Ups: How to Get to 20 Reps

by guest on October 18, 2012
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Pull ups are hard and the lack of progress can be frustrating. But, progressive resistance works with every exercise, whether you are working with bodyweight or not. Getting to the point where you can do 20 pull ups without stopping means you need to practice and there are some ways to get fast results.

The first thing you need to know is that working with machines will not help you do more pull ups. A machine works in a fixed motion and you will only get strong in that specific grove. I understand that is a bold and potentially controversial statement to make, but the result is that you will not be able to do more pull ups by doing heavy lat pull-downs or lots of machine rows. You can rest pause doing those exercises, but try a rest pause while doing pull ups and you’ll feel more drained.

Before we really get into it, there is a very important rule if you are looking to get the most out of doing pull ups. When performing pull ups, pull yourself as high as you can and always lower yourself to the very bottom with your arms extended. Cheating on this is only stroking your ego, as you think you can do more reps, but it is not making you stronger to skip the hardest part of an exercise. Often, the hardest exercise or the hardest part of an exercise is where you need the most work.

Below are highly effective tips that you can follow if you have any type of bar to use at home. The gist of some of these are assisted pull ups, where an assisted pull up machine would be ideal.

Using Band Resistance With Pull Ups

It is a very good idea to use bands as an aid to help you get strong. There are many different kinds of bands that you can use, but generally they work like a bungy chord where you get the resistance where you need it most to assist you in doing push ups. One can also simply use a rope attached to the pull up bar and hook your feet into them.

Pull Ups With a Spotter

While your best bet is to just use an assisted pull up machine, there is nothing wrong with asking someone to hold your legs or your feet. When there is someone helping you don’t push off with your legs too much. Pull yourself up using your back muscles as if no-one was helping you as you need to isolate the back muscles as much as you can.

Inverted Rows

We carefully selected TRX as a partner for this site because their resistance bands are awesome, especially when doing inverted rows. Think of these as doing push ups on your knees. It’s like a light version of pull ups. The more horizontal that you make your body, the more challenging the row will be. If you don’t have the spare money for TRX bands (although they are worth it), you can use anything that you feel you have a secure grip on. For instance, one of our readers attaches two dog leashes to each other. If TRX bands are not accessible or you do not have anything else to do this back-building exercise, then lock in the bar within the smith machine the next time you are at the gym, then lay on the floor under the bar. From there, you can reach up and work on pulling yourself up with your heels on the floor.

Use Your Momentum With Pull Ups

There is also nothing wrong with using momentum. Pull yourself up while using a hip drive is something you’ll see some people do when watching a crossfit session. Once you can do about 5 pull ups this way, drop the hip drive and use strict technique again. You should only start using momentum when you have reached the point of failure.

Positive Pull Ups Through Negatives

Doing negatives is a fast way to improve your strength. Grab your pull up bar and get yourself in the top position by jumping up. Lower yourself slowly and jump back up on each rep. It is good to use a 5 sec count on the way down is enough. Expect lots of soreness using this method.

From 1 to 20 Pull Ups

Do multiple sets of low reps. Start with 10 sets of 1 pull up. Take as much rest between sets as you can. When 10×1 gets easy, switch to 10×2 which you can use a lot easier when you have a door pull-up bar or chinning bar in your home. It is a good idea to continue until you can do 10 sets of 5 pull ups. At this point, you will be able to do 10 with ease in one shot.

By adding weight, you are drastically increasing strength and endurance. There are weight belts you can wear or you can throw on a backpack with some books or weights while doing pull ups. Start small with lighter weight that you are comfortable with and increase the weight gradually each session. Before you know it, you will take off that backpack or weighted belt and you’ll be able to do 20 pull ups at the very least.

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