Tip – The simplest way to build pull ups

Good reps only!!

A mantra that has served me well over the years.

When training on my own I have often thought to myself, “lets perform this rep as if the whole world is watching me”. The intent changes. When the intent changes a rep becomes more than a number.

Now there are some principles of training that must be applied wither you like it or not. Two of the foremost are volume and intensity.

Volume is total load, so think sets*reps*load =total volume

Intensity in strength terms is the weight you place on the bar.

You cannot have your cake and eat it, so there is a choice to be made.

Now through the nature of some exercises their intensity will already be high due to their difficulty. Pull ups for example can offer a tremendous challenge for many people. Now there are some variables that contribute the how difficult they will become such as strength to weight ratio, training age and so on but as a  generalisation  many people struggle with high volume bodyweight pull ups without breaking the previously stated mantra of “good reps only”. One great way of managing fatigue, building volume and shouting our mantra is the use of ladders. Ladders where developed by strength coaches in the Soviet Union as a method of building strength and size. They are brutally effective. I first started using ladders when reading the work of Dan John, if you want to hear my podcast with Dan click here… https://youtu.be/rTJGvEpVG7A

So, what is a ladder?

Simply a progressive accumulation of reps in a step wise fashion.

For example, with push ups you perform 1 rep then rest, 2 reps then rest, 3 reps then rest and so on.

My golden rule with ladders is that you never miss reps or reach technical failure. The recovery is self-selective and once you reach the point at which you are starting to break form stop and drop back down to 1. I’m all for regressions and substitute movements to help build an exercise but nothing beats the real thing. A pull up is the truest form of a pull up and all the lat pull downs and banded variations will never change that. So, if you want to get stronger at pull ups do pull ups.

This is the point where I introduce another principle of training, density.

Density is a given workload for a set time. Simple

Now to put this together.

Our Mantra – Good reps only

Weapon of choice – Pull Ups

Ammunition- Ladders 1-2-3-4-5 +1 ect until you need to drop back and build again from 1.

Time in the trenches 20 mins

Intensity – Your bodyweight

Count your total reps done in 20 mins = Your volume

Improve density by doing more reps within the 20 min time frame.

There you go , a simple way to improve your pull up using the ladder system.

Now that is a simple layout.

There are more ways to skin a cat and when applying ladders to your training, you are only limited by your imagination.

Here are some of my favourites, of course in true OBF style there is always an integration element of skill, mobility, strength, and work capacity.

The Spaghetti arm juggle

You have 3 movements, juggling, pull up and dips. It would seem that juggling would be a recovery, right? I’ll let you judge that.

Juggle 3 ball 20 throws +10 (20,30,40,50,60,70, ect)

Pull Up 1 + 1 (1,2,3,4,5,6, ect)

Dip 2+2 (2,4,6,8,10,12, ect)

The goal here is to work for 20 mins and increase density over time.

The Maradona Burn

This is a lower body focus with Foot juggle, goblet squats and kettlebell swings.

Foot juggling is going to shorten your hip flexors, so the kettlebell swing will be the perfect antidote.

Foot juggle Football and try to use both legs +5 (15,20,25,30,35 ect)

Goblet squat 2 + 2 (4,6,8,10, ect)

Two handed KB Swing 5+5 (10,15,20,25 ect)

Again, the goal here is to work for 20 mins and increase density over time.

Now there are loads of ways to apply ladders depending on the outcome you are aiming for. The variation I gave you is just a simple way to manage fatigue, build quality reps and adhere to progressive overload by improve density. I often use ladders with skill development so feel free to experiment. For example, foot juggling isn’t my strongest point so I would apply a +1 ladder to build reps. 1-foot touch – stop, 2-foot touches – stop and keep building up one touch at a time. There will be times that you have the ball in position to keep going but DONT. It engineers the feeling of winning which is far more rewarding than constantly failing and reforming failure. Log your PB and set a target to beat in each session. Motivation 101 eh.

I’ll write a separate blog on using ladders for strength, endurance and manipulating sets and waves in a separate article but for now get climbing.


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