Weighted Pull-Ups

In the grand continuum of weightlifing, the vast majority of us probably get into the game with a similar mindset. You come to the realization that you’re too skinny or too fat. You buy a handful of Men’s Health, Muscle & Fitness, and any number of other options. Every magazine promises the latest and greatest in chest blasting, shoulder exploding, and bicep ripping routines. For whatever reason, our enthusiasm and naivety prevent us from reading through the BS (or even registering any concern over terminology more akin to a war than a gym). We then pull together a routine that looks something like:

Monday – Chest: bench press, incline bench press, decline bench press, butterfly press, and abz
Tuesday – Legs: leg press, leg curls, calf raises, and abz
Wednesday – Rest
Thursday – Arms: bicep curls, wrist curls, tricep extensions, skullcrushers, preacher curls, and abz
Friday – Rest
Saturday – Shoulder/Back: lat pulldowns, cable rows, military press, front dumbbell raises, side dumbbell raises, and lots of AAABBZZZZ
Sunday – Rest

You make some noob gains in the first six months, get real excited, and then plateau. Or worse, you get injured, pain builds up in your shoulders, etc. Maybe this period lasts a year, maybe more. For me, it lasted for three years. Then I saw the light and started to go big, switched to 5×5, zeroed in on the stuff that really “mattered,” and promptly dislocated my shoulder. I was still doing it mostly wrong. I was still focused on the mirror muscles.

By the time I got through therapy and recovery, I was clocking in at 170lbs soaking wet (at 6’ tall). However, sometimes a slap in the face, or in my case a dislocated shoulder, is what we need to refocus and figure out how to do things (mostly) right.

My new focus became getting things started right before each workout. Stretching, foam rolling, mobility work, and thorough warm-ups. My lifts shifted to a lot more pulling and a lot less pushing. Through that process I grew to love pull-ups. I worked my way up to sets of 30+ pull-ups. However, my back and lats were still really lacking.

It wasn’t until I put an emphasis on deadlifts and weighted pull-ups that I started to notice a difference in my back/lats. Today, I do pull-ups (supinated, neutral, and pronated grips) in two different ways.

Number one, I use them in my warm-ups. To paraphrase Dan John, if something is worth doing, do it every day. Doing three sets of 10 throughout the course of my warm-ups adds up to an additional 120-150 pull-ups per week.

Number two, I add weight to my pull-ups. Today, I use a 40lb vest. After my warm-up sets, I perform five sets of 10 (or as close to 10 as possible) with 90 seconds rest between sets. The first few feel easy, but the last two are a killer. As I get closer to 5X10, I’ll add more weight and start over again.

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