For those of you who haven't been following along on social media, for the past 30 days I've been performing pull-ups every day. This was a mini experiment on myself to see if purely increasing the frequency of an exercise would lead to greater strength gains.
On week 1 I started with 4 pull-ups a day, then added a rep each week until I was at 7 reps per day on week 4 - which is the equivalent of the 50 total reps I would usually do over two days.
Well, the results are in, and it seems that higher frequency pull-ups can lead to some significant strength improvements.
My 1RM pull-up improved by 33%, going from 22.5kg to 30kg. My max reps with just my bodyweight also improved (though not as much), going from 11 reps to 13 (18% increase).
Here are some of my main takeaways from this experience:
1. Every exercise is a skill
Though they don't take as long to perfect as a golf swing, pull-ups are definitely a skill. After just 1 week, I felt my body becoming much more efficient at them. By week 2, hopping up and doing a rep or 2 explosively felt effortless.
I think people really overlook this neural component of getting better at an exercise. This doesn't mean you have to train it every day, but even adding in an extra day of very light work at 40 - 50% intensity will give your body extra practice, which I believe will lead to increased strength.
2. Specificity is key - make your goals very clear
You may have noted that I got a lot better at the 1RM pull-up than the max reps test. This actually isn't all that surprising when you look at how I trained.
The 1RM test is a test of absolute strength - the ability to recruit as many motor units as possible and fire them in sync at max force. The max reps test however, is really a test of muscular endurance; your body's ability to maintain submaximal strength in the presence of fatigue.
When I was doing pull-ups every day, I very rarely performed all my reps in one set. The reason for this is because taking sets close to failure generates more fatigue, and I was wary of burning myself out early. Instead I broke the reps up into sets of 1 - 3 reps. This allowed me to practice them explosively and with good form, but I never really practiced pushing through fatigue.
The takeaway here is that if the max reps test is your main goal, then your training needs to reflect that. As a powerlifter, I'm more concerned with maximal strength so my endurance doesn't have to be amazing.
3 - Utilise light and heavy days
Around the end of the third week, I found myself starting to get a bit fatigued. I could still perform all the reps no problem, but they didn't have the zip behind them that they did in week 2.
I think that at a certain volume, the importance of varying the stress of the week comes into play a lot more. If I were to do this challenge again, I would probably have manipulated volume and intensity to minimise fatigue. This may have looked something like this:
Monday: 6 x 3 bodyweight (volume day)
Tuesday: 3 x 1 bodyweight (recovery day)
Wednesday: 4 x 2 weighted (max strength day)
Thursday: 3 x 1 bodyweight (recovery day)
Friday: 2 x 4 bodyweight (volume day)
Saturday: 4 x 2 weighted (max strength day)
Sunday: 2 x 1 bodyweight (recovery day)
(50 total reps)
Going forward I plan on experimenting with some other ideas using pull-ups as my guinea pig. If you decide to give this challenge a go, buy yourself a portable pull-up bar and feel free to hit me up with any Qs you may have.