Pull-up Challenge

ExtremePullups.com is having an internet pull-up challenge to see who can do the most pull-ups with a 45 pound plate (see rules here).

My buddy Antigen is participating in this event. In the following video, he does 21 reps at a body weight of 181.

Pretty damn impressive. Pull-up strength is something that I’ve been working on this year and I definitely see the utility in its carry over into other lifts like bench press and press. Weighted pull-ups also help build musculature in the lats, rear shoulder girdle, biceps, and forearms. They can be done once a week, or twice a week with the second session done with chin-ups (supinated grip). Typically you’ll be stronger with pull-ups than chin-ups, although when you start this may not be the case (it wasn’t when I started). Place pull-ups/chin-ups after other larger exercises. They can be done as the primary back work for the day, or after other exercises that stress the back (for example, I regularly do chin-ups after deadlifting on Friday).

There are some various ways to train them. Here is a quick synopsis:

1. A simple 3×5 progression over time. I usually recommend this at first, especially if there isn’t a lot of weight being added.
2. Once the 3×5 gets to the 50 pound mark, then one option is to drop and go for max reps with 25 pounds, and then go for max reps with body weight. I’ve hit 21 body weight pull-ups after several heavy sets of weighted work.
3. Saul told me this next tidbit, and he got it from Bill Starr. You would rotate through these every week.
a) 8RM
b) 5RM + -50lb rep out
c) 3RM + -50lb rep out
As you see, after the 5 and 3RM, you would drop 50 pounds and rep out at that weight.
4. This last portion is what Saul used to train his “45 lbs for reps” set. He simply did 3 sets of as many reps as he could with a 45lb plate. On the chin-up day, he rotated the options in #3.

These are four methods you can use in weighted pull-up programming with the first two progressions aimed at a beginner. Oh, one more thing: it helps if you do them in a tank-top.

21 thoughts on “Pull-up Challenge

  1. Nice Justin, thanks. One question: what do you think of frequency method chins, as with the Greyskull LP?

    Works well when implemented properly like JP lays out in his GSLP e-book. But this post would be aimed at the folks who are ready for weighted pull-ups instead of those who need frequency chins to build them up.



    turn the sound OFF if you think my voice is annoying. (brent kim) i talk a lot in this video. my apologies!

    not just any tank top will work. must be a dirty, stained, smelly wife beater to pull this off successfully.

  3. Thank you. This is incredibly helpful to me as this is one question still lingering in my mind even after reading the TM book. I can do 3×5 right now with 25 lbs added at 200lbs bodyweight and have also been doign them after deadlifting, which certainly takes somethign out of me. Pull ups are so much harder than they look and really take more energy to do that you’d think.

    I’d rather you do pull-ups on Volume Day and chin-ups on Intensity day post-deadlifting. Chin-ups are secondary, so doing them fatigued is okay.


  4. Saul, excellent job man! Any reason why you did the thumbless grip? I checked the rules and they didn’t specify–I figured a grip using thumbs would make them easier (at least they do for me), no?

    Also, almost everybody I know was strong with chins (palms supinated/facing toward you) than pullups (palms pronated/facing away from you). Is “Typically you’ll be stronger with pull-ups than chin-ups, although when you start this may not be the case (it wasn’t when I started)” a typo?

    Thumbless grip is usually easier since the thumb is another anchor to hang from.

    And, no, the pull-ups will be stronger down the road for most people. What you’re observing is exactly what I just said: folks starting out will be stronger on the chin-up. This depends on developed musculature, but once the back is developed properly pull-ups will be stronger.


  5. @domjo54—when i try to put my thumbs around the bar, it’s less comfortable on my wrists. it feels less efficient, too. don’t know if that actually makes sense, but that’s how it feels.

  6. @domjo54: I do mine like Saul. It feels more comfortable. I’m a rock climber, and that’s how I grab holds when climbing (on easy routes).

    However, I wrap my thumb around when I do kipped pull ups. I think the difference is having to hold against lateral forces.

    @Justin: I’m just able to do 3×5 bodyweight pull ups. This was a timely post, I’m going to start mixing these in to my workouts. For right now, just #1. Thanks.
    Body weight pull-ups? Did you mean dead hangs? Usually getting over 10 reps for several sets is an indicator of weighting them. I meant that the first progression with weight is to progress the 3×5 rep scheme


    @Saul: That was badass, I am inspired.

  7. Fuckin’ A. Weighted chins and pull ups are my favorite exercise. I can get a single chin with twice my bodyweight (+175) and four or five reps with two 45s using a thumbless grip. Legend has it that bodybuilder Marvin Eder could do a single wide grip pull-up with an added 250 at a bodyweight of 200. Nice to see something that doesn’t just favor guys the size of offensive linemen.

  8. @domjo54
    Thumbless grip lets you place more of your hand above the bar shortening the distance you have to pull. Thumbs around is easier to grip if your grip is a limit but with chalk I don’t slide too much.

    It’s not a typo, I think pullups use more muscle mass than chins. It’s tad harder to get the chin over the bar in pull-ups but other than that pullups are stronger for me.
    Good! better than my best single (155-160). I’ve done 9 pull-ups with +90 and 3 at 140.

  9. Thanks. Believe it or not, elbow levers are a great way to stretch your tendons in your wrist the other way so they don’t get too tight.

  10. I’m doing 5/3/1 with the Boring but Big emphasis; how should I work these in? For linear progression must it be every other workout, or could one make gains doing the 3 x 5 weighted pull-ups on just 1 day of the 4 day rotation? Also factor in ‘advanced’ age of 37 yrs, if that may hinder adequate recovery.

    You can’t linearly progress weighted chins. I’d suggest doing them once a week. Or do them twice a week and have the second session be with chin-ups.


  11. I’ve had decent luck training weighted chin-ups with drop sets, usually 3 or 4 drops in a set. I used to just go for chin over the bar, with straps, and a pronated grip. But I feel like I’ve gotten more carryover to Muscle-Ups by pulling fast enough to make my chest hit the bar and using a chin-up grip. This change made
    me go from using over 100 pounds to using 50 or 60, but repping out muscle-ups came soon after.

  12. Excellent post Justin.

    Now i get why AC is doing 3×5 on pullups.

    @ Bahadur, im running 5/3/1 and am doing 25 chinups on Press day and probably 25 pullups on bench day. probably do a couple on the rest of the training days as well.

  13. Justin just to clarify for option 3, you’re saying one would do:

    Week 1 – 8RM
    Week 2 – 5RM + drop sets
    Week 3 – 3RM + drop sets

    Not all 5 sets each week right?



  14. “You can’t linearly progress weighted chins.”

    True, in my experience. But I don’t understand *why* this is true, and I’m perplexed on that point. Justin (or anyone else), could you say a bit about *why* linear progression doesn’t work here? Just curious. Thanks.

    Did I say that? If I did, it was because you can’t do them on a daily basis and recover. That’s a stress that is “more than body weight” on a small (relatively speaking) amount of musculature. The structures (in this case tendons and muscles) would not be able to recover on a daily basis. You can linearly progress them in that they can have weight added to them every session, but that will only be once or twice a week (and will look linear over time).

    Did that help?


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