The Most Effective Pull-Up Workout for Back and Biceps

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

February 3, 2020

I want to reveal to you my most effective pull-up workout for back and biceps muscles. I’ve discovered after years of calisthenics training that certain routines lie at the foundation of growing strength and muscles. This calisthenics routine is one I always loved doing and did more frequently than any other in the past years. My biceps and back muscles grew unbelievably muscular and robust, and although I did other workouts that mattered too, I have to give most of the credit to this one.

So as of now, you are going to implement it into your weekly training plan for at least once a week, depending on whether you also do other pull-up routines based on different approaches or not.

As a general idea, pull-ups are compound exercises, and they engage all the upper-body musculature. Therefore, it’s obtuse to consider that pull-ups alone aren’t sufficient to grow your back and biceps. They attack to a high degree not only your biceps and the whole back, but also the shoulders, forearms, abs, and chest. So there is unnecessary to also add bicep curls or any other exercise on other machinery.

On the other hand, doing pull-ups isn’t going to trigger the maximum benefits if you continuously do only progressive overload, or low sets and reps, with exercises that generate tremendous tension only. You need to focus on high-volume calisthenics as your primary mechanism to effectively burn and fatigue the muscles if you want to unlock potential truly. It’s the volume that makes the difference in the end. To achieve that successfully, you need variations of moderate and easy intensity as follows:

Wide Pull-Ups

Begin the workout after warming up your body real good (I attached here a video of mine: Full Body Warm-up Before Working Out). Add four sets with a broader rep range, between 6 and 10. But I get it that you may not have my strength and endurance level.

So here is how to adjust correctly!

In case you can’t do more than 4-5 reps, then consider rolling up a rubber band. Watch out and place both your feet in the elastic band to keep a perfectly balanced alignment of your body.

Assisted calisthenics wide pull-ups

If that’s out of the possibility too, then use low reps, higher sets, and add more tempo (in this article I revealed how to train for hypertrophy using high tempo: Hypertrophy Training With Calisthenics. How To Do It?). That can increase the time under tension matching the one caused by higher rep ranges.

Pull as powerful as possible on the concentric movement if you have the strength, lock on top having your chin over the bar for 1-2 seconds, then slowly descend through the eccentric part (3-5 seconds). You can rest after your first repetition if the exercise is extremely demanding for you. But please do it for about 10 seconds and quickly attempt the second rep, and so on until you finish the set. Or don’t pause at all and see if you can do 3-4 repetitions using a similar tempo.

I attached bellow a video where I discuss the same topic, and you can see the form, how to use the rubber band, and any other technique I mention in the article:

Bring your chest forward. Fully extend your arms, but keep your shoulders locked. That’s the range of motion you have to pay attention to. You protect your ligaments and joints doing so. More so, once your muscles start to grow, it’s essential to have them built correctly. It may affect your body posture in the future – all these aspects are crucial to retaining for your additional exercises too.

When you rest, don’t extend the time longer than necessary. Your purpose is to pump and fatigue to muscles. You can’t get that burnt in the muscles unless you increase the intensity of your training, and you do it by shortening the pause between sets and by building up reps.

A break time of 60-90 seconds is more than enough to trigger hypertrophy.

The only moment when you extend recovery is when muscles are too pumped, hurt too much, and it feels like you need one more minute to complete another set.

Moving to the second, third, and fourth set should be a struggle to maintain the rep range and the same execution throughout the whole reps. I very often apply a technique named broken-set! If my target is ten reps, but I can only do 6 or 7, then I rest briefly and complete the set with the remaining.

It’s a mechanism you can implement almost every time in your routines.

Squeeze those biceps hard and focus on mind-muscle connection all the time. Focus on repping out, form, and grow a passion out of hitting muscle failure. The place where you train should be quiet and peaceful so you can concentrate on training and nothing else.

Your only thoughts should be on performance, and not on how biceps grow. Don’t measure them frequently because it takes months for them to respond in a way you can be pleased. Better concentrate on tearing apart muscle fibers. It is an essential aspect to make your muscles respond, adapt, and grow. They don’t develop unless you rip and destroy them when training. Therefore, is your current workout doing that? Because if not, you have to change it with mine here.

Rest 2-3 minutes because you just completed the first exercise and move to the second one,

The Close-Grip Chinups!

Bring your hands next to each other, try and fully extend your arms, and again, lock the shoulders.

Do not utilize rubber bands yet, if possible. Training is an art, and you need common sense to know when it’s best to assist yourself, which comes with experience. In other cases, the broken-set technique might be a better option.

Many prefer assisting themselves only at the end of their routine in the last sets. I can’t tell you exactly when it’s the perfect moment, as this depends on the individual.

Beginners can utilize regular chinups! They are more accessible and still create proper tension in the biceps.

Do four sets with a rep range between 7 and 10. Time recovery from a set to another stays the same, 60 to 90 seconds.

If you have a similar fitness level with mine, then by now you should have gathered 80 reps. You are not done yet! The third exercise on the list is,

The Regular Pull-Ups!

I don’t need to explain everything all over again, but the same underlying principles apply here as well. Do another four sets of 6-10 reps. That being said, you accumulated 120 reps so far.

Your form and execution will suffer a lot at this point. Don’t worry, it is normal. I struggle the same. If you watch an entire uncut workout of mine, then you can see my grind too as I accrue reps and sets:

At this point is totally fine to cheat a little bit on form, range, and execution. You should care about contractions, squizzing, and getting more workload done.

This is a classic, sets and reps bodybuilding workout. It’s progressive because it increases in difficulty through the nature of how you exercise, by accruing sets and reps rather than how much tension the variations generate. That’s the case of progressive overload (like in the video above), where you choose a lot of tougher variations like Towel Pull-Ups and Lever Pull-Ups. Though, the volume is what gives this feeling of an intense workout and burn. And I still utilize the same high-volume calisthenics method even after years of mastering bodyweight training.

Of course, I also do other methods, and yet, still based on the same classic, essential exercises. You can find more routines into my training programs below:

The last exercise is:

Body Rows

Horizontal Pull-Ups or Body Rows

Or you can do Australian Pull-Ups instead if your strength dropped drastically at this point. By Body Rows, I mean Horizontal Pull-Ups. I like how they especially pump the biceps and lats!

If you do Body Rows, then bring another four sets of 7-10 repetitions. Extend the reps to over 12 if you do Australian Pull-Ups. At this point, what matters is to exhaust the biceps entirely.
I often rest for 30 seconds between sets if I do Australian Pull-Ups and boost as much as 15-20 reps. Find the sweet spot between these two! A better solution would be adding them both, gradually, one after another.

Use all the techniques I referred to so you can build more reps than you would normally but also to sustain a proper form and execution. Don’t be afraid to add reps to your routine. It will not destroy your gains although many brain-washed gurus say it so! I believe it’s the other way around and if patient, you will thank me after!

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