Wide pull - backIf you want to be able to do a lot of pull ups, then do what other people do to get high numbers, practice doing them on a regular basis. The pull-up is one of the most challenging exercises for anyone to perform yet many adults cannot do a single pull up. If you want to be combat ready this is one of the exercises you should be able to perform. Why?

If you’re looking to get into physically demanding vocations such as the military, law enforcement, or fire department communities, you should think about building up your shoulder girdle by doing pull ups. Many members of the Marine Corps and Navy love doing pull ups and personally consider it to be an exercise worthy of having a high number count. Also, if you’re thinking about getting into elite units like SWAT, you will have to demonstrate that you qualify for SWAT school try-outs. Why do pull ups in SWAT? Because it’s likely you’ll have to climb ledges and scale walls while carrying heavy loads, as just part of the training process and requirements. You might even have to pull your partner up over a wall. Airborne school also means you will have to perform the bare minimum of pull-ups (I believe the correct amount is 5). When I went through the school, it was not unusual to see Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, doing a pull-up routine on their free-time.

Having good upper body strength allows you to pull yourself up with the parachute risers if they get tangled in your canopy. Another problem that can occur is your manly parts get scrunched up (yes, hilarious and painful) and you can use the risers to unseat and reposition so you are more comfortable. Ask any one who has jumped with that kind of pain and they’ll know what I mean.

Many guys like to bench press, deadlift or squat a lot of weight. Each of those exercises have their place in the fitness world. For events that require true functional fitness, knowing how to do a proper pull up is the way to go. There is a lot of information on the web about how to do pull-ups and how to increase your pull up count. I haven’t looked at all of the online plans for how-to-do pull-ups, but I’ll point it back to two individuals who I’m really impressed with; they are Navy SEALs Dave Goggins and Stewart Smith.

In 2013, Navy SEAL Dave Goggins set the World Record for the most pull-ups performed in a 24 Hour period. 4,025 pull-ups to be exact. Impressive. Mr. Goggins works very hard to perform these amazing events. Pull-ups aren’t the only things he does well. If you get a moment do a quick web search on Mr. Goggins.

The other person is Navy SEAL Stewart Smith. He is a fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. His workout programs have done a lot to teach people how to increase their pull up count. I can personally attest to this. I followed the routine he outlined in his book called, the Complete Guide to Navy Seal Fitness.

The pull up program portion of his book recommends following a pull-up program in order to accomplish doing higher numbers of pull-ups in a single set. I’m talking about doing strict form pull-ups here; no cheating. This means you go all the way up until your chin clears the pull-up bar and drop all the way down into a dead hang, with your arms locked straight-out.

Stewart Smith advocates in his book, following a 12 week program, that immerses you in many types of workouts. The workouts will make you stronger in different ways. So, you will do a PTP (Physical Training Pyramid) and it would include: Pushups, Situps (or crunches) and Pullups. You begin climbing the pyramid on the left side of the base. The number of repetitions are based on the levels of the pyramid. Some of the exercises will have either a (x2) or (x3) next to name of the exercise. A workout might look like this:

Set 1 Level 1

Pull-Up (x1)=1 rep

Push-Up (x2)=2 reps

Crunches (x3)=3 reps

Set 2 Level 2

Pull-Up (x1)=2 rep

Push-Up (x2)=4 reps

Crunches (x3)=6 reps

When you get to the Level 10 you will have performed 55 pull-ups. When you go down the pyramid, that will amount to another 55 pull-ups, for a total of 110. A decent number.

A pyramid would look something like this:

The pyramid

SU_PullupPyramidI’d always been able to do 20 dead-hang pull-ups since I was a skinny-teen. After doing the Smith program I was able to do 25-30 with ease, and I also completed multiple high reps and sets. Mr. Smith’s book covers quite a bit; swimming, rope climbing, stretching, running and more.

You can do the complete workout in the book or just focus on doing pull-ups while still following the pyramid of sets and reps. I have done both.

If you dedicate yourself to following the plan outlined in his book, it is very likely you will be able to perform 100’s of pull-ups in a day. His book lists five types of pull-ups to learn to do properly that will increase your ability to execute high reps and sets. By the time you are done with the 12 week program you should be able to do 5 types of pull-ups, 110 for each type, for a total of 550 pull ups. Everyone’s timeline will be different; based on your strength, weight, rest, recovery etc. However, actually completing these comes down to drive. Do you really want to do this? Give it a try.

Here are some pull-up variations being demonstrated. When you hold the bar, try and not get it in a death grip because this will over-exert your muscles and tire you more quickly. As you pull up, try to get a nice, smooth motion without any swinging. Strict form will build a lot of strength. Try and have your chin clear the bar without tilting your head all the way back. If you can get it to your clavicle, you’re good as gold. Let gravity do the work and drop down smoothly and straight-do not swing. Yes, you are dropping down, but don’t do it sloppily. Some control is necessary so you can re-chamber and begin again. No kipping allowed!

Now keep in mind that some advocate using different types of hand grips. A hook grip, where the thumb runs parallel with the index finger, works really well. Another grip is to wrap the thumb around the bar. A third option is to use straight thumbs. Each of these has benefits. I recommend finding one that works best for you, although my preference is to use the hook grip.




Wide pull - back

Reverse-Grip (Chin Up)

Chin up - back


Standard grip - back

Mountain Climber


Within 3.5 months of beginning the program I was able to do 550 in a single workout and I was performing 1100 a week. (550 on Monday and Fridays) Sometimes I would do over 4000 a month, and for a period of time I gave up lifting weights. Some guys do a lot more than that. Smith’s pull-up program isn’t the only program out there, although it might be the most popular next to the Armstrong.

The Armstrong Pull Up Program: http://armstrongpullupprogram.com/

The Fighter Pull Up Program: http://www.strongfirst.com/the-fighter-pullup-program-revisited/


The Recon Ron Program

Everyone’s timeline for achieving over 20 good dead hang pull ups is going to be different.

There are a few other things you can do to build up your base. Strengthening your shoulders, lats, biceps and triceps, rhomboids etc. are needed for doing pull-ups.

  1. Lat Pull-downs
  2. Biceps Curl
  3. Bent Over Rows
  4. Assisted Pull-up
  5. Negative Pull-ups

One of my old team mates hangs a 45 pound weight plate from his waist to increase the difficulty. He also does a lot of negatives. Mix it up. Rest between sets and as you get stronger you’ll finish up faster. One last thing; have a goal and a program. You can follow Smith, Goggins, Armstrong or Pavel but to get somewhere you need to know where you’re going. I’d say if you’re doing between 25-30 good dead hang pull ups, that’s a nice achievement. Good luck!

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By Michael Kurcina

Mike credits his early military training as the one thing that kept him disciplined through the many years. He currently provides his expertise as an adviser for an agency within the DoD. Michael Kurcina subscribes to the Spotter Up way of life. “I will either find a way or I will make one”.

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