This article originally appeared on the Art of Manliness
I’m still haunted by my 6th grade gym class. At the beginning of the semester, all the students took part in a physical fitness test. Part of the test included a visit to the old chin-up bar. I remember standing in line nervously knowing I was about to embarrass myself. You see, I was a fat kid. My mom tried to tell me I was big boned (God bless you, mom), but I knew I was fat. And looking at that bar, I knew there was no way I was going to be able to pull up my pudgy 160-pound body with my wimpy 11-year-old arms.
I watched all the skinny kids bust out pull-ups like they were nothing. “Yeah,” I thought, “pull-ups are easy when you only weigh 75 pounds.” Maybe God was trying to humble me that day because the person right in front of me in line was a girl. Not only that, she was a prepubescent athletic machine. I stood and watched her crank out pull-up after pull-up. I lost count of how many she did.
“Okay, McKay,” the coach said, “you’re up.”
I summoned all the positive thinking I could at that moment. I convinced myself that I could actually bust out 4 or 5 pull-ups. With my new-found confidence, I jumped and grabbed the bar. It was over before it even started. I put up a good fight, but gravity and my fat middle school body beat me that day. I couldn’t even do one stinking pull-up.
Ever since then, I’ve made it a goal in life to be able to do pull-ups. Lots of them. To me, the pull-up represents the ultimate test in fitness.
The Benefits of Pull-Ups
The pull-up is a strength-building dynamo. In just one pull-up, your body calls upon the following muscles:
Not only will your strength increase dramatically from pull-ups, but your upper body will become bigger and more defined. Moreover, the strength you derive from doing pull-ups will help you improve your performance in other exercises like the bench press or overhead press.
How Not to Do Pull-Ups
Many men who have trouble doing pull-ups go to the assisted pull-up machine to help them crank the pull-ups out. Don’t do it; it’s a useless crutch. If your goal is to do several unassisted pull-ups, you’re wasting your time with these machines for a couple of reasons:
First, a mental factor exists when doing pull-ups. Because you know the machine is helping you up, you probably won’t exert as much effort as you would if doing pull-ups unassisted. When you finally make the switch to unassisted pull-ups, you may still find yourself unable to do any.
Second, you don’t use all the muscles needed for real pull-ups when using the machine. When doing real pull-ups, your body has to call upon larger and smaller muscle groups all throughout your body for you to pull yourself up. A machine won’t recruit as many of these muscles. Thus, when you make the switch to doing unassisted pull-ups, you won’t have the strength needed to complete them.
The “Do More Than One Stinking Pull-Up” Routine
A friend recommended this pull-up routine to help turn me into a machine. And guess what? It worked. In a month, I went from doing one stinking pull-up to cranking out 10 reps in multiple sets.
So if you’re ready to start cranking out pull-ups, here’s your routine.
If you currently can only do one pull-up, start out by doing 12 sets of 1 pull-up with a 45 second break between sets. Do the routine two times a week. Once you can do two pull-ups, begin this routine:
Week 1: 6 sets of 2 reps. 45 second break in between sets. Twice a week.
Week 2: 5 sets of 3 reps. Twice a week.
Week 3: 4 Sets of 4 reps. Twice a week.
Week 4: 3 Sets of 6 reps. Twice a week. If you’re able to do more, go ahead. Like I said, by this time I was able to increase my reps to 10.
When you get to the point that you’re able to do more than 12, it’s time to start adding weight to your pull-up routine, like the bad ass guy in the picture at the top.
Where to Do Pull-Ups
Many men don’t do pull-ups because they don’t have access to a pull-up bar. Here are some options:
- Tree limb. Some trees have limbs that are perfect for pull-ups. When you’re out for a run, jump up, grab on, and start cranking some out.
- Outdoor gyms. During the 1980s, many parks installed outdoor gyms along jogging trails. The idea was that you could get a complete strength workout while jogging. Usually a pull-up bar is one of the stations.
- Get a pull-up bar for your house. The last, and most convenient option, is to get a pull-up bar for your door frame. I recently bought the Iron Gym Pull-up bar and have been completely happy with it. It just fits right in your door frame and you don’t have to drill holes or do any installation. What’s great about having a pull-up bar in your door frame is that every time you walk by it you can crank a few out. After doing this a couple of weeks, you’ll be doing more than one stinking pull-up.