In the last few posts,  I’ve talked quite a bit about how I’ve lost weight (31 pounds as of today).  I’ve gone into some detail about the diet, but I haven’t really talked about the workouts much.  There’s a couple reasons, but the main two reasons are 1) workouts are complicated, and 2) 95% of your results will come from your diet.  There’s a reason fitness models say, “abs are created in the kitchen.”

I do plan on writing more about the workout in the future, but for today, I just wanted to give you some tips on how to do more chin ups (or pull ups if you desire).  When I started this journey 14 weeks ago, I could barely do 4 chin ups or 3 pull ups.  This Monday I did 5 chin ups with 40 lbs attached followed by a set of 6 chin ups with 25 pounds attached.  Today (Thursday, I did a set of 13 bodyweight chin ups).

Now I know for some people that may not sound very impressive, but I haven’t been able to do more than 8 pull ups or chin ups since I was 19.  And I certainly wasn’t as explosive as I am today.  So here’s how I did it.  You can use this method with either pull ups (palms away) or chin ups (palms toward you).  Personally I prefer neutral grip chin ups (palms facing each other).  For the rest of this article, I’ll just call them pull ups out of habit.

Some people will tell newbies that they need to be able to do 8 pull ups or 12 pull ups or even 20 pull ups before they start adding weight.  But I prefer to start adding weight as soon as you can do 4-6 pull ups.  I’ve never been good at doing lots of pull ups, and if I had waited until I could do 12 pull ups before adding weight, I’d probably still be doing 5 pounds.  Below is how I did it, and you can too…if you like.

Step 0: Be able to do at least 4 pull ups

If you can’t do at least four pull ups, then that’s your first step.  If you can’t do any pull ups, then follow this below video for a nice progression.  If you can do at least one pull up, then do several sets of as many as you can do with good form at least three days a week.

Step 1: Add 5 lbs

Once you can do a at least 4 good pull ups, it’s time to add some weight.  Get a dip belt.  Attach 5 pounds and do a set.  Wait at least 3 minutes, then do a second set bodyweight pull ups.  On your other two workout days just do one set of bodyweight pull ups.  So to recap: one set of weighted pull ups and 3 sets of bodyweight pull ups per week.

Note: I was doing this while on a fairly aggressive cut of 700-1000 calorie deficit per day.  If you’re eating at maintenance or bulking, you can do three sets on your weighted day or even to two days of weighted pull ups (I’d recommend at least 3 days recovery between weighted sets.)

Step 2: Adding reps

Keep doing the weight you added in Step 1 plus two sets of bodyweight pull ups on other days until you can do 6 weighted pull ups.  Here are some tips:

  • Focus on trying to make your upward movement as explosive as possible.
  • Try to keep your shoulder blades retracted (pull down and toward each other)
  • Don’t reach your neck for the bar.
  • Don’t struggle with half reps.  When you can’t complete the rep with good form, don’t do it at all.  If you really want to do another rep, jump up to the top and do a long negative (slow descent) or get an elastic band and do assisted pull ups.

Step 3: Add 5 more pounds

When you can complete six good, explosive pull ups, it’s time to add 5 more pounds.

  • If you can do 5 or more reps with the higher weight, then add 5 pounds again next week.
  • If you can only four reps with the higher weight, stay at that weight until you can get 6 reps and then add another 5 pounds.
  • If you can’t get four reps with the higher weight, drop the weight by 2.5 pounds the next week.

Keep doing your bodyweight pull ups for the second set and on your other two days.

Step 4: Add weight to your second set

When you get to the point where you’re doing pull ups with 10% of your bodyweight added, you can start adding weight to your second set.  So if you’re 180 pounds, when you get to 20 pounds, add 5 pounds to your 2nd set.  Generally speaking you should be able to get at least one more rep out of your 2nd set with lighter weight than your first heavy set.

Whenever your second set gets 2 good reps higher than your first set, add five more pounds to it.  Follow the same rules as step 3 (but with a higher rep count).

Step 5: Take videos of yourself doing weighted pull ups.

That’s pretty much it.  The video below is my second set of weighted pull ups this week with 25 pounds added.   You can see my weight progression in the table below.  Notice that even though my weight is going down, the total weight I’m lifting is going up.  (So my absolute strength and relative strength are both increasing.)

Date Weight Set 1 Wgt w/body Reps Set 2 Reps
2/23/2016 196 0 196 6 0 3
2/29/2016 195 0 195 6 band 5
3/7/2016 194 0 194 5 0 4
3/14/2016 195 15 210 4 5 4
3/18/2016 193 15 208 4 5 4
3/23/2016 192 15 207 5 5 5
3/28/2016 192 15 207 5 5 5
4/2/2016 190 20 210 4 5 5
4/11/2016 189 20 209 4 5 5
4/18/2016 188 20 208 6 5 6
4/25/2016 188 25 213 5 5 6
5/2/2016 186 30 216 5 10 7
5/9/2016 186 35 221 5 10 7
5/16/2017 187 40 227 4 15 6
5/23/2016 184 40 224 5 20 6
5/30/2016 185 40 225 5 25 6
6/6/2016 182 40 222 5 25 6

Frequently asked questions:

Man! I could NEVER do weighted pull ups!

It’s not really a questions, but that is exactly what I thought until I started doing it.  I’ve never been good at pull ups.  When I was in the Air Force Academy, the max I ever did was 13, and I assure you the last five were not nearly as explosive as the last five in my video at the top.  When you see someone doing pull ups with 70 pounds attached, you think, “there’s no way I can do that,” and you’re right.  You can’t do it…now.  But if you start with adding 5 pounds, increase your reps to 6, add five more pounds, rinse and repeat, you’ll be doing 45 pounds before you know it.

So what’s this simple secret you mentioned in the title?

Too subtle, eh?  The secret is adding 5 pounds.  As you get stronger, you’ll be able to do more pull ups with just bodyweight.

Does this work for weighted dips too?

Absolutely.  It actually works even better for weighted dips.  In the time it took me to go from 0 to 45 pounds for pull ups, I went from 10 pounds to 77.5 pounds for 6 reps for dips.  The only thing holding you back is not using a dip  belt.  Some gyms even have one you can borrow.  But if not, buy one on amazon.

Where did you learn how to do this?

Greg O’Gallagher from Kinobody is the person who made me believe I could do it, and I was following his Aggressive Fat Loss Program while implementing this plan.  Actually, I’m still on it.  When I get down to 175 pounds, I’ll re-evaluate my bodyfat and see where I want to go from there.

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