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5 Reasons Your Pull-Ups Suck - How To Increase Those Reps

By Al Kavadlo

Al Kavadlo is one of the world’s leading experts in bodyweight strength training and calisthenics. The author of five books, including Zen Mind, Strong Body and Pushing The Limits!
Read more.

Pull-ups are my favourite exercise. I started practicing them at age 13 and throughout my lifetime I’ve pulled my chin over a horizontal bar more times than I can count. That’s probably why I’m good at them.

But that’s not the case for everyone. In fact, for many fitness enthusiasts, the pull-up is a difficult and intimidating exercise. If you feel like you’re plateaued on pull-ups, there are certain techniques and training methods that may help you blast through those barriers.

I’ll share a few with you below, but before we move on, let’s be clear about how to define a proper pull-up:

– Pull-ups are performed hanging from an overhead apparatus with a pronated (overhand) grip.

– The shoulders may be relaxed at the bottom of the rep when the elbows are fully extended, but the scapulae should retract and depress as the rep begins.

– The chin must fully clear the bar at the top, and a full extension of the elbows is required at the bottom. The body must also remain relatively straight throughout, with minimal hip or knee flexion.

– Though you obviously have to lean back a bit to avoid hitting your head on the bar at the top of your pull-up, your torso should not travel very far forward or backward.

How to Increase your Reps

Tighten Up

One of the biggest mistakes people make when performing pull-ups is thinking of the movement purely as an arms exercise. Of course you involve your arms to a great degree when performing any type of pull-up, but the muscles of your back, shoulders, chest, abs and more all play their part.

Focus on maintaining tension throughout your entire body as you pull your chin over the bar. Squeeze tightly with your hands, tense your abs, flex your glutes and lock your legs as your drive your elbows toward your hips to engage your lats during the pull.

Hang On

hang on

The “rest/pause method” is an old-school technique to increase your reps on just about any exercise, and it can be especially useful for pull-ups, particularly once you can do several in a row.

After a brief warm-up, simply do as many proper pull-ups as you can, then continuing to hang on the bar for a few seconds. After you catch your breath, try to squeeze out one more pull-up, then hang on for a bit longer, take a few more breaths, and try for one more.

You might be surprised at how many extra reps you can manage this way, plus you will get additional grip work from all the extra hanging.

Pull-Up Pyramid?

pull up pyramid

Implementing a pyramid protocol is a fun way to incorporate a fairly high volume of pull-ups without sacrificing proper technique. The idea is to gradually increase, and then gradually decrease the amount of reps you perform in each of several consecutive sets.

Begin by doing one pull-up, then come off the bar and take a short break. Next, perform two pull-ups, then after another break, do three. As the sets get longer, the breaks between them should get longer, too.

Continue this pattern until you reach the point where you can no longer add another rep with proper form, then start working your way back down.

Pull-up Superset

pull up superset

A superset involves taking two exercises and performing them back-to-back with little to no rest in between. Typically the harder exercise goes first and when fatigue is reached, you switch to the less difficult exercise.

A great way to apply this concept toward improving your pull-ups is to perform a set of Australian pull-ups (aka bodyweight rows) immediately following a set of standard pull-ups. Take a long break, and then repeat the superset again.

This method allows you to continue to work your pulling muscles once you can no longer perform any more pull-ups. You can do this 3-4 times in a single workout, but you’ll probably want to give your upper-body a day or two of rest afterward.

Learn To Love It

More than any specific training template or method, consistency and effort will always be the two primary factors that determine success. You have to spend a lot of time doing pull-ups in order to get good at them.

There’s no substitute for hard work. Learn to embrace your pull-up practice and in time you may even learn to love doing pull-ups as much as I do.

Al Kavadlo

About Al

Al Kavadlo is one of the world’s leading experts in bodyweight strength training and calisthenics. The author of five books, including Zen Mind, Strong Body and Pushing The Limits!, Kavadlo is famous for smiling while performing some of the most difficult bodyweight exercises imaginable.

Al’s no-nonsense approach to fitness and unbridled enthusiasm for calisthenics is tough to ignore. As lead instructor for the Progressive Calisthenics Certification (PCC), Al gets to bring his unique coaching style to fitness trainers and enthusiasts around the globe.

For more information, go to or follow Al’s instagram page.

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