Methods to improve your pull-ups

The chin-up is a classic exercise for the work of the back, where it works almost all the muscle groups of the back part of the upper body. The main muscle is the latissimus dorsi, and the secondary muscles are the posterior deltoid, biceps, forearms and rhomboids. Let us now look at the most important methods for its improvement.

The Chad Waterbury method of 1 set a day to failure

It consists of performing as many pull-ups as possible until failure, in a single series. Being a single series, reaching failure will not fatigue our CNS.

This method can be complemented with our usual routine. But we will always start the session with our chin-up series. This method is based on improving neuromuscular efficiency, since you will optimize the neural connections between nerves and muscles through the Law of Repetition (Chad is a neurophysiologist, as well as a physical trainer). This method is used to gain resistance and hypertrophy, but not to gain maximum strength, where weights would come into play, with another range of repetitions (3-6).

Very used for oppositions. The only premise is to be able to perform a minimum of 6 pull-ups in a row.

The Arnold method

Bodybuilding legend Arnold Schwarzenegger worked the pull-ups by setting a high number of pull-ups per session, and spread over as many sets as necessary. For example, 100 pull-ups per session, divided into the following series of: 20-15-12-10-10-10-8-5-5-5, resting between series as necessary, until we recover. In this method we will no longer go to failure, and we work 2 or 3 days a week, 48 hours apart. It is not as good a method as the previous one to increase the number of pull-ups, but due to the high volume that we introduce, it produces a structural improvement, since there is more mechanical and metabolic demand. That is, more muscle. Back muscles are difficult to overtrain, and this is one of the reasons why you can pack so much volume.

Use of ballasts

In this method, maximum strength is improved. Pull-ups are trained 2 days a week. 1 day of high repetitions and another at low repetitions, and weighed down. (It is not advisable to use weights, until you are able to perform 3 sets of 15 reps. The weights, which are not more than 25 kilos. The days that you work without ballast, you notice that you fly over the bar.

Isometric positions method

This method, used by Ido, an expert in all kinds of self-loading workouts, is useful for those who are not capable of doing a pull-up, but who are able to hold statically in their 3 positions. This would work the same muscles that work in the chin-up, but in this case in a static way vs the normal dynamic. We would divide the chin-up into 3 phases: 1) arms almost stretched (not quite since the back does not support the weight), 2) in the middle of the movement, and 3) in the high position, or maximum contraction of the back, with the forearms forming 90º with the arms.

In each position, we would do 3 isometric contractions of 5 seconds, resting 30 seconds between each position. This method would also be practiced on a daily basis.

Ladders or stairs, of chin-ups

This is a good method for those who can only do 1 chin up or 2. A ladder is a superset with almost rest-pause breaks, and ascending reps. For example, take a weight with which you can do 6 repetitions, and do 3 sets of 1-2-3 reps, which are the rungs (the parts that make up the ladder). These breaks are just how long it would take to do the same reps. It is a method to get out of stalemates, and gain some repetition to our record. How do you progress from there?

Increase the number of ladders up to 5 or 6 while maintaining the same weight

  • 3s x1-2-3 (total 18 reps)
  • 4s x 1-2-3 (total 24 reps)

Once the 5 ladders (series of stairs) have been reached, the rungs should be increased.

  • 3s x 1-2-3-4
  • 4s x1-2-3-4

A ladder serves to increase cardio-muscular capacity, with a solid component of strength.


  • For those who still do not have the strength to perform pull-ups, you have to look for exercises that release part of the body weight, but maintaining the exercise technique. For example, placing yourself under a multipower bar with your feet slightly supported on the ground, in order to eliminate part of the body weight, and from there perform the classic push-up. Avoid pushing with your legs, just drop them on the floor.
  • The grip in a pull-up should not be excessively wide, as ROM (range of movement) is lost, and the biceps may be over-involved. In addition, it does not allow the maximum extension of the back muscles. For this reason, the tighter the grip (never less than the distance between the shoulders), the greater the stretch of the dorsal.
  • You have to use different grips, prone, supine and mixed. Supines are easier to perform as the biceps come into play. The chin-ups are a very demanding exercise at the joint level (elbows and shoulders), and that is why it is convenient to alternate the grips. The problem lies in the position of the hand on the high bar. When going up and down, the wrist wants to rotate to take stress off the elbows, and when holding onto a bar, it is impossible to do this. That is why it is good to make them in rings, which allows us to rotate the wrists, and release the elbows of tension.
  • Remember the importance of body weight in this exercise. Fundamental, eliminate body fat, to reduce the weight to lift. 2 kg less can mean 2 more pull-ups.
  • If we intend to thicken the back, the barbell row is a superior exercise in this regard.