In this article you’ll find a review and simple instructions (with photographs) for the The Armstrong Pull-up Program.  The program was developed by Major Charles Lewis Armstrong of the US Marine Corps based on the strength-building principles of regularity, overload, and variety.  While the program is primarily used by military personnel to obtain a perfect physical fitness test (PFT) score of 20 pull-ups in a row, it is also a great program for rock climbers or anyone wanting to build upper-back and arm strength. I’ve personally had great success using the program, and found it’s helped tremendously with rock-climbing as well.  I went from being able to do only 5 pull-ups in a row to over 20 in less than two months!  The two components (morning and afternoon/evening) of the program are simple.  The program is performed over five consecutive days, followed by two days of rest.

Morning Routine:
The goal of the first part of the program is to develop general core and upper body strength by performing three max sets of push-ups every morning of the 5-day routine.

Afternoon Routine:

Day 1: Perform five maximum effort sets of pull-ups, resting 90 seconds between each set.  These sets should be performed using a shoulder-width, overhand position.

Day 2: Perform a pyramid routine using the overhand method.  Complete one pull-up, then two, then three, etc, resting 10 seconds between each set until you can’t go any higher.  After completing the set with the most repetitions you’re able to complete, perform one more maximum effort set.

Day 3: Perform a total of nine training sets*, resting 60 seconds between each set:  Perform three training sets using a normal overhand grip, three more training sets with your pinkies touching and palms faced toward you, and three more training sets using a wide overhand grip.  *The number of repetitions in each training set is determined by whether or not you can successfully (but barely) complete the above exercise using a particular number of repetitions per set.  If your current pull-up max is 12 repetitions, you will probably only be able to complete the above exercise using training sets with 1-3 repetitions each.  Make sure to use the same training set through each exercise.  If the particular exercise is too easy, increase the number of repetitions per training set the following week.

Day 4: Do as many training sets as possible, resting 60 seconds between each set.  Make sure  you use the same training set throughout the exercise.  If you can easily do more than 9 training sets, then your training sets are too easy and you should increase the number of repetitions per training set the following week.

Day 5: Repeat the most difficult routine from the previous four days.

Notes:  At first the number of repetitions you’re able to perform during a maximum effort set may decrease – this is a normal part of the muscle tear down process.  Don’t give up! As with any strength building program, eat plenty of protein every day, drink lots of water, get plenty of rest and you will improve!  This program worked for me, and I believe it can work for you too.  If you don’t have a convenient pull-up bar, you may want to invest in an Iron-Gym pull-up bar.   I use it at my apartment because I don’t have to drill any holes and can take it down whenever it’s not in use.  Good luck and have fun!

Originally posted 2011-08-09 01:48:00.


3 Responses

  1. Pull ups are great for back but only in the pronated (palms turned down) position.(try for a wide grip to be most effective for the back and a narrow grip for your brachialis and your posterior deltoid. If you want a better biceps brachii session try using a supinated grip (palms turned up) to help isolate your your biceps longus and shortus try alternating your grip position from wide to narrow but since you cannot totally isolate the biceps muscle because they come into a single tendon anyways it’s not a must to try to isolate them but it does help create more muscle confusion which can be more effective method of training.
    (the pronated grip is also effective for your brachio radialis longus)

  2. @Jerad: Thanks for the great comments friend! Haha, I’m still keeping up on my two-handed pull-ups, but I throw in some one handed ones as well. The focus of this blog was to provide the basics of the Armstrong pull-up program, but I like the challenge! It sounds like you are rocking the pull-ups, nice work!

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