If I love deadlifts, and I do, then pull-ups are like the awkward third wheel that comes along for the ride but no one ever talks about. I’ve often joked that you could characterize my training as deadlifts and pull-ups.
But I digress. The purpose of this article is to give you an example of how doing “less” can often lead to doing “more”.
If you worked your way up from not being able to do a pull-up at all, you may have used bands or a pull-up station to de-load the movement along the way. Once you got past the point of being able to do bodyweight pull-ups, it’s unlikely that you ever gave another look at the bands.
A quick story. For several years I really enjoyed competing in the Tactical Strength Challenge. For those unfamiliar, it is a worldwide informal competition held in the spring and fall of every year. Any gym can participate and the results are posted online. The events are a 1-rep max deadlift, as many pull-ups as you can in 1 set, and a 5-minute kettlbell snatch test (24kg men, 16kg women).
For several competitions (so figure spanning at least a year and a half) I was unable to budge my pull-up score from 17. Despite my maximum strength consistently rising, and my maximum pull-up strength nearing +100 pounds I wasn’t able to budge my max-reps score.
Until I changed my training.
Instead of getting better at pulling more weight, I thought maybe I should get better at doing more reps. Specificity. How was I going to do more reps? By making it easier. I deloaded it. The next contest I did 23 reps.
Since then I have used this technique with countless clients and it always goes the same way. The first workout they always do the same number of reps as they could do without the band. Then the next workout there is a rep or two bump, and so on for the next few workouts until they need a change of direction.
If you’ve long since discarded the resistance bands or pull-up station it might be worth reconsidering. Of course, this example is about pull-ups but there are two bigger ideas to keep in mind:
- Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. You adapt to exactly what you do including how you do it. If you’re always going heavy and doing fewer reps, it’s going to impact your ability to do many reps.
- Do less. Make it easier. Heavier and harder is only one direction to make progress in, but neglecting the opposite direction will leave you stuck and frustrated.
And let me know when you double your max pull-ups.