Look, believe it or not, the above title actually is true…no seriously, like really. I’m not playing with you here.

Because this is a military training program, and it’s are also the program that the United States Marine Corps OFFICIALLY recommends for ALL MARINES (and everyone else for that matter) to increase their pull-up count.

And if you really think about it, it makes perfect sense, because pull-ups are a bodyweight exercise! With a bodyweight exercise you don’t need to worry about how to challenge your muscle fibers in different ways to trigger muscular hypertrophy, a.k.a. Making gains, or anything else for that matter. The only thing you need to be concerned about when it comes to bodyweight exercises is to simply increase the quantity/count of your reps. Which keeps things so simple and straightforward that it actually is possible to find a ‘best program’ for any given person.

Of course, we do have to account for things like not gaining and/or losing any significant amount of weight, but that was kind of an assumption that can be made reasonably.

So now that we’ve gotten all this background information out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.

Armstrong Pull-up Program

pull up

If there can be one pull-up routine that would be described as the quintessential pull-up program then it would have to be the Armstrong Pull-up Program developed by Major Charles Lewis Armstrong (he retired as a Lt. Colonel by the way).

This is basically the program that the Marine Corps recommends to use to improve the number of pull ups you can do. Check out this list of recommended pull up bars if you are planning to start with pull up workout at home.

And it’s certainly effective as pretty much everyone in the Marines, who ever has been in the Marines (minus those who came before Armstrong that is), and who will join the Marines will almost certainly use this (until such a time that it becomes obsolete that is).

Not to mention that it was also the program that the good Major used not once but twice to set the world record for pull-ups…his second time netted him 1,435 pull-ups in about 5 hours.

So, as you can see, it’s worth your time.

  • Day 1: 5x MAX EFFORT sets with 90 seconds of rest in between, and when I say “max effort” I mean MAX EFFORT! Really push it here guys, don’t slack off or back out in any way…go all out here.
  • Day 2: Pyramid sets today. Start with one rep and then gradually increase the number of reps per set by one and only one until you reach failure. Once you’ve reached failure perform one more additional set at MAX EFFORT (emphasis on max here), and then begin to go back down in the same manner as you came up. Decrease by a count of one rep per set until zero. Rest 10 seconds for each rep performed. So, for example, a set of 1 gets you 10 seconds of rest. A set of 10 gets you 100 seconds of rest, and so on and so forth.
  • Day 3: 3x ‘training sets’ with a ‘normal’ overhand grip (palms are facing away from your face, the back of your hands are facing towards your face) followed by 3x training sets with a ‘Chin-up’ grip (palms are facing towards your face this time, and the back of the your hands facing away from your face…this one is also commonly referred to as the one that works your biceps more) but also make sure to touch your hands together. Now do 3x more training sets with a wide grip ‘normal’ overhand stance. So, in total, you should be doing 9x sets. Now, a “training set” is basically a set with a defined and locked-in number of reps. That is to say, don’t change the number of reps in a training set…no matter what! Now in order for you to determine how many reps should be in your training sets you will need to go through this program, in its entirety, at least once. You will actually be, specifically, using this day (Day 3) as your gauge for how many reps you can accomplish. Pick a number that you believe that you can do all 9 sets with. You must be able to do this exact number of reps for all those sets. No ifs, ands, or buts! If you fail then decrease by 1 rep, and continue until failure or completion. Next week use that number that you ended with as your training set. Now if you succeed then it gets a little more complicated because the procedure to increase the number of reps in your training sets will require that you use tomorrow’s workout as well as today’s to try and gauge yourself. So for now we will move to Day 4.
  • Day 4: Perform the MAXIMUM number of training sets as you can, and (once again as before) when I say “maximum” I mean 100% MAXIMUM EFFORT HERE GUYS! Do not lie to yourself because you are in pain, that will only hurt you. Now going back to that whole ‘gauging the number of reps for the training set’ thing. Here’s where you figure out if you can increase the number of reps in your training sets. So, first, you need to have accomplished Day 3 successfully…it means that you need to have completed all 9 sets with the same number of reps as dictated by your training sets. If you have been unable to do so then skip the rest of this and continue the weekly routine as normal until you are able to complete Day 3 successfully. Now that you have completed yesterday successfully you need to do some basic math again. Long story, short if you can do another 9x sets of the same number of reps as yesterday then you can move on and increase your rep count by 1 for your training sets now. So to reiterate, basically what you’re doing here is you’re seeing if you can do yesterday’s workout all over again without failure. If you can do 9x training sets successfully on Day 3 and then you do 9x training sets successfully today again then you are ready to up the number of reps in your training sets.
  • Day 5: Simply repeat the day that you found to be the most difficult. Yes, it’s that simple. Just redo the one day of this week that you were most challenged on. Obviously, this requires that you really be honest with yourself here and not shirk out of fear of pain. There is nothing else to it. So get to it!

OK are we good?

We all clear?

Everything makes sense?

OK good, awesome, wonderful…pull!

Oh and lastly…here is the link to the actual program itself if you weren’t sure.

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Matt Williamson
My name is Matt - fitness freak by choice. I intensively study and write about nutrition and health related topics. After reading and researching intensively on human health, I aspire to proliferate the wisdom that I acquired in a simple way.