4 Week Pull-up Super Specialization Program
I recently mastered one of the biggest training goals of my life!
I have been training for 40 years and have achieved some pretty decent results but there has always been one exercise that has haunted and embarrassed me. Pullups have always been an issue for me. Thats not really true. I sucked at them so I just made believe they didn't exist!
I had hernia surgery last July and while recovering I planned out my training for the next several months. I had nothing else to do. I couldn't pick up anything heavier than a gallon water jug and I was a little frustrated and a lot bored. I decided I was going to finally beat that pull-up monster that had always laughed at me. I set myself the goal of being able to do my age of 55 pullups by my next birthday (May 21st). Not consecutive of course, but I would be able to complete 55 properly performed pull-ups in 20 minutes or less.
I started in August and you can find the exact program outlined in my blog post 'Divide and Conquer'.
I trained with a focus and determination I hadn't had in several years. I was slowly and steadily moving toward my goal when I came across an article by Pavel(^) in mid March. It was a pull-up specialization program that looked nothing short of brutal. It went against all the normal training rules I follow, and yet I was drawn to it.
I was confident that I was going to achieve my goal but I just felt it was time to kick things into high gear to make sure I could CRUSH it! I read and re-read the article, and then read it again. Pavel is one of the most motivating writers in the fitness industry and he had me convinced. The program called for one rest day after each period of five consecutive workout days. I didn't feel I could recover with just one day so I made the executive decision to train five days in a row and take the weekends off. The program called for five sets per workout, but it didn't give any parameters as far as rest periods were concerned, so I decided to set a time and begin each set on the top of the minute. I also decided that in order to get the most out of it I would eliminate all other upper body work from my program.
I would do pull-ups Monday through Friday and I would do squats on Monday and Friday, after i completed the pull-ups.
Here is how it breaks down:
Week 1: M = 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 rep; T= 5, 4, 3, 2, 2 reps; W = 5, 4, 3, 3, 2; T= 5, 4, 4, 3, 2; F = 5, 5, 4 ,3, 2
Week 2: M = 6, 5, 4, 3, 2; T = 6, 5, 4, 3, 3; W = 6, 5, 4, 4, 3; T = 6, 5, 5, 4, 3; F = 6, 6, 5, 4, 3
Week 3: M = 7, 6, 5, 4, 3; T = 7, 6, 5, 4, 4; W = 7, 6, 5, 5, 4; T = 7, 6, 6, 5, 4; F = 7, 7, 6, 5, 4
Note that I increased the time intervals from one minute to 90 seconds on Wednesday. As the reps went up and the rest periods were getting shorter, I was finding it very hard to complete the reps.
Week 4: M = 8, 7, 6, 5, 4; T = 8, 7, 6, 5, 5; W = 8, 7, 6, 6, 5; T = Fried! I was on the verge of over training and just couldn't do it. F = 1 max effort set of 12 reps.
That's not how the program was supposed to end but that's what I did. That max set on Friday was a personal best!
One other twist to the program was that I held the top position of the last rep of the last set of each workout for as long as I could, squeezing the bar as hard as I could.
I took three days off and on the following Tuesday I went for it:
I set my timer on the 1 minute interval and started doing sets of 5 reps. Nowhere near failure sets, just easy sets of a number I was sure that I could complete and recover from in the roughly 45 seconds of rest that I had. I completed 5 sets, and then the reps started declining. By the ten-minute mark I was struggling. I had done 42 reps, my hands were cramping and my shoulders were screaming. I started doing single reps every 30 seconds and to my great satisfaction and slight amazement (that I actually did it) I finished my 56th rep on the 16 minute mark! Yup, I squeezed out a double on that last set just to be sure!
Like I said above, this program was brutal. It's not something I would suggest to anyone who is not totally determined and perhaps a little obsessed. Following it any longer than the prescribed four weeks will surely put you in an overtrained state. It's exhausting, and I know that sounds ridiculous for only five to seven minutes work, but the toll it can take on your hands and shoulders by not letting them recover is great.
However if you want it badly enough and don't mind a little discomfort, I can promise you this program will work for you as well as it did for me.
I can't explain how satisfying it is to me to be able to know that I can include sets of pull-ups in my workout and give them no more consideration than a set of squats or presses. Now they are just another exercise. No they have become one of my favorite exercises!
^ Pavel Tsatsouline is considered the father of the modern kettlebell movement as well as one of the most knowledgeable people in the strength world.