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Pull Ups: Strategies for Getting More Reps

By Tom Venuto

Chin ups are a superior upper back exercise and it's worth the effort to get good at them. Here are six excellent ways to improve your chin ups.

1. Work on multiple sets of low reps.

Most people are really stuck "in the box" in the way they think about their training. They say, "I suck at chin ups" just because they cant pull themselves up for 3 sets of 12. This kind of thinking will get you nowhere.

Instead, think out of the box; think different: A great way to start getting good at chin ups is to do multiple sets of low reps - even sets of singles. For example:

10 sets of 1 rep
6 sets of 2 reps
5 sets of 3 reps

You don't have to do conventional sets of 10- 12 reps.

2. Set a rep goal such as 30, 40 or 50 reps and take as many sets as necessary to reach your rep goal.

As you begin to get a little stronger, an advanced variation of strategy number one is to set a rep goal. For example, if a conventional routine calls for 3 sets of 10 reps, that's 30 reps. If chin ups are a challenge for you, set a rep goal of 30 and take as many sets to hit 30 as necessary. Don't obsess over how many reps you get in one set.

For example:

5 sets of 6
6 sets of 5
8 sets of 4
10 sets of 3
15 sets of 2

3. Use negatives.

You are much stronger on the negative portion of the pull up. In other words, you can lower much more weight than you can lift. Just because you can't pull yourself up doesn't mean you can't lower yourself.

Put a bench or stool underneath you and kick yourself up with your feet and then lower yourself slowly to a count of four or five. Continue until you reach negative failure (you can no longer lower yourself under control). If you have a training partner, your partner can help you up.

Suppose all you can do is four reps. Your progress might look something like this:

Workout 1: 4 reps, 4 negatives
Workout 2: 5 reps, 4 negatives
Workout 3: 6 reps, 3-4 negatives
Workout 4: 7 reps, 2-3 negatives
Workout 5: 8 reps, 1-2 negative
Workout 6: 9 reps, 1 negative
Workout 7: 10 reps
Workout 8: 11 reps
Workout 9: 12 reps.

I've seen many people go from ZERO reps to sets of ten or twelve in a matter of weeks using this technique.

4. Practice the rule of training specificity.

The rule of training specificity says that to get good at something, the best way is to practice that thing specifically. If you want to be a better 100-meter sprinter, you have to practice 100-meter sprints. Running long distance, swimming, or cycling isn't going to help your 100 meters.

The best way to get good at pull ups is to DO pull ups. There's definitely some carry-over value in assistance exercises, of course. For example, if your biceps get stronger, you're going to get better at pull-ups. But don't kid yourself into thinking that you'll become a pro at pull-ups by doing pulldowns or the assisted chin up machine.

5. Use slow progression with patience.

The problem with most people is they do only 2, 3, or 4 reps and then say, "I can't," "these are hard," "I suck at these," etc, and other such nonsense negative self-talk. That's why they never get past a few reps - they're pessimists and quitters.

Few people have the patience to USE PROGRESSION slowly and systematically. If you can MASTER THIS ONE CONCEPT (slow, steady methodical progression,) you can get as strong and muscular as you want to be! This requires a lot of patience and a goal-oriented mind.

If you can do only one or two reps today, it's hard to think about doing 12 reps next week isn't it? So don't! Think about doing THREE reps. Then four. Then five, and so on. Doing ONE more rep is a lot easier to picture isn't it?

6. Visualize yourself being light as a feather and pulling yourself up so easily it feels like you're floating.

I've written extensively about visualization in my book, "Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle" (BFFM) and in the Bodybuilding and Fitness Secrets newsletter, so I won't go into great detail here.

Let me just emphasize that mental images are so incredibly powerful, it's beyond what most people can even fathom. If you understood the true power of your mind, you would be forming positive mental pictures of everything you wanted every minute of every day. Unfortunately, most people "poo-poo" the visualization principle as corny or Pollyanna.

In Arnold Schwarzenneger's autobiography, "The Education of a Bodybuilder," Arnold explained how he would "see' his biceps as "huge mountains, much bigger than a bicep could ever really be." He did this before and during every bicep workout. You'll see similar examples cited by every champion athlete in every sport.

I've developed many "secret visualizations" I use to get the most from each exercise. Here's a few ways to use the visualization principle for chin ups:

I find it counterproductive to think about using pure strength and brute force to pull myself up. Instead, I visualize the exact opposite: I imagine myself being as light as a feather or helium balloon and I literally "float" up. Sometimes I picture an imaginary hand underneath me, giving me a lift. Or, I picture strings from above pulling me upwards. They all work.

Use visualization before your workouts too. Mentally rehearse yourself doing chin ups in your mind before you do it in the gym. Think about it every day for several days before your chin up workout. Believe you can do it and you will.

Does this stuff work? Let me put it this way and you decide: In my late teens I couldn't pull myself up even once. Today, at an off season bodyweight of 195 lbs or more, I can easily do 25-30 pullups with a palms away (pronated) grip and I've done 6 strict reps with 85 pounds strapped to my waist.

About The Author

Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, freelance writer, success coach and author of the #1 best-selling e-book "Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle" (BFFM): Fat Burning Secrets of the World's Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom has written over 170 articles and has been featured in IRONMAN Magazine, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Muscle-Zine, Olympianís News (in Italian), Exercise for Men and Menís Exercise. Tom's inspiring and informative articles on bodybuilding, weight loss and motivation are featured regularly on dozens of websites worldwide. For information on Tom's "Burn The Fat" e-book, click here: To subscribe to Tom's free monthly e-zine, visit the Fitness Renaissance website here:


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