Easy Pull-ups: The Minimum Effective Dose For Increasing Pull-ups & Chin-ups

By | December 16, 2016

easy pull ups and chin ups - minimum effective dose

Would you like to increase your pull-ups and chin-ups while doing as little work as possible? I’ll explain how in this post.

A few people have emailed me to say something to the effect of…

Your pull-up workout programs look great, but they also look hard. Do you have something easier?

The answer is always yes. All workout programs and exercises are scalable to any skill or conditioning level. So, you can always make things easier (or harder), depending on your needs.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that with all training, you get out what you put in. In my experience, effort is the number one determining factor when it comes to your results. If you work hard, at an appropriate level that challenges you just enough, you’ll get significantly better results than if you put in a half-hearted effort – no matter how good your program is.

And that’s really important to keep in mind when you apply the Minimum Effective Dose strategy, which is to do the absolute minimum amount of work necessary to keep making progress toward your goals.

The Minimum Effective Dose To Improve Pull-ups

There is no 100% exact formula that will establish a minimum effective dose for all pull-up trainees. However, the following criteria offers a good general framework.

You’ll have to do 1-2 pull-up workouts per week (most will need two) using one or both of the following workout methods:

a) 1-2 high intensity sets of pull-ups (i.e. after an appropriate warmup) at near-max or maximum intensity (e.g. to muscle failure or beyond).

b) 3-5 sets of moderate effort pull-ups (i.e. sub-maximal intensity, but challenging – right around 60-90% of your maximum effort)

Note: The fewer sets that you choose to do, the more you’ll have to use high intensity training protocols to reach your goals. For example, if you choose to do only one set of pull-ups, you’ll need take this to your absolute maximum intensity, which is an advanced strategy that is not appropriate for beginners. And even then, there will come a point when you need additional stimulus to keep making progress. 

Keep in mind that just because you’re using the Minimum Effective Dose strategy, that doesn’t mean you’re are exempt from the law of progression. You have to keep challenging yourself in order to keep improving. So, whether that means doing more total work or doing the same amount of work at a higher intensity (or another progression strategy), you have to incorporate progression into your program. No progression, no results.

And after several months and eventually years of proper training, the minimum effective dose that is required to help you keep making progress may be a time-consuming, high-intensity and/or high volume workout program. On the other hand, switching to a “maintenance mode” goal can usually be done with very minimal training time.

How I Would Design a Minimum Effective Dose Pull-ups Workout Program

For most beginner and intermediate pull-up trainees who are looking for a minimum effective dose pull-ups workout program, I’d start them off with a twice a week workout program doing 3-5 sets of pull-ups or chin-ups at a moderate, sub-maximal intensity. For example…

Week 1 – 3 sets at 60-90% effort, resting 1-3 minutes between sets
Week 2 – 4 sets total
Week 3 – 5 sets total
Week 4 – 3 sets total (more reps per set)
Week 5 – 4 sets (more reps per set)

How to Progress: do at least one more rep or one more set per workout so that your total training volume increases every single workout. So, if you did a total of 30 pull-ups during your first workout, do at least 31 reps during your second workout. And so on, and so forth.

Most people will be able to keep making progress on a simple plan like this for several months, assuming that they allow for adequate rest, take some time off from training periodically (and deload, if necessary), and vary their workouts slightly from month to month (e.g. new grip variation, different intensity level, etc.), among other things.

Sometimes, the simplest option is also the best option.

The Alternatives

There are many different ways to program our training, and several good basic options for applying the Minimum Effective Dose strategy. However, I’ve found that most people rarely maximize the results they can get from a basic routine like the one I’ve outlined above. Most people will change their program long before that happens. So, I’d encourage you to stick with one program for at least 6-8 weeks (assuming you’re getting good feedback and results). And if you keep making progress, extend it even longer – perhaps much longer.

Having said that, a good alternative to the Minimum Effective Dose that is still easy (when performed properly), is the Grease the Groove method. GTG is a very effective method for rapidly increasing your strength in any exercise, and it’s particularly effective for body weight exercises such as pull-ups.

So, you have options!

Final Words

There’s nothing “easy” about pull-ups and chin-ups. Even if you can bang out a set of 20 with ease, it’s still a really tough exercise. Now, I’m all for getting the most results with the least work and effort possible. That’s an ideal process and outcome. But instead of seeking out the easy way, why not embrace the hard way?

Because the truth is that pull-ups are hard. And if you want to get good at them, you’re going to have to be hard, too. And if you’re reading this, I think you’re up for the challenge. So, get out there and do some pull-ups!

More Information

Here are some resources that may help you have an easier time with pull-ups.

Want to do More Pull-ups?

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5-Day Pull-up Training Crash Course

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About The Author

John SiffermanJohn 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.

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