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Oct 4 / Jeremy

How to Increase Reps in Your Pull Up Workout

The number one factor in increasing the number of reps you can complete in your pull up workout is repetition and consistency.  We will discuss some plateau busting techniques below, but nothing is as important as repetition and consistency.  If you want to increase the number of pull ups that you can do then you need to do pull ups as often as possible.  At a minimum you should complete a pull up workout three times per week doing two sets for each workout.  An alternate method is to do one set of pull ups six days a week.  Both methods have proven successful it just depends on how often you can complete a pull up workout.

Determining Your Rep Range for Your Pull Up Workouts

My preferred approach to a pull up workout is loosely based on Jason Ferruggia top rated workout program, Muscle Gaining Secrets.

If you are doing three pull up workouts each week then alternate between pull ups and chin ups each workout.  Find the number of repetitions you can do for two sets with both sets containing an equal number of repetitions.  For example, if you can do 6 pull ups on your first set but only 4 pull ups on your second set then you want to aim for two sets of 5 pull ups.  This is your goal for your first pull up workout.

Your next pull up workout will focus on chin ups.  If you can do 7 chin ups on your first set but really struggle to complete your sixth rep on the second set then you should aim for two sets of 6 repetitions.

Now that you have identified your starting point you will aim to increase the number of repetitions for each set by one on every workout.  For example, on your first workout of the week you nail 5 repetitions of pull ups for both sets.  For your second workout of the week you nail 6 repetitions of chin ups for both sets.  On your third workout you will aim for 6 repetitions on both sets of pull ups and on your forth workout you will aim for 7 repetitions of chin ups on both sets.

Most beginners make progress rather quickly but eventually progress slows down. If that happens, do not worry.  Here is how you will alter your workout.  Aim for one additional repetition on the first set.  Then do one less repetition on the second set.  For example, if your progress stalls once you can complete 8 pull ups for two sets, then aim for 9 pull ups on the first set and 8 pull ups on the second set.  Then the next pull up workout you would aim for two sets of 9.

[Here is some motivation for you. Watch this fit female knock out 13 perfect pull ups. It is only a matter of time before you can post yourself on YouTube matching this feat.]

If four workouts go by without being able to add one repetition to either chin ups or pull ups, then try either of the following techniques below.

Pyramid Pull Up Workout

A pyramid pull up workouts can often help you increase the number of repetitions by switching your workout to a higher volume approach. A pyramid pull up workouts consists of multiple sets of pull ups with one repetition added to each set.

Start by completing one pull up.  Rest for 10 seconds; then complete a set of two pull ups.  Rest for 10 seconds and do a set of three pull ups.  Continue in this way until you cannot successfully add another repetition.  Rest for 3 minutes and then do a second set following the same method.  This will result in a significant increase in total reps completed during the workout.

To use a pyramid pull up workout to increase your number of repetitions simply add it in to your pull up workout rotation.  I recommend incorporating this approach after four workouts of no progress in repetitions in either chin ups or pull ups.  Then each week you will do your normal workout of two sets of pull ups on day one, a workout of two sets of chin ups on day two, and a pyramid pull up workout on day three.  Keep trying to add one repetition to your first set of chin ups and pull ups.  You should see be able to progress again soon after beginning this rotation.

Weighted Pull Up Workout

If your progress begins to slow after being able to do two sets of 10 or more pull ups and chin ups then you may want to consider beginning to use weighted pull ups.  Use a dip belt to add to your body weight.  Start with lighter weights and build up to two sets of 8 repetitions before increasing the weight.  After building your strength with weighted pull ups for 6-8 weeks you will find regular body weight pull ups to be much easier and you will have added a few repetitions to your one set maximum.

[If you have never done weighted pull ups before watch this 44 year old women show you how it is done!]

Pull Up Workouts and Body Weight Fluctuations

Your body weight plays a huge role in the number of pull ups you can complete and I am surprised that more people do not talk about this fact.  You should always weigh yourself before completing a pull up workout to see how much weight you are actually pulling.  You may be surprised to see how much your weight fluctuates from workout to workout.  If you have a workout where you were unable to add a repetition, but you weighed in two pounds heavier than your last workout, don’t sweat it too much.  You still increased the amount of weight you lifted for that workout which means you are still making strength gains in your workouts.  Chances are, if you lost those two pounds before your next workout you would be able to add a repetition.   I highly recommend monitoring your weight when doing pull up workouts so that you can determine if your inability to increase repetitions may be the result of some weight gain, and if it is, then you are still showing progress in your workout.

Also, as briefly mentioned above, you can often times increase your repetitions simply by losing a few pounds.  If you are stuck at the same number of reps for more than a week, limit your daily calorie intake and try losing 5-10 pounds; then watch yourself bust through your plateau.  Even if you slowly gain that weight back, as long as you are consistent with your pull up workouts you will not lose any ground.

Have you used other methods to increase your reps in your pull up workouts? If so, I would love to hear about it in the comments below.

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  1. Tim - The Lean Look / Oct 12 2011

    Get Stronger by “Greasing the Groove”

    Greasing the Groove, or GTG for short, is based on the principle of “synaptic facilitation”…doing frequent, non-exhaustive sets of a specific exercise to strengthen the nerve pathway. So doing the same lift multiple times per week, but training short of failure. This is a method used by Bulgarian and Russian weight-lifters which has allowed them to dominate in many of the Olympic lifts over the years. Theses guys actually train a lift multiple times per day.

    Practice the pull up many times throughout the day and stop short of failure every time and you will be amazed at how many pull ups you can do after a month.

  2. Nice tips on increasing pullups. I think pyramids are particularly helpful although I’m with Tim on the Greasing the Groove method as the ultimate way to do more pullups.

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