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The pull-up project

Das Klimmzugprojekt

Here's what you need to know....

  1. If you've never used linear progression on basic squats, then you've left a gap in your development just waiting to be filled.
  2. By performing a regular, not-to-muscle-failure pull-up workout and a once-a-week 5-minute challenge, you'll gain at least an inch on your upper arms alone.
  3. If you follow up this volume cycle with a strength cycle, then you can add another inch to your upper arms while building a stronger, harder and more athletic upper body.

"Pull-ups are probably the most underrated exercise. Pull-ups are something I wish I had always done." - Dave Tate

Pull-ups for pure muscle growth

There are two problems with most pull-up programs:

  1. They're usually designed to increase the number of pull-ups you can perform, not increase muscle mass. While it may look cool to do a lot of pull-ups, most of us would rather get our t-shirt to stretch than be the skinny kid at the gym who can do a lot of pull-ups but not much more.
  2. These programs often require you to alter your regular training program and reduce your training volume or weights. With the right strategy, however, this is not necessary.

The program presented here has none of these problems. First, it is designed for hypertrophy and unrestricted muscle growth. Secondly, you can run this program in addition to the program you are already using.

In short, it is an anabolic add-on.

Old school training, new school muscles

Old-school trainers and bodybuilders got it right: get strong by doing pull-ups first and then focus on direct arm training.

Today, people do it the other way around. They start with advanced bodybuilding exercises to focus on specific parts of the biceps. They isolate their upper body muscles and forget to build systematic strength in the entire upper body.

The result? They try to build a house without laying a solid foundation first. The body simply doesn't grow this way.

The truth is that unless you can perform at least 12 bodyweight pull-ups with strict form, your time is best spent doing this before you even attempt reverse scott curls on the cable machine with a thick grip and isometric pauses. (Of course, it could be that you're just too fat, but that's another program).

The good news is that if you've made this mistake, your "beginner gains" are still achievable. Those are kilos of muscle mass just waiting to be picked up and give you a powerful, athletic look and thicker arms. Pull-ups are also an effective exercise for the abs, which is especially true if you use extra weight. And you will be using extra weight.

Pull-ups with a neutral grip

Pull-ups performed with a neutral grip (palms facing each other) are a basic mass building exercise for the biceps, latissimus and all the supporting muscles of the upper back.

When the palms are facing each other, as is the case when performing pull-ups with a V-grip or parallel pull-up grips, the brachialis is put under greater strain. This deeper muscle "pushes" the biceps upwards and makes your entire upper arm bigger. If you have been neglecting your brachialis, which is probably the case, bringing this muscle into play will result in rapid gains in muscle mass and sometimes up to 2.5 centimeters more upper arm circumference.

Pull-ups with an underhand grip

When you perform pull-ups with an underhand grip (palms facing your body), you overload the elbow flexors and engage more muscles compared to wide-grip pull-ups, while this exercise variation also maximizes the cross-sectional area of the muscles involved.

As an added bonus, grip strength correlates with arm size and this program will give you a lot of grip strength if you lack it.

All in all, you'll have about 2 to 2.5 inches of new upper arm muscle mass just waiting to be built and the plan is simple.

The program

Phase I

  • Time frame: 4 weeks
  • Method: Volume

You will perform a few sets of pull-ups each day. You will not go to muscle failure on any of the sets and the sets should be spaced an hour or more apart.

For example, do a few pull-ups after breakfast, one set before training, a few pull-ups after training, one set in the afternoon or evening, etc. Use a pull-up bar, a branch on a tree, a beam in the garage or whatever. Show adaptability.

You will accumulate hundreds of extra pull-ups over a 4 week period - probably over 800 in a month. One day you'll do 10 or 20, other days 40 or 50. Each week you'll aim to do more pull-ups than the previous week.

The challenge day

Once a week there is a "challenge day". Set a timer for 5 minutes and perform as many pull-ups as you can in good form within that time frame. Add this number to your weekly total and allow yourself a training-free day the next day.


If you can already do 12 to 15 good pull-ups without looking like you're having a seizure, choose 10 as your target number per set. If you can't do at least 12 pull-ups, get stronger and lose some body fat before returning to this program.

Never do more than 10 pull-ups at a time - even if you could. And - apart from the challenge day once a week - never go to muscle failure.

Grip position

  • Week 1 + 2: Neutral grip (palms facing each other)
  • Week 3 + 4: Undergrip (palms facing your face)

Training-free day

On one day per week - the day following the challenge day - do not perform any pull-ups. Do not even rescue a kitten from a tree.

Other training

Do your regular workout as usual. If you have an arm day and need to reduce the volume slightly, that's fine. But most exercisers won't need to do this if they use a solid training nutrition protocol and optimize recovery in their regular workouts.

The program by example

We recommend that you get a notebook for your records. You will always carry this with you and document all your daily pull-ups.

Here is the training log from phase 1 from one of our test subjects. Yours will probably look slightly different.

Week 1

  • Monday: 10, 10
  • Tuesday: 10, 10, 10
  • Wednesday: 10
  • Thursday: 10, 10, 10
  • Friday: 10, 10, 10
  • Saturday (challenge day): 40 in 5 minutes
  • Sunday: No training

TOTAL: 160 repetitions

Week 2

  • Monday: 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Tuesday: 10, 10, 10
  • Wednesday: 10, 10, 10
  • Thursday: 10, 10, 10
  • Friday: 10, 10, 10
  • Saturday (challenge day): 45 in 5 minutes
  • Sunday: No training

TOTAL: 195 repetitions

Week 3

  • Monday: 10, 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Tuesday: 10, 10, 10
  • Wednesday: 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Thursday: 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Friday: 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Saturday (challenge day): 50 in 5 minutes
  • Sunday: No training

TOTAL: 250 repetitions

Week 4

  • Monday: 10, 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Tuesday: 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Wednesday: 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Thursday: 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Friday: 10, 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Saturday (challenge day): 52 in 5 minutes
  • Sunday: No training

TOTAL: 282 repetitions

TOTAL TOTAL PHASE I: 887 pull-ups within 4 weeks.


  • 1.25 centimeters of upper arm growth (which is very fast for an experienced exerciser).
  • A noticeable increase in upper body mass and strength.
  • Stronger abs and a reduction in body fat.

Tips and reminders for Phase I

  1. Don't kill yourself during the first week. The plan works based on volume accumulation and there is no need to perform 250 pull-ups during the first week. If you can't increase your total number of reps each week, then you started too fast.
  2. Apart from the challenge day, do not go to muscle failure.
  3. Don't do this program while on a very low-carb diet or in conjunction with a large calorie deficit. You won't build muscle if you're half-starved and neglecting vital anabolic macronutrients.

Phase II

  • Time frame: 4 weeks
  • Method: Heavy repetitions

After four weeks, move on to a strength-focused pull-up program. Over the next month, perform the following:

  • Step 1: Determine your max weight for 6 reps on pull-ups with added weight. In other words, add weight using a dip belt, weight vest, or a dumbbell or weight plate held between your feet.
  • Step 2: You will perform 25 total repetitions per training session using your maximum weight for 6 repetitions. It doesn't matter how many sets this takes and it's fine if you end up doing sets of just two or three reps.

Your 25 total reps could look like this:

Set 1: 6 repetitions
Set 2: 6 repetitions
Set 3: 5 repetitions
Set 4: 4 repetitions
Set 5: 2 repetitions
Set 6: 2 repetitions

This is just an example. Everyone will be slightly different here. Simply perform 25 total reps with your max weight for 6 reps split into as many sets as needed. Rest as long as you need between sets. This is not a race.

Increase the weight if you can easily perform more than 6 reps on the first set.

  • Step 3: For the next four weeks, perform pull-ups with additional weight in this way three times a week on non-consecutive days: e.g. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Vary between neutral grip and undergrip. The grip width can also be varied to prevent overload problems. If three times a week is too hard for your elbows, perform 2 weekly training sessions for 6 weeks.
  • Step 4: Measure your upper arm circumference again and notice how your T-shirts start to tighten even more.

8 weeks, 2.5 centimeters more upper arm circumference

For an experienced exerciser, 2.5 centimeters more upper arm circumference within a year would be phenomenal and visually shocking. Most people who do both phases of this program will see this kind of growth within eight weeks. How much have your upper arms and torso grown over the last two months?

Start now.

By Chris Shugart | 10/11/13


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