20 Pull-Ups Strength Benchmark

Hi! I am the author and founder of Old School Calisthenic

April 8, 2019

I came to realize after all these years training bodyweight that one’s ability to do 20 pull-ups in a row stands for impressive upper body strength and endurance. At first sight, there is nothing unusual in doing 20 perfect pull-ups except that only a handful of people can.

The amount of work and time to achieve this strength benchmark for pull-ups is enormous, as you will find out. But there is more about this than just doing 20 flawless pull-ups.
I’ve seen that every athlete who can do it possesses a well-developed upper body. So here is the importance of increasing your muscular endurance to such a degree and how to do it.

It Is a Worthwhile Journey!

Anyone new to bodyweight fitness will tell you that it’s damn hard to do 7-10 correct pull-ups. I’ve also seen guys who can’t pull themselves for more than five times correctly, even if they look strong and lifted with consistency in the past time. Mastering pull-ups is not about the number of repetitions only. It is about the quality of each rep individually.

I recall that my first attempt at a failure set went under ten clean reps. By the time I was able to do 20, anytime and anywhere, I already looked stronger and more shredded. It took me around a full year.

It isn’t about a single set of maximum repetitions. The physical preparation to reach this endurance is a rough journey that will make you stronger than ever.

Looks matter to us even more than strength and it is a frequent question among beginners whether pull-ups are self-sufficient for growing big biceps and back muscles or not. They are, but while you may seek the certainty of it, you also have to understand that once you set on the course, then strength is the one who will make the difference in aesthetics. So, reaching those 20 pull-ups will be of higher importance and the only way to get there is by training them regularly.

You may need thousands of pull-ups to reach my benchmark. Your muscles will look very differently, too!

Instead of setting goals for growing more prominent, set one that will make you more performant (stronger, more endurable). Performance comes faster and it is easily measurable. Your body transformation happens after a long period in which you have worked your ass very hard on becoming better as an athlete.

The training log that will prepare you for this failure set is very consistent and worth investing effort and time on it if you’ll do it my way. There are more convenient methods to reach it like greasing the groove, but the point is also to get fitter and athletic and no only to boost reps.

For me, it meant doing, on average, 2-3 pull-up sessions a week, month after month. I incorporated all the basic pull-up variations with different grips and forms.

You can find a palette of at least ten variations to train every week. They will ensure that your muscles are well trained from all angles.

In terms of volume, I started from doing 30-40 pull-ups per workout towards 100-200 in a matter of 1-2 years. The volume itself is significant to increase strength and especially muscular endurance (you can read about high-volume calisthenics here).

You will test yourself with every occasion possible. Include 2-3 sessions of pull-ups every week and train only with the most fundamental variations. Through repetition, you get more performant eventually. If you find pull-ups a real struggle, then do Australians and body rows. Also, get your hands on a rubber band and use it to pull vertically:

Assisted Pull-Ups

A friend of mine couldn’t do any pull-ups at all. In a matter of time, he went from 0 to what you can see below:

Most of my gains came after I was doing a volume of over 70-80 pull-ups per workout. Do the math to see how many I gathered in a year. The result is a couple of thousands. Aesthetics is related to volume and once I put enough, my body started to reshape a lot. It is the same at every level. From not training to doing as many as possible, it will be a game-changer.

Test your maximum pull-ups every two months. Meanwhile, improve on form, execution, range of motion, and focus on volume. If you can’t do much in a workout, then split in multiple days.

Plan on doing 30 pull-ups workouts from now on. Track how well you perform at the moment, and test yourself after those 30 workouts.

Come back and reach me after those 30 workouts. I am curious about your journey. I wish you well and thanks for reading.

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