The Pullup and it’s variations is without a doubt one of the most effective exercises in any athlete’s arsenal. Some have called the pullup the “upper body squat” while others consider it the best way to determine relative strength in the upper body. Whether your goal is fat loss, mass gain, increased strength, or simply to be a better athlete pullups better be a staple in your training program. To avoid you avoid the boredom of the same old pullups every session, here are 5 unique variations to take your pullup mastery to a whole new level!

The Moves:

  • Rope/Towel: Hang a short piece of rope or use a hand/gym towel to drape over a pullup bar. Rather thank holding onto the bar, grab the rope or towel and perform your pullups from here. Awesome for grip strength, forearms, and of course the pulling muscles!
  • Fat Grip/Grip 4orce: Fat Gripz and Grip 4orce are tools that can be added to any bar, dumbbell, cable attachment, or pullup bar to challenge the grip by increasing the diameter of the bar and forcing you to squeeze your grip as hard as possible. These tools are invaluable and should be in every lifter’s gym bag!
  • Balls: I thank the one-and-only James Smith (aka Smitty) from Diesel Strength & Conditioning for sharing this one. Your going to hold a tennis or lacrosse ball in each hand, keeping your wrists flexed over the bar while you perform your sets. This is brutal & will develop killer grip, wrist, and forearm strength for wrestlers, fighters, and yes, basketball players!
  • Plyo/Clap: Just what it sounds like! You’re going to pullup explosive, let go of the bar and clap before quickly returning your hands to the bar and catching yourself for your next rep.
  • Salmon Bar: This one has become popular thanks to the new show American Ninja. This move involves a kipping motion where you pullup so explosive that you actually jump up and take a moveable bar with you, placing it into a higher slot. This move carries some inherent risks of falling and needs some special equipment. Short of building your own setup, I’m not sure how/where you would add this move to your training, but here is a video of how to replicate the move in a power rack. 
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Now that you’ve seen the movements, let’s talk about sets and reps. I like to keep my pullups between 4-6 sets of 3-12 reps. That sounds vaugue, I know, but check out the reps schemes I cycle through over the course of a few sessions:

  • 6 x 3
  • 3 x 12
  • 5 x 8
  • 4 x 10
  • 6 x 5
This variety of rep ranges within a given movement pattern allows for varied loads and varied “workouts”. WIth the combination of set/rep ranges and the multiple exercise variations listed (and not listed) you could perform pullups for a year without repeating the same workout!

Personally I have no desire to crank out sets of 25-50 or more pullups consecutively. If you do, don’t worry, here’s a plan to increase max reps sets below.

  • Session 1: Determine your current pullup rep max
  • Session 2: Find 60% of your rep max from Session 1 (10 reps is your max in Session 1 --> 6 reps is 60%) Do sets of 6 reps, resting 1 minute between each set until you can no longer get 6 reps. This is a great way to increase your pulling volume
  • Session 3: Repeat Session 2, dropping your rest period to 55 seconds.
  • Session 4: Repeat Session 3, dropping your rest period to 50 seconds.
  • Repeat this process until you reach ZERO rest and watch yourself crank out more pullups than you ever imagined.
  • YES, this takes a LONG time, but slow and steady wins the race in physical development. Sorry, there are no shortcuts – just hard work and consistency, repeated over time!
  • I recommend performing these sessions ONCE per week as the high amount of volume will require ample recovery time to see performance gains.
  • You can retest your max reps at any point during this process, just remember 2 things: 1) You haven’t finished the progression, so you results won’t be as good and 2) You’ll be adding stress to the muscles involved and should failure to prevent negatively impacting progress on this program.

That’s it for today! Now go get pulling!

Drop me a comment and let me know your thoughts.