Getting a Stronger Pull-up: Weighted Pull-ups Vs. Adding More Reps?

Where do you go after you can do 10 pull-ups? Do you add weight or keep on doing volume routines to increase your numbers and maybe get to 20 pull-ups? The truth is that both approaches are legit, and it comes down to personal preferences. The conditions you are in are also very important.

I personally prefer to add weight and keep the repetitions low instead of desperately trying to add more reps. This method has several advantages – you can focus on doing quality repetitions instead of pumping endless amounts of reps until you lose count. You also need much less volume to get stronger because the intensity is high. If you are only using your bodyweight to get stronger, at one point the volume will have to be increased to very high levels, which can cause overuse injuries. At the same time, adding weight also allows you to train less frequently and with less volume while still building impressive strength.

The downside of the weighted approach is that you need equipment and it’s easier to overtrain because the tonnage you are lifting is at a higher intensity. In order to avoid similar issues, you have to treat the weighted pull-up appropriately. Many people, however, still consider it an assistance lift and don’t even use training cycles to get stronger. If you are serious about your pull-ups, at one point you will be forced to use more advanced programming plans than “I will just go to the park and see what I can do while looking at the skirts moving around and chatting on my iFone.” I use simple linear cycles for my pull-up training. You can read more about this approach here. Nevertheless, you may user other form of cycling. There are different paths to the same destination.


Obviously, the weighted pull-up approach builds strength while the “adding reps” one increases your pull-up endurance. Both have carryover to each other. If you build up your pull-ups to a respectable number like 20, you will be able to lift a decent number the first time you try the weighted version. On the other hand, if you can do 3 or more pull-ups with 100 lbs / 45 kg or more added to you, your bodyweight reps will be pretty decent too. However, at the end of the day you have to decide what is more important to you – brute strength or pure endurance, and train for it. Low reps alone won’t make you an endurance king while high reps won’t build the central nervous system (CNS) needed for low rep work. There is a difference between mid distance running and sprinting.

Another, in-between approach, is to switch to harder variations instead of adding weight or reps. For example, once you can do 10-15 pull-ups, you can try the L-sit variations or wide grip. This is also a valid approach, although it has a major downside – the motion of the movement is altered and you may experience joint pain from some variations. One example are wide grip pull-ups, which cause shoulder pain for many people. I think this should be your last resort.

By the way, you can always be creative and find a way to add weight to your pull-ups – search for bottles, kids, dogs, cats and add them to you.

FAQ:

Q: Can’t I do both – weighted pull-ups and higher reps?

A: Of course, you can as long as you are able to recover.

Q: When should I add weight to my pull-ups?

A: When you can do about 10-15 reps with solid form. You find more info about this here.

Q: What is a decent number for weighted pull-ups?

A: In general, once you are over 50% BW (pull-up/chin-up with half your bodyweight added to you), you are swimming in intermediate territory. Once you reach 75% you can consider yourself elite and a stronger pull-uper than 90% of the population. I know that there are many videos on YouTube of people doing a lot more, but I promise you – 75% is elite in the big scheme of things. Most people in the gym can’t do 10 bodyweight pull-ups – let alone one with 10 kg added to them. 75% would collect many looks in the gym.

Q: Will weighted pull-ups help me build up to some crazy numbers like 50?

A: Honestly, I don’t know how you get to 50 consecutive pull-ups done with good form. I don’t think I will learn anytime soon, but in general high reps come with a special kind of pain that low reps cannot quite reproduce. The opposite is also true. Two different beasts. Choose which one you like more and fight it. Good luck.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *