When the time comes for you to step up to the pull-up bar, use these tips to score the most reps possible during your pull-up test.
1) Win in your mind before stepping up to the bar.
There is a definite “mind over matter” element to any fitness test. So, before you even touch the pull-up bar, you should get mentally prepared to go the distance.
So, decide in advance that you’re going to max out. Accept that it’s going to get uncomfortable. And commit to pushing through the discomfort to score as many reps as possible.
Fix in your mind the minimum number of reps that you intend to complete (e.g. at least 15 pull-ups). This should be a challenging, but doable goal number based on recent performances. It must be both achievable and believable.
Once you have your goal in mind, visualize yourself succeeding. Actually see yourself grabbing onto the pull-up bar and repping out, in your mind’s eye. Watch yourself overcome the discomfort. Watch yourself squeeze a few more reps in. Watch yourself give it everything you’ve got.
Once you are mentally geared up and confident that you will succeed, you’re ready to step up to the bar.
2) Warmup without wasting energy.
Ideally, you won’t go into a pull-up test cold. You want to increase your body temperature and prime your muscles and joints for work. So, do some dynamic stretching and/or joint mobility exercises for your shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands, and fingers.
I’d recommend 5-10 reps of the following exercises:
- shoulder shrug circles (both directions)
- arm circles (both directions)
- overhead arm circles (both directions)
- elbow circles and/or drill bit exercise
- wrist flexion/extension and/or wrist circles
- finger circles and/or waves
Note: you can learn most of these exercises here.
Follow that up with an easy set of pull-ups or chin-ups (e.g. 25% of your max reps), and you should be primed for a good performance. The idea is that you want to be fully warmed up while still conserving as much energy as possible for the test.
Note: When you’re ready to begin your test, take as much time as you need to get setup. Place your hands in the exact spot they should be. Also, make sure that your grip is solid and your overall body alignment is correct before beginning. If something doesn’t feel right, stop and correct it – even if you have to rest a little bit first.
3) Start your set with the “Sprint Method,” using gravity to your advantage.
A pull-up test is not the time for a slow and controlled tempo. Save that for your conditioning workouts. Instead, perform your reps as fast as possible, accelerating towards the bar with every rep.
Also, use gravity to your advantage by allowing yourself to glide down smoothly without much muscular effort. You don’t want to “free-fall” and jerk or “bounce” into the bottom position, which could injure you, but you also don’t want to expend much energy lowering yourself down either.
So, go smooth and fast. Think of the ascent upwards as an acceleration, and the descent downward as a controlled fall. This will help you conserve energy and boost your total rep count.
4) Finish your set with the Burst-Recover-Burst strategy.
When you start to get tired, resist the urge to stop for a break for as long as possible. Just keep going, grinding through a few more reps during the initial “sprint” phase. And don’t stop until you absolutely have to. Because as soon as you stop, it’ll be much harder to keep going. And you’ll effectively put a “cap” on your performance. But if you push through the discomfort for a few more reps before stopping for a break, you’ll undoubtedly increase your score.
Note: this is why it’s important to decide beforehand that you’ll go the distance.
After you’ve finished the sprint phase, hang onto the bar and rest in the dead hang position for a moment before trying to do some more reps. Then proceed by performing more pull-ups in short bursts until you can no longer perform another rep – resting only a moment at a time.
Most people will be able to add between 1-5 additional reps using this method. And some are able to add quite a bit more.
5) Test yourself when you’re fresh, well-rested, and fueled up.
Knowing what to do during your pull-up test is important, but setting yourself up for success before the test will make a big difference, too.
So, apart from following a good pull-up workout program, here are some other things you can do to prepare for your pull-up test:
- Take at least two days off from all pull-up training and any other strenuous exercise prior to your test.
- Get plenty of sleep at least two nights beforehand.
- Stay hydrated and don’t do anything crazy with your diet at least two days beforehand.
- Eat a balanced diet of protein, carbs, and fats to fuel up for the big day.
- Do some deep breathing exercises to help you relax, focus, and do that “mental homework” mentioned earlier.
If you follow this blueprint, you’ll be well-prepared for a very successful pull-up test, and you’ll maximize the chance of setting a personal record.
One last thing: Most people can perform more pull-ups than they think they can, if they really try.
So, keep that in mind. You may just surprise yourself with the results.
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About The Author
John Sifferman is a health-first fitness coach who has been teaching, coaching, and training people in various capacities since 2006. John is the author of The Pull-up Solution, the complete pull-up and chin-up training system that helps people rapidly increase their pull-up numbers in three months or less.
You can get a free copy of John’s 3-month pull-up training program and download more of his premium pull-up training resource as part of his free 5-day Pull-up Training Crash Course.
Photo credit: 1.