The Program That Nearly Doubled My Max Pull-ups

Most of you probably remember back a few months ago when the New York Times wrote about how women can’t do pull-ups. I didn’t get involved in all the smack talking that was going on, but obviously I knew the article was wrong.

I’ve done pull-ups and chin-ups on and off (mostly on) for the past several years. I generally follow some type of training program and set goals for myself, but since my RKC in April 2012, I have been a little, shall we say, vague with my goals.

A few months ago, my husband was helping me write a training program and asked, “What are your goals?” My response was that I wanted to get better at pull-ups. He pointed me in the direction of Pavel’s Fighter Pull-up Program [This program was designed by an unknown Russian author; I just popularized it.—PT] and I knew this was a perfect challenge for me. I set a goal to be able to do twelve pull-ups after completing the program in thirty days.

How to improve your max pull-ups
Using this program I nearly doubled my max pull-ups.

How the Fighter Pull-up Program Works

You start with an all-out set and then cut a rep in each consecutive set for a total of five sets. The next day, add a rep to the last set. Then add a rep to the set before that, etc. The system is designed to be followed for four weeks.

If you can already do between 6 and 12 reps, start the program with the first day your personal record shows up. For instance, if your max is 6 pull-ups start with Day 7; if your max is 8 start with Day 19.

I definitely overdid it by starting on Day 7 instead of Day 1. I knew toward the end of the first week that I had overestimated where I was at so, I decided to start at Day 7 again. I figured that would make it almost like I started at Day 1. (Good excuse, right?)

The 5RM Fighter Pull-up Program

  • Day 1 – 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
  • Day 2 – 5, 4, 3, 2, 2
  • Day 3 – 5, 4, 3, 3, 2
  • Day 4 – 5, 4, 4, 3, 2
  • Day 5 – 5, 5, 4, 3, 2
  • Day 6 – Off
  • Day 7 – 6, 5, 4, 3, 2
  • Day 8 – 6, 5, 4, 3, 3
  • Day 9 – 6, 5, 4, 4, 3
  • Day 10 – 6, 5, 5, 4, 3
  • Day 11 – 6, 6, 5, 4, 3
  • Day 12 – Off
  • Day 13 – 7, 6, 5, 4, 3
  • Day 14 – 7, 6, 5, 4, 4
  • Day 15 – 7, 6, 5, 5, 4
  • Day 16 – 7, 6, 6, 5, 4
  • Day 17 – 7, 7, 6, 5, 4
  • Day 18 – Off
  • Day 19 – 8, 7, 6, 5, 4
  • Day 20 – 8, 7, 6, 5, 5
  • Day 21 – 8, 7, 6, 6, 5
  • Day 22 – 8, 7, 7, 6, 5
  • Day 23 – 8, 8, 7, 6, 5
  • Day 24 – Off
  • Day 25 – 9, 8, 7, 6, 5
  • Day 26 – 9, 8, 7, 6, 6
  • Day 27 – 9, 8, 7, 7, 6
  • Day 28 – 9, 8, 8, 7, 6
  • Day 29 – 9, 9, 8, 7, 6
  • Day 30 – Off

At the end of the month you should take two or three days off and then test yourself. It is not unusual to up the reps 2.5-3 times. In other words, you are likely to end up cranking out 12-15 reps if you started with 5.

I started with a max of somewhere around 6 pull-ups. Here’s a video with my results after the program. (I took two days off and then tested.)

My Results: I Nearly Doubled My Max Pull-ups

I was surprised the program was manageable, even though I was doing pull-ups almost every day. Obviously, the program was both mentally and physically challenging, but once I started and got the big first set out of the way, it was easy to convince myself to finish since each set was less reps than I had just done. The exception was that last day in each week where you have to do two all-out sets. Ouch! I only skipped a few extra days (maybe three total) and, honestly, I felt really good for the majority of the month.

This program came close to helping me double my max number of bodyweight pull-ups. It’s amazing what a little (okay, a lot) of dedication can accomplish. Obviously, this isn’t a program for those who have a bad case of workout ADD, but remember it’s only thirty days and it sure does feel worth it when you bang out that long set of pull-ups at the end.

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Amanda Perry
SFG I
Amanda is a StrongFirst Level I Instructor and the co-owner of Skill of Strength, a 6,000 square foot gym and training facility in North Chelmsford, Massachusetts.

Amanda started Skill of Strength with her husband in 2012 and they offer personal training, kettlebell training, adult group training, and sports performance training for athletes. Amanda specializes in helping women with fat loss and training during and after pregnancy.

Amanda holds a bachelor’s degree from Loyola College in Baltimore, Maryland. She is a certified Personal Trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NCSA-CPT), Functional Movement Screen Certified (FMS), StrongFirst Kettlebell Instructor (SFG) and Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certified.

Additionally, she maintains a blog called Sistas of Strength where she writes about fitness, ,and balancing life as a working mom. She can be reached at amanda@skillofstrength.com, Skill of Strength and Sistas of Strength.

33 thoughts on “The Program That Nearly Doubled My Max Pull-ups

  • I’d like to increase my number of body weight underhand pull-ups, I am assuming I can use this same program to increase my max pull-ups for that as well?

  • Is there a way or another program you know of, that can help ladies who have to use resistance bands to assist them in pull-ups?

  • My max pull ups right now is 2…do you know of a way to modify this so that I can do the program but start from my low number of reps right now?
    Thanks

  • That is awesome. It’s always a special thing to see a woman to do pullups, much less rep them out. Very impressive. I made the most progress on my pullups with the fighter pull up program.

  • Thank you for sharing! We have a pull up bar at work and like to jump up and do some pull ups when we have some downtime. What is the recommended rest time in between the sets? Also, are there modifications? Most of us can not do a real pull up if we don’t use a resistance cord underneath us, do you have any recommendations? Thank you!

  • So exciting to see this awesome display of strength. I have had a shoulder injury and have not been able to do pull-ups, but will hold on to this routine to start as soon as I can. I have a client who is just about to do her first legitimate pull-up after only a couple of weeks of practice. She has felt so empowered by it. She told me that is not only affected her physically but mentally as well.

  • SOOOOO refreshing to see someone (especially a woman) doing a traditional, no kipping!!! pull up – not to mention 13 of them! Very Nice Work! I am a Chiropractic Physician and have personally treated 4 women in the past 12 months who have had torn labrums, rotator cuff problems, and thoracic outlet issues delevloped right around the time they started doing kipping pull ups!

  • Well done, Amanda! And thank you for letting us know about this program. I started the program yesterday after reading your blog/article. 🙂

  • Amazing work Amanda!

    Just a question: how long are the breaks you take between series? I’m gonna try this program (since i’m trying to become a firefighter high pullups numbers are a must have), and i figure it’s a 1:1 so rest periods are more less the same than working periods. I really don’t know. ¿Is it more time, like 2-3 mins rest, or less time like 10 secs?

    Thanks in advance!

    • I didn’t take any specific rest between sets. Some days I would get them all done during my workout (spread out over the hour) and other days I would do a few sets early in the day and finish up sets throughout the day! Don’t overthink that part. 🙂

      • Thanks for your answer!
        Since i’m quite lazy i tend to prefer “rigid” workouts instead of flexible ones, because with the latter i tend to take “flexibility” too much flexible and i end not doing any training XD

        I have started this morning with day 25 (i’m 11RM just now) and it went fairly well doing 3 min rest between series. We’ll see how it goes.

        See you and thanks again!

  • Hi, I have a question about how you went about the program. Did you do this program in addition to other workouts, or was your focus solely on pull ups? Thanks!

    • Hi Rose –

      I did other exercises (deadlifts, presses, conditioning), but put these in as part of my program for the month. If I was scheduled to do pullups on a rest day I just got them in throughout the day (besides the few times that I took an extra rest day).

  • What if I can’t even do 1 pull-up? Where would I start? Do the sets as negative pull -ups? I may go at this when I reach the end of my current kettlebell workout plan.

    • Hi Kim – I wouldn’t worry about doing the program yet. I would work on practicing your flexed arm hang (holding at the top of the pullup) and doing assisted pullups with the band working on your negative!! Consistency is key here so practice pullups several days a week. 🙂

  • I have done this program as well, along with a friend of mine. Rediculously simple and brutally effective. We both doubled our former max. Stick to the program, get your reps in, I took all day to do my ladders on some days, starting in the morning and ending in the evening, and you will surpass your expecations. Great program, and I’m glad to see another strong woman smashing “conventional knowledge” about women and strength training. Power to you Amanda.

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