How I train for the Guinness World Record in Pull-Ups

World Record Break!

Last September (2017), I reclaimed the Guinness World Record for “Most Pull-Ups in One Minute,” with 55. These are “strict form pull-ups” meaning that the body must remain straight (no use of the legs to generate momentum).

Training for this record has been intense and exhilarating.  As the competition is getting tougher and tougher, staying atop the pull-ups word is a never-ending process. Since 2015, the record has been set at 50, then 51 (me), then 53, then 54, then 55 (me again).

Right now, I have my eyes set on breaking the “60 barrier” — 60 pull-ups in 60 seconds. It’s kind of like the 4:00 minute mile – before Roger Bannister broke it, that is!  As of now, no one on earth has been officially recorded doing 60 clean pull-ups in 60 seconds.

The intense competition forces me to keep working hard, being smart, and developing creative training techniques. Here are three key principles that have led to my success and that will get you big gains on your own pull-ups.

#1:  Do high-volume workouts and get plenty of rest between sets

To improve at pull-ups, you need to do a lot of reps. Even of you’re starting from a high level, this may mean doing some assisted pull-ups for high-volume sets.  You also need to space out your sets to achieve a gradual fatigue.

In my own workouts, I do 150-180 reps per workout, spaced over 60-90 minutes. That’s elite-level training. But almost everyone could benefit from more reps.  3 sets of 10 with a minute or two of rest just won’t cut it for major improvement.

Let me take you through a pull-ups workout, based on my own training, that can be tailored to any level by adjusting the weight added or assistance added.  For a detailed weekly training program, get my free Full-Body Workout Plan.

Warm-up: 5 minutes light cardio. 6-8 reps x 4 sets on the lat pull-down machine at a very easy weight.  Rest 60-90 seconds between warm-up sets, lightly stretching the shoulders, chest, and back.

Heavy pull-ups: 5 reps x 5 sets, 2-min rest between sets.

  • The last rep of the 5th set should be tough – almost to failure, but not quite.
  • Achieving the proper level of difficulty will require adding weight to a weight belt for advanced lifters. For beginners, do regular or assisted pull-ups so that the 5th set is tough. To do assisted pull-ups, hang a resistance band from the bar and put one knee through it for extra support as you pull.  As you improve over the weeks, use a band with increasingly less resistance.

Active rest:  5-7 minutes. Stay upright, shake out your arms, jog in place, get ready for the next phase.

Medium-weight pull-ups with chest-to-bar component: 5 reps pulling all the way to the chest (not just chin-over), followed immediately by 5 reps chin-over.  4 sets.  2-min rest between sets.

  • This is tough. Even advanced lifters may have to do pull-ups with some assistance

Active rest:  5-7 minutes.

Light-weight pull-ups: 20 reps, 2 sets, 3-min rest between sets.

  • For most, these will have to be assisted pull-ups. Even for folks who can do 20+ reps fresh, doing the 20 reps x 2 at this stage will be tough!

#2: Get plenty of rest between workouts

Given the intensity of training necessary for big gains in pull-ups, you need to rest for at least two full days before doing pull-ups again.  I train pull-ups only twice a week – Monday and Friday.  The other days I cross-train.  Here’s my typical training week:

Monday: Pull-Ups

Tuesday: Running and bodyweight legs

Wednesday: Shoulder press, pushups, dips

Thursday: Running and bodyweight legs

Friday: Pull-Ups

Saturday: Running

Sunday: Rest or squats

I know of some people who train pull-ups every other day, or even every day.  But they are often stuck on a plateau.  To improve, you need to train hard and rest.

#3:  Prioritize explosive reps over slow, steady, “feel the burn” reps.

A lot of lifters emphasize slow, “feel the burn” reps, keeping their muscles under tension for as long as possible.  (The slow pull-up, front lever hold, and controlled negative are all examples.) There is nothing wrong with these exercises.  They can be of great benefit. But if you want to learn to lift heavy and rep out, you have to also train explosively

Part of explosive training is doing chest-to-bar pull-ups in which you pull as high as you can (until the bar touches your chest.) What if you can’t pull that high?  Easy: do your explosive training with band assistance (one knee through a resistance band hung from the pull-ups bar).

The point is that on each rep, you fire your bodyweight up as quick as you can.  If you have good form, there’s no such thing as too fast on the way up. Here’s an example of explosive training:

Pitching legend Sandy Koufax once said that on every pitch, he’d imagine trying to throw the ball right through the catcher’s mitt all the way to the backstop.  I try to adopt the same attitude for my reps.  On each pull-up, I imagine pulling myself through the roof.  Or, if I want to stop with just my chin over the bar, I try to get there as quickly as possible.

What many don’t realize is that strength is not simply in the muscles.  It’s in the coordination that fires the muscles quickly and at the right time.  To get strong, you have to get coordinated. And to get coordinated, you have to practice explosive reps.  This applies to any strength goal.

#4:  Run (or do some other form of cardio)

I consider running my secret weapon. It keeps me lean, aerobically fit, and mentally tough under conditions of fatigue.  I’m in a running club and run hard three days a week.  My favorite workout is 400m repeats on the track with a 200m recovery jog.  When I’m at my best, I run about 10-12 of them at under 75 seconds/lap.

Adam Sandel running to cross-train for pull-ups

Adam Sandel running to cross-train for pull-ups

I believe it is a myth that endurance running, which supposedly involves “slow-twitch muscles” harms strength, which involves “fast-twitch” muscles.  If you keep strength training while you run, and if you replenish the energy you expend with proper nutrition, then you will not lose strength.  In fact, you can keep gaining it – especially if it’s bodyweight strength.


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