Start by establishing exactly how many pullups you are currently able to do with good technique. For instance, if your pullup max is 5 reps, then after maxing out on your first set, you may be tempted to continue doing pullups to failure in subsequent sets, and probably end up managing fewer reps each time. If you’re not accruing training volume, you won’t see much in the way of improvement. “The amount of reps you can do on pullups is an indicator of strength, but indicators or expressions of strength aren’t necessarily going to be the best way to increase your strength over time,” says Teo.
Teo’s program focuses on getting in quality reps and productive volume, meaning intentionally not hitting your absolute threshold for strength too quickly. That way, you can work up to your max through more smaller sets, and actually end up doing more reps per workout. Teo advises aiming for 12 to 18 reps as a good minimum, with 30 as the ultimate target.
“If you can do 5 pullups, then a set of 2 or 3 reps should be comfortably achievable with very good technique,” he says. “This is all about pacing yourself out to maintain good technique while hitting a sufficient number of reps to build strength long-term.”
He recommends starting out with 6 sets of 2. “Your goal should be making those 12 reps as perfect as possible, and to make it feel as easy as possible,” he says. “It’s about laying down the foundation to build your strength over time.” Once you’re able to do the 6 sets of 2, up the reps to 6 sets of 3. “You might find at this point that you start to fatigue by the final couple of sets.”
From there, add in more sets: 7 sets of 3, then 8 sets, then 9, and finally 10 sets of 3 which will bring you to the goal of 30 reps. “Once you can do 10 sets of 3, it’s time to retest your pullup strength, and you’ll find that you can do more reps in one set,” he says. You can then start the cycle over with a higher number of reps to continue building your strength, e.g. 6 sets of 4.
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“For most people, this will slot in perfectly fine at the start of an upper body workout, or even as a standalone training day once a week,” says Teo. “If you’re finding that you’re recovering fine, you can add in extra time later in the week as well. Aim for at least 2 days between each workout, if not longer.”
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