The idea of the Five-Rep Iron Maiden was planted in my head back in 2018 after completing the Iron Maiden Challenge at The Dome in Chicago. Training for something as big as Iron Maiden takes years of practice and after training for something for so long, it’s hard to be “finished.” Ben Eisenmenger completed the Beast Tamer that day, alongside me. I congratulated him and asked him, “What’s next?” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Five rep it?” My immediate reaction was, “This dude is crazy.” But after thinking about it, I decided it seemed achievable. I could already do all three movements with the 28kg. To be as prepared as possible for the Iron Maiden Challenge, I made sure I could complete all three movements with one kettlebell heavier, just to ensure my success at the event and to help calm my nerves.
Keys to Success
There are definitely a few things that played a key role in my success, and training being a huge part of it. But there were a few key concepts that were along for the ride.
First off, believe in yourself. The mind game is huge. Expect success, don’t hope for it. If you truly believe that you can achieve something, with the proper work, you can do it. It was never a matter of “if” I can complete five pullups with 24kg, it was a matter of “when.”
Secondly, surround yourself with inspiration. Find a tribe of people that believes in you, supports you, and pushes you. It can be a group you train with, your family, or maybe strangers on Instagram that do really cool, inspirational feats of strength. There are a lot of them in our StrongFirst community.
Third, do the work. Make a plan and work it. I am always training for something. If you aren’t working towards a goal, you are just working out. Here is my last year’s training:
- August–October 2019: Training for Tactical Strength Challenge.
- November 2019–January 2020: Training for first powerlifting meet.
- February–May 2020: Training for TSC. (March of 2020 was the start of the Covid-19 shutdowns but I was able to continue my training and competed in the TSC virtually in May.)
- June 2020: My inspirational tribe decided to do the “10,000 swing” challenge, since most of us were limited on equipment. I used that training month as a chance to focus on my legs strength. Each day of swings was accompanied by a strength movement of my choice. I chose pistol squats, single leg deadlifts, back squats, and hip thrusts.
In June of 2020 I took a break from my training and got married. We took a quick honeymoon and then I got back at it. This was when I decided to finally commit to the Five-Rep Iron Maiden.
It took me three months of focused training from July to September to achieve the goal. I dedicated just two days a week to specific pullup, pressing, and pistol work. The other days I continued to work big muscle groups.
- Mondays: deadlift, body saws, and snatching
- Tuesdays: pullups, pressing, and pistols
- Wednesdays: bench press, hip thrusts, and heavy swings
- Thursdays: pullups, pressing, and pistols
- Fridays: back squat, ab wheel, and snatching
The specific pullup program that I followed was a custom plan from Plan Strong™ (see below). It was not written for me, but sure could have been. The lifter in the example given had a max pullup of 32kg and was training to increase his or her max pullup weight. I tweaked some of the program a bit to fit me, since I was a much lighter lifter than this 240lb example. The first month I used the 16kg as my working weight. I did a lot of pullups with the 16kg, in hopes of doing five with the 24kg. After two months, I tested. Four pullups with the 24kg! I was super happy with that and believed that with one more month of training, I could get it. So, I jumped back in the same program and used the 18kg this time for my main working weight. Four weeks later, I tested out and pulled the 24kg for a solid five reps.
The pistol squat and the press were easier for me. The funny thing is, I don’t train either of these movements very often in my daily practice. I believe that by spending years working on those large muscle groups, training the deadlift, back squat, hip thrusts, bench press, pullups and a lot of heavy snatching, the strength was already built. It just took a few weeks of specific training to make those five reps effortless. Tuesdays I would go heavier and lower reps with the pistols. For example, eight sets of one rep on each side building up to a heavy single like 20kg, 22kg, 22kg, 24kg, 24kg, 28kg, 28kg, and finish at 32kg. Thursdays I would work higher reps and go lighter (less than 50% of my rep max) or bodyweight. I made this day more fun, trying to get as many alternating pistols as possible in three minutes. The pressing looked similar, Tuesdays I would do some banded presses and seated double kettlebell presses with lighter weights, and Thursdays I would go heavier, something like five sets of one push press into one strict press.
On September 24, 2020, just 3 days before my 40th birthday, I arrived at THE GYM WB at 5am, my usual workout time. Today was the day! I felt rested and confident (two keys to success). I started with the pullups (since that was the hard one). I warmed up as usual, a few bodyweight pullups to start. Then I slowly added more weight, just pulling for 1-2 reps at each kettlebell. After a single with the 20kg, it was time. I cinched up the belt with the 24kg tucked in tight, chalked up, and went for it. One. Two. Three. Four. When I pulled that fourth pullup without a struggle, I lit up inside because I knew I had one more in me. It’s such an intense, satisfying moment when you achieve something that you worked so hard for. I rested a few minutes and then quickly went on to the press. For the press and the pistol, I was positive that I had it on my stronger side but wasn’t completely certain that I could do my strong side as well. It was clear the training worked as five presses and five pistols went up quite easily on both sides.
I truly believe that having the right mindset and putting in consistent, hard work is the key. Have a program that will guide you to your goal but be open to changing the program as your body requests. Some days my hips did not want me to pistol squat, so I listened. I focused more on the press that day and allowed my hips to rest. I never felt frustrated that I messed up my plan. Lift heavy weights. Years and years of heavy deadlifts, weighted pullups, and heavy snatches, these are the movements that added muscle mass and increased overall strength.
Our motto at THE GYM WB sums up my training and way of life:
Have fun. Be strong. Live better.
Plan Strong Pullup Plan
Here is a four-week plan that added 8kg to the strict weighted pullup of a U.S. special military operator—even though the plan was designed as a preparatory period, with no intention of peaking.
- Bodyweight 240lb
- 70lb/32kg x 1RM
32kg (total weight 310lb) = 100% 1RM
24kg (total weight 293lb) = 95% 1RM
16kg (total weight 275lb) = 89% 1RM
12kg (total weight 266lb) = 86% 1RM
Bodyweight (240lb) = 77% 1RM
Here is the plan:
I was extremely impressed with how quickly I was able to achieve the strength needed to complete those five weighted pullups. All thanks to this Plan Strong program that was simple to follow and incredibly effective.
Let us design Plan Strong™ custom strength plans
for your pullups, presses, pistols, and more!
To learn more, CLICK HERE