Switching to pullups has been a very humbling experience


I am a gym guy. I didn't do calisthenics outside of the odd set of pushups in my house here and there for many years. Recently, the gym I go to introduced increased Covid restrictions so going to the gym was more of a pain in the ass than anything else so I switched to something I have never thought of doing before: Just going to the park and using the pullup bars they have there. For some reason, there are no covid restrictions there because Covid can't live outside apparently.

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For the first week that I went and had a go at these things I thought I would do a much better job than I did. I am a guy that goes to the gym to life almost every single day. I figured I would easily bang out reps of 10 only to discover that I could barely do 5 an that was with some crazy looking kicking maneuver at the end of the 5th one. So it was a bit frustrating and perplexing to me that someone who an bench press his own body weight, and curls 25s with little issue would have so much trouble.

Well, as it turns out a lot of guys (and presumably) women who go to the gym for very specific muscle groups have difficulty pulling off pullups. I was unaware of this before I started looking.

When I found out that the minimum that you have to be able to do in order to qualify to be a United States Marine, you need to be able to do a minimum of 3 pullups. So when I found that I didn't feel so bad about my struggling to pull off doing 5. The minimum qualification for the Navy Seals is only 8 so again, I don't feel so bad.

It is estimated that about half of all males can do 5 and a full 50% of males can't do more than that. Ok, this is a bit more reassuring for sure. Only 25% of males are capable of doing more than 10, so now I know what I want my upper goal to be. I would love to be in the top 25% and if you are already capable of doing more than 10 congratulations! You are stronger than 75% of the population.

The problem I am facing is that everything I know about weight training is from years of working out in the gym and most of the exercises I did there were NOT compound exercises (ones that use multiple muscle groups like pullups do) so therefore the system is totally different.

I was approaching the pullups in the same fashion and was doing 3 sets of 5 reps and then calling it a day. This probably shouldn't surprise anyone that this is not enough.

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So the question remains, how does one improve at pullups? Well, there is no consensus on this but the information that I am seeing all kind of points in the same general direction and that is that you should aim for a total overall number and try to increase that. Most programs agree that if you are going for say, 20 total pullups it doesn't make much difference if you do 10 sets of 2 or 2 sets of 10... the muscle development is going to be around the same.

Then your overall goal should be to increase this over long periods of time and it is kind of up to you to a certain degree how this works. For me, I have increased from doing 20 overall to 30 overall over the course of 2 weeks. Sadly, this has not resulted in me being able to do more than 7 in one set. I suppose that is 2 more than I was originally doing so it is a good thing, right?

One of the main problems that I face is that I weigh a bit more than I should. I'm at around 190 lbs and ideally, I should be around 175. I want to say that this is all muscle, and a lot of it is, but since I am a normie I will admit that some of it is in the form of beer in my belly.

So for the time being I am going to try to focus on increasing my overall reps by 5 each week and see what that does for me. This is all very experimental for the time being, so I'll try to keep decent notes on how it all works out.


The bottom line for me is that when I first went out there I really expected to just be flying up and down on the bar and when I couldn't do it I thought there was something wrong with me. After doing a bit of research I come to the realization that most people can't do what I am already doing so if you can only do 6 reps, know that you are already doing more than 50% of the population is capable of. Now let's see how long it takes me to get up to 11 because I want to be in the top 25% :)

How many can you do? Can anyone out there do more than 10? I'd like to know your techniques that got you there if you can.


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