How to Break a Pull-up Training Plateau and Get Beyond 30 Reps
Question: Hi John, Thanks for your information. It is really interesting. However, I have been able to hit 30-35 consecutive overhand pull ups for the last five years and therefore feel like I have plateaued. Any recommendations on how to step it up a notch and challenge myself would be very welcome?
Answer: First of all, great work! Very few people are able to make it to the 30 reps range, and fewer are able to maintain it for years at a time.
When you get to this level, endurance becomes another key factor for success. It actually starts to happen on a sliding scale after you’ve reached the 12-15 reps range. And the more reps you can do, the more that endurance comes into play. Now, in order to build your strength-endurance, you’ll need to increase your maximum strength capacity.
Let me explain it this way. Let’s say we have two identical twins who are exactly the same height, weight, and build, and in every other way, too (just hypothetically, for the sake of this example). The only difference between them is that one can deadlift 405 pounds for a single rep, and the other can deadlift 315 pounds for a single rep. So, which one do you think could deadlift 225 pounds for more reps? Obviously, the stronger twin could because he has more pound for pound strength.
Similarly, if you want to increase your strength-endurance in the pull-up exercise, you’ll need to increase your maximum strength to subsequently increase your pound for pound strength. And I’ve found that the best way to do this is to start cycling in some periods of weighted pull-ups while also doing some high-rep pull-up workouts. This requires a long-term approach to pull-up training, which is how we should be training anyway (and you can clearly handle with 5+ years of consistent training under your belt).
So, for you, it comes down to making some strategic changes to your program, and specifically, making good use of periodization, which goes beyond the scope of this article.
For now, make a goal of working your way up to the Advanced Level of my weighted pull-up standards (i.e. doing a pull-ups with at least 50% of your bodyweight in added load). And once you can do that, I’d also recommend incorporating a lot of sub-maximal weighted pull-up training into your program.
So, if you’re a 150 pound male, work your way up to being able to do a weighted pull-up with at least 75 pounds added to your body. A basic linear progression of adding 2.5-5 pounds per week would suffice. It could be as simple as doing 2-3 workouts per week of 3-5 sets of weighted pull-ups with a little more weight every week.
Once you get beyond the 30-50 pound range, you’ll likely need a weight belt (i.e. my preference) or a heavy duty weight vest to continue adding weight. Then, do plenty of moderately-high repetition pull-up workouts with 25-35 pounds in added weight. The idea is that if you work your way up from being able to do 10 pull-ups with 25 lbs to 10 pull-ups with 35 or 45 pounds, the number of bodyweight pull-ups that you can do should also increase.
Here’s a sample workout…
Body weight pull-ups: 50-75% of max reps
Weighted pull-ups: 75% of max reps (use a weight that is about 25% of your 1-rep max)
Weighted pull-ups: 75% of max reps (use a weight that is about 50% of your 1-rep max)
Weighted pull-ups: max reps (use a weight that is about 50% of your 1-rep max)
Weighted pull-ups: max reps (use a weight that is about 25% of your 1-rep max)
Weighted pull-ups: max reps (use a weight that is about 10% of your 1-rep max)
Body weight pull-ups: max reps
Now, as already mentioned, your success also largely depends on the proper use of periodization, which can be programmed many ways and is a bit too complicated of a topic for this short Q+A article. But suffice to say, if you want exceptional results, you’ll need an exceptional program – something that can be personalized to your unique needs, goals, and circumstances.
So, if you’d like me to take the guesswork out of it for you, pick up a copy of my program, The Pull-up Solution. and make sure you grab a copy of the Advanced Training Program, which can help you blow past 20-30 reps and beyond.
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.
You can also learn more about John’s professional background and experience on the About Page.
Photo credit: 1.