Dedicated back trainers love to pay homage to the rowing gods every week: cable rows, barbell rows, dumbbell rows, Pendlay rows, Smith-machine rows and isometric rows. But have you ever met a devout disciple of the almighty pull-up? If you have, chances are you were in the presence of a wide-backed dynamo whose rowing game was probably still pretty strong. Turns out, rows and pull-ups can peacefully coexist.
The pull-up holds tremendous benefits for lifters of all experience levels and can help develop the muscular, tapered aesthetic you’ve always wanted. Try one of the three programs listed here to start getting your lats the love they really deserve.
If you’re just stepping up to the bar for the first time, the goal is to simply develop strength and muscle memory. That is done through volume training — more total sets — rather than intensity.
For this routine, you’ll simply perform 10 sets of pull-ups to failure with 90 to 120 seconds of rest between sets, even if this means 10 singles. Track how many reps you are able to complete each set and jot down your total for each workout. Perform this workout twice each week, even as a complement to your existing back routine, allowing three to four days of recovery between sessions. Once you can manage 50 total reps in a single session, or more than 10 reps on your first set, it’s time to graduate to a more intermediate setup.
If you’ve already developed basic pull-up proficiency — i.e., you can complete 10 reps or more for three or more sets — it’s time to take things up a notch. This pull-up routine is a close relative of the beginner program in that it is volume-centric, only here the focus will be on total reps.
When was the last time you did 100 pull-ups in a single workout? For most, the answer will be “never.” If you haven’t, this calculated lat-shocker routine will trigger a) substantial soreness and b) marked growth in your upper, outer lats. The goal each week is to simply hit the target number, using as many sets as it takes to get there. Rest as much as you feel necessary before getting back up to the bar. Each week, your target number will grow, forcing your lats to adapt and overcome.
Just add weight. Sure, you might be able to do a set of 10 with the whole stack at the lat-pulldown station, but few lifters can actually display similar alpha mastery at the pull-up bar. Performing weighted pull-ups not only sends a message to the rest of the gym that you’re serious about strength, but it will also drastically accelerate your lat growth.
For your weighted sets, you’re selecting a poundage that brings you to failure two to three reps beyond the listed target. (For example, for five-rep sets, choose a weight you can handle for seven to eight reps.) Rest a full two to three minutes between sets to ensure maximum performance on subsequent sets. On the bodyweight pull-ups that follow, push yourself to complete at least 10 reps per set. A few sets of lat pulldowns at the end of the session maximize blood flow to the area and reinforce the movement pattern while using less total resistance.