Power Up Your Pull-Ups

Build denser, thicker lats and crush your pull-up personal record with one simple trick.


The pull-up bar remains one of the most effective yet deliberately avoided gym furnishings known to humankind, with most defaulting to the pulldown machine. And we admit, you can lift vein-popping weight with a pulldown, but chances are pretty good that your form is crap. Besides, the pulldown is mechanically easier to execute, and who wants to go easy when it comes to back training?

Mastering a pull-up doesn’t just build your lats — it also enhances overall athleticism and provides peripheral benefits by adding size and polish to your biceps, brachioradialis and rear delts. Clearly, the solution is to hop up and start doing more pull-ups — but you’re going to take it a step further and add weight.

No matter where you are on the pull-up spectrum, adding a little extra resistance will go a long way, forcing your central nervous system to recruit more muscle fibers to complete each rep. Over time, you’ll develop new neural pathways, which will manifest as increases in strength and volume.

Vested Interest

While weight belts definitely have their place in the gym, let’s be honest: If you’re hanging chains and iron plates near your no-no zone, you could be the next Instagram star on @HilariousEmergency

RoomInjuries. Plus, if you’re training at a CrossFit box, chances of them having more than one weight belt and chain — or having one at all — are slim to none.

Here, weight vests are a much better solution because they hold the extra ballast close to your body (as it would be naturally if you weighed 10 or 20 pounds more) and won’t bang about precariously down below. Because they are easier to control, they are less distracting than a belt and chain, leaving you free to focus on form and power.

Push It to the Max and Beyond

Ready to start building? First, find your “Current Max Pull-Up” category, which indicates the max number of strict pull-ups you can do — not kipping or jumping or band-assisted pull-ups — but those where you start at a dead hang and pull your bodyweight up from there. Once you find your racing lane, add enough weight to your vest (or belt) to induce failure a few reps beyond your current range, then follow your programmed workout.

Once every couple of weeks, and at least 48 to 72 hours after doing your assigned workout, test yourself by doing one to two sets of max bodyweight pull-ups. Assess your progress: If you blow it out of the park, move up. If not, stick to your lane for a few more weeks and try again. Follow this protocol for six weeks, max, breaking it out three or four times a year to push your pull-up envelope.