While the bench press is probably the most popular upper body exercise there is, it can be argued that it isn’t the most accurate way to test one’s strength. The exercise that does serve that purpose is the classic and basic pullup.

By Roger Lockridge

Yes, I admit it’s easier to perform pulldowns on the cable machine and that there are newer machines that can better target and isolate the lats. But when it comes to overall strength, size, and improvement of performance, nothing beats this old-school move. The issue is that it’s tough to do, and even tougher to get better at. Work these four tips into your program and you will see improvement in both the number of pullups you do and the development of your physique.

Do What You Can

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Chances are you might only be able to perform one full rep and that’s it. If that’s the case, then do one and take a short break. Then do another one. Perhaps you can’t do any without assistance. If that’s the case then use a power band or assistant machine and perform as many as you can with that level of help. Focusing on what you can’t do isn’t going to help. Focusing on what you can do and doing it to the best of your ability certainly will.

Do a Lot of Them

This simply means that you devote an entire workout to doing as many reps as you can of pullups and nothing else. This can be done in two ways. First, you set a time to commit to the workout and get as many reps as you can within that time limit. Let’s say you have 45 minutes. Do as many reps as possible and rest for a minute or so. Keep going but don’t lose count. Keep that number going so that when you’re finished you have a number to beat next time.

The other way is to do 100 reps in as quick of a time as you can. Whether that’s 10 minutes or an hour, it doesn’t matter. The goal is to finish 100 reps. Next time, your goal is to do 100 in less time than before.

Use Assistance Exercises

I don’t think the lat pulldown is better than the pullup. I do think that the pulldown version is a good assistance exercise to help you improve your pullups. I also think pullovers and rows can serve you well too. You can structure your back workout to help you improve areas you feel might be weaker so that you can improve development of that area and in turn, improve your pullup power. A sample workout might look like this.

Pullups – 4 sets to failure.

Wide Grip Pulldown – 3 sets of 8-10 reps.

Dumbbell Pullover – 3 sets of 10 reps.

Wide Grip Seated Row – 3 sets of 12 reps.

Practice

One issue that is overlooked way too often is that lifting isn’t just about picking things up. It is a skill and you need to work on improving that skill. This is true with pullups as well as any other movement. When you’re starting your session, take the time to approach the bar, grab the handles, and feel the muscles working. Your approach, setup, and form should be the same every time just like a powerlifter with the squat, bench, or deadlift. Doing this alone can go a long way in helping you improve the skill of the pullup.

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