pull-ups: how to progress after max strength

  • Creator
  • #16870

    I’m almost done with my 8 week max strength program. I followed the pull-up program outlined in TftNA and then also did push-ups, hamstring curls & one legged TRX squats for my upper/lower body work. (and then also core of course).

    I am not able to do a full pull-up so I used resistance bands. About me: I’m a woman with noodles for arms (although less noodly than two months ago.) My lower body and core strength is pretty good (years of Pilates has helped my core and my legs always seem to be strong). My upper body is definitely my weakest part.

    I found I had good results when I did three sessions a week on average for pull-ups (so a sped-up program). The last few weeks I went down to 2x a week because I wasn’t feeling that great (some sort of virus). Today I’m did my 3 sets of 3 pull-ups for my last week of max strength, and I was not doing any better than a few weeks ago. I’m pretty sure I’ve plateaued.

    I got to one unassisted chin-up half-way through the program, and thought for sure I’d be at 2 chin-ups by now. (I usually mix chin-up and pull-ups in a set, using the thinnest resistance band I can get away with).

    So I am thinking a few things as I’m about to start my ME phase.

    How can I keep progressing to a pull-up? Should I build muscle with higher reps for a while, then repeat max strength? Grease the groove with my one chin-up frequently? Or just immediately repeat the max strength program?

    I don’t really *need* to do a pull-up as I’m training for general mountaineering (Gannett Peak in July), but I *want* to be able to do a pull-up!

  • Participant
    cnikirk on #16893

    I have found that one of the best ways to get good at chin-ups is to do “negative” pull-ups or chin-ups. So basically jump up to the top of the position then lower yourself as slowly as you can. That builds strength fast. You can add weight once you get better.

    Anonymous on #16909


    It is unlikely that you can “build muscle” ie: Increase muscle mass in your upper body and this would actually very likely be counter productive as it would increase the weight you have to lift to the bar. So, I would not waste time with high reps to failure at this stage. Your issue is that your brain has not yet figured out how to engage the muscle mass you have in the correct way. More on that in a minute.

    While there is a great range among women, most women don’t have much of the androgenic hormones that promote muscle growth like men do. They respond to them the same way as men as witness in women body builders who take supplemental hormones to add mass.

    Note the bits I wrote in TftNA about women and strength. That’s why I like to use the Max Strength protocol especially for women. If you saw gains then a plateau in your pull up progression using the plan in the book then it’s quite likely that it was working as designed.


    However, if you can not mange one unassisted pull up then I suggest the method cinkirk mentions.
    What are called “negatives” in strength training lexicon are “eccentric contractions” The muscles are tensioned to maximal levels as they extend. Concentric contractions are when the muscle gets shorter under maximal load. Much higher forces are possible in eccentric contractions than in concentric ones.

    For a warm up do 3-5 sets of 6 concentric (normal pull ups) reps working down to 2 reps as you decrease band assist each set. Then use a stool or somehow climb up to get your chin above the bar. Hold the high position for 1 sec and then slowly lower (no slower than the count of 5). Drop from the bar and rest at least 1 min. During this time doing some other light activity is fine but nothing hard. The repeat the chin over bar/slow lower routine. Do as many of these single repetitions as you can up to 10.

    If you can do more than 10 of these single reps or if you can count more than 5 on the way down you need to add some resistance. Even 2-5 lbs will be enough as you gain strength. Do this 2x/week for 4 weeks and see if you don’t manage a pull (or chin) up at the end.


    Rachel on #16935

    thanks Scott and cnikirk! I am starting on this new plan today and hope to report back in a month or two about my progress.

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