Why You Should Master The Pull-Ups

Pullups are hands-down one of the best exercises for developing your back and increasing your overall fitness level.

Outside of just giving you bragging rights, pullups help develop high levels of functional strength that carries overs to nearly every basic movement pattern involved in athletics. However, pull ups are also hard as hell, especially if you’re just getting started. An many of us find ourselves stuck often  in the lower digits. Pull-ups require a good amount of body weight strength. The good news is that Strength is a skill that improves the more you repeat it.

Introducing High Frequency Training

There are many different HFT training protocols out there, but let’s look into strength and conditioning expert Pavel Tsatsouline’s method known as “Greasing the Groove”.

The purpose of low reps with Pavel’s or any other HFT style protocol is to train the skill while the muscles are fresh. One is far more likely to have perfect form on reps 1 to 3 than 6 – 9. So by using low reps with extended rest, you reduce injury risk. The magic of low reps was no magic at all. It was a strategy to increase safety in complex skill based lifts.

In order for this to work and not lead to overtraining, the key is to not train to failure.

The Protocol

Perform only half the repetition of what you are usually able for. If you can do ten reps, do only five. If you can do only four reps, perform two. You get the picture. Next we need to get the frequency in. The idea is to do this four to six times per day, daily with maybe 1-2 rest days somewhere in between. It works because by performing the movement so frequently, your nervous system develops and becomes more proficient at getting your body, nerves and muscles to work in sync to perform the movement more efficiently. Over time, the movement gradually becomes easier and more natural.

Getting In The Frequency

There are many ways to incorporate frequency training into your day. After all, this is a no sweat-no pain protocol. Pavel tells the story how he persuaded his 60-year-old father-in-law to do chins every time he went down into his basement; each day he would do between 25 and 100 chin-ups. After a few months of such training his father-in-law knocked off 20 chins, more than he had been able to do 40 years as a Marine.

My own Greasing the Groove solution was to simply put a pull-up bar in my home office and made a rule that every time I passed trough that door I had to do a single good clean pull up. Over the day I would easily rake in around 30 pull ups. After a few weeks I started to increase it to two reps. Now I doing five at each traverse.

My portable pull-up bar at home.

My portable pull-up bar at home.


Here are a few point to remember

  • Only pick one or two exercise at the time that you want to improve.
  • Bodyweight exercises work best with this technique.
  • Do 40-80% of your maximum, NEVER go to failure. This is the biggest mistake you can make with pull ups. You should end up with sloppy technique and injury risk to follow.
  • Grease the groove only when feeling fresh, if you feel weak or sore, then you have over-reached your recovery abilities.
  • This is NOT a replacement to your regular training routine.
  • This technique will work to make you strong, not big so you won’t have to worry about bulking up your frame. And if you are looking to get big the added strength will help lift harder and heaver which in turn will help you get bigger.
  • Once you’ve achieved the improvement you have been looking for, stop and resume to your regular routine. Pick another exercise if you like. You can always come back to this if you find yourself in yet another training plateau.

Finally, it’s important to remember that millions of people have successfully gained strength using a variety of different training methods. This is just another tool in your toolbox. There are no absolute bests out there. We are all individually different and respond to training stimulus with variable differences. There is no one-fits-all method. Pick what works for you, not just physically but also emotionally and what works also around your lifestyle and schedule.

Happy training!