My current strength-training goals are:

One-armed pull-ups: 4x5 One-armed chin-ups: 4x5 One-armed push-ups: 4x5 Handstand push-ups: 4x5

(also training legs through running and pistol squats and abs throuh various exercises)

As I understand it, once you can perform more than 5 reps of an exercise, you're starting to focus on more on hypertrophy rather than strength development.

My question is: I've read about "muscle adaptation" and how you should mix up your workout to prevent plateaus - am I able to continue to perform these exercises until I reach my goals or must I change the exercises in some way (change the rest time, change the number of sets etc.) to continue to develop?

  • 1
    Those are your goals, but how many pull-ups (one arm or two) can you do now? Nov 3 '13 at 17:07
  • I can't do any. I'm doing them atm with a one-finger aid from the other hand (more emphasis on the full-grip hand).
    – Dan
    Nov 3 '13 at 17:13
  • Then how many regular pull-ups can you do? Nov 3 '13 at 17:37
  • about 15/16 as a one set max
    – Dan
    Nov 5 '13 at 13:41

Muscle adaptation is nothing more than the fact that training causes your body to adapt to the training and thereby get stronger, bigger, and better at doing the activity without tiring. Switching up a workout is good in order to avoid hyperspecialization in a specific version of a movement, but there's a misconception that one should switch workout programs entirely just for the sake of somehow "confusing" one's muscles. If you're still progressing with a program there's no need to switch.

Similarly, though fewer reps are better for training strength, the "five reps" recommendation is generally applied to compound barbell movements, where one can carefully control the amount of load applied to the movement. Five isn't some magical number: it's just that strength is defined as the ability to move a load once, not move it many times, so the closer you get to one maximal rep the closer you are to training for pure strength. Five reps is merely a good middle ground between grueling high-intensity maximal efforts and higher-rep work that produces strong tendons, endurance, and other desirable qualities. Don't put a cap on your training at five reps, especially with upper-body bodyweight exercises, which generally require a different approach that allows for greater volume.

Specifically, if you can do 15 or so pull-ups in one set, don't reduce your total pull-up volume while working on one-arm chins. You still need plenty of high-rep work in order to keep your current level of ability.

  • what do you mean by "upper-body bodyweight exercises, which generally require a different approach that allows for greater volume"?
    – Dan
    Nov 5 '13 at 10:15
  • So through doing exclusively pull-ups, I'll become "hyperspecialised" in pulling from above as opposed to in front of me? Is that a valid example? And concerning pull-ups, do they still hit all muscle in the upper back?
    – Dan
    Nov 5 '13 at 10:17
  • When I talk about "hyperspecialization", I'm saying that if you're training for general fitness rather than powerlifting, it would behoove you to use squats other than just the back squat (front squat, overhead, pistols, etc). Pull-ups are a pretty damn general exercise--and I'd say they hit almost all the upper back--but switching them up with weighted pull-ups, one arm work, static holds, chin-ups, barbell/DB rows, and so on would be called for if you're looking for general pulling strength. Nov 5 '13 at 11:53
  • @Dan I think the upper body often benefits from, and can even require, higher volume (and lower intensity/weight) than the lower body. I've heard and found this to be true with both barbell pressing and pull-up work. Nov 5 '13 at 11:54

You are correct above 5-6 reps you start going away from strength training.

However for a OAP you should not focus on the repetitions. Even 5 is a lot and will get you injured most likely. Take it from somebody who has been there. Actually for the OAP I am providing you to a link of a tutorial of mine: One Arm Chin-Up Tutorial

As for the need of a variety in your workouts. Let's take a look at the exercises you are aiming for. The one armed push up and the handstand push-ups are pretty much of the same difficulty and you should achieve fairly easy if you have some previous background body weight training. Thus I doubt you will hit a plateau with them. The One Armed Chin-Up is a different story however. Especially if you are more built rather than skinny. It takes a huge amount of strength to perform even one OAC and a lot of adaptation for the body to that skill. You will hit plateaus a lot of times and will have to switch your workouts often in order to continue progressing. Sometimes the body will need time to build strength and you won't be seeing any progress for a while since it doesn't happen overnight. It's an exercise that involves several muscle groups so what I advise you to do is to change the muscle group you are training for on every other workout. There should be one direct exercise that is a variation of the One Armed Chin-Up and several assisting exercising focusing specifically on a particular muscle group that is involved in the pull-up.


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