A tactical plan to increase your pull-ups

Having hit a plateau in my pull-ups before the Navy’s Clearance Diver selection test I was desperate to try anything to improve.

And, after some research and hard work I was able to.

Below I share these resources and how you too can increase your pull-ups.


Standing on the back of a Navy warship I read these two books –  The Naked Warrior and Power to the people by Pavel Tsatsouline.

Pavel was a physical-training instructor for Spetznaz, the elite Soviet special-forces units.


What I learned from these resources – Is more better?

There is a time and place for going to muscle fatigue. As per military standard that seems to be the only and go-to option taught.


Pavel explains it simply like this –

Muscle failure is more than unnecessary – it is counterproductive! Neuroscientists have known for half a century that if you stimulate a neural pathway, say the bench-press groove, and the outcome is positive, future benching will be easier, thanks to the so-called Hebbian rule. The groove has been ‘greased’. Next time the same amount of mental effort will result in a heavier bench. This is training to success! The opposite is also true. If your body fails to perform your brain’s command, the groove will get ‘rusty’. You are pushing as hard as usual, but the muscles contract weaker than before! To paraphrase powerlifting champ Dr. Terry Todd, if you are training to failure, you are training to fail.


What does Greasing The Groove mean?

Firstly this structure requires the complete opposite to the general understanding of how to get stronger.

The basic premise in GTG is to do the same exercise frequently with every set performed, without going to muscular fatigue.


Quality vs Quantity

Quality of the movement is equally a crucial component to GTG.

Efficiency – is the (often measurable) ability to avoid wasting materials, energy, efforts, money and time in doing something or in producing a desired result.

In a more general sense, it is the ability to do things well, successfully, and without waste.


Perform Frequent Pull ups

Next is the frequency of completing GTG.

Yes it states never going to failure and avoiding muscle fatigue.

However, the body is now regulating the effect of avoiding failure and is allowing regular sets and reps from day to day.

Therefore producing a constant stimulus to the body increasing resiliency.


How I did it

Let’s say I walked past the pull up bar on the ship. I would perform a set 40% to 50% of my best effort with quality form.

This was spaced out throughout the day for at least four visits to the bar repeated throughout the week.

Basically, 4 times a day, everyday I’d do 40 to 50% of my best effort quality pull ups.

I did this for 4 weeks.


How you can increase your pull ups

Start off small.

Let’s say your max effort of pull ups is 10.

Kick it off at 3 to 5 reps (40 to 50%) with following the GTG rules.

  1. Quality over Quantity
  2. Frequency is key
  3. Avoid muscle fatigue
  4. Hold off maxing out for a decent time – patience is important.
  5. Mind muscle connection (grease the groove).


Following this system could increase your pull ups and add a go-to weapon to your inventory.

This helped me get through my flat spot of pull ups and successfully passing all requirements of my selection.

Going to muscle fatigue seems to be the only and go to option taught as per military standard.

However, as explained above, I believe that while there is a time and place for this, it can affect the tactical athlete in a negative way if used incorrectly.

So, if you are stuck for options, give this method a crack and please let us know how you go.


PHOTOFrogman Project’s Ben Mitchell coaching a ‘pull’ movement at S2S Crossfit in Bali.




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Posted by Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

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