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I started working out a couple of months ago. Currently, I can do 5-6 clean normal pull-ups and 7-8 clean chin-ups. So far my training has involved going to the gym 2-3 a week.

If I wanted to increase these numbers, possibly doubling them, how should I proceed?

I have read in various sources that greasing the groove (i.e. doing only so much pull-ups that you do not get exhausted, but every day and 2-3 times a day) is particularly good for pull-ups because of their low volume. Especially if one is a beginner and can only do so and so much pull-ups. At the same time, this strategy is contrary to everything you usually read about how muscles grow.

What has worked best for you?

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The greasing the groove method of training isn't actually about muscle growth, which is why it seems contradictory to the usual advice about hypertrophy (gettin' bigger).

The greasing the groove method is more about training and practicing the movement pattern so it becomes more ingrained and your body becomes more efficient at performing it. I think it's sort of like training the CNS (central nervous system) to recruit the muscle fibres in the most efficient way possible to do accomplish the movement.

I'd recommend you try one of two approaches and see which works best for you (both have worked for me in the past):

  • Greasing the groove (so do 50% of your max reps, for you, say 4 chin-ups) fairly regularly throughout the day, making sure you're fully recovered before the next set (fully recovered just means don't do 4, wait 10 seconds, then do another 4. You can do a set every time you walk through a particular doorway, every 30 minutes or between levels / matches when playing a computer game). Or
  • The Russian Fighter Pull-up Program (also from Pavel).

Give both a try, see which one works better. When you get to a certain point though, you will need to start adding weight in order to get stronger in this way. I'd say you're almost at that limit, so when you can do, say, 12 chin-ups, add 10kg and see how many you can do, then go back to greasing the groove with that weight and 50% of your max reps.

  • Thank you! One question: For the program from Pavel, does 5 4 3 2 1 mean that I should have breaks of say 1-2 between these, or just do them throughout the day (say 5 in the morning, 4 at 11 am, etc.)? – eigenvector Jan 3 '17 at 11:46
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    No worries :) It's supposed to be a workout routine, not a grease the groove style thing, so treat it as such, i.e. you go to the gym and do the program, so yeah, rest a minute or two between sets. – Dark Hippo Jan 3 '17 at 12:13
  • Adding to this answer, I used both grease & a simple pyramid 10-9-8, so on, then go up from 1 with load, 20-30lbs. Take a short walk/rest and stretch in between. Proper form is also absolutely important. Be sure you correct any mistakes or potential bad habits. The name is somewhat a misnomer, too. You're not just pulling up which sounds very "upper/shouldery." You wrap and use most of your large/essential muscle groups to move your entire body up on compression. – người Sàigòn Jan 15 '17 at 16:24
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You can increase pull-ups in multiple ways, I can do about 3 sets of pull-ups with 40kg (88lbs) added weight now (and about 12-14 sets of 10-12 pull-ups of bodyweight).

Here are some exercises that will help your increase you pull-ups:

Pull-ups: Seems obvious, but try to incorporate them in each back workout.

Negative pull-ups: This will help you increase the strength of the muscles you use during a pull-up, aswell as you're body getting more used to the motion.

Inverted rows: This is basically an easier version of a pull-up, since you lean on your legs. The more you straighten your body, the harder it gets. (contracting your abs and legs, basically doing a sort of plank)

Assisted pull-ups: Using a resistance band, doing pull-ups will help a lot, and you can increase the intensity with different resistance bands. Using this you can increase your reps because you can make normal pull-ups a bit easier, while still having the free range of motion you have doing a pull-up.

Lat pull-downs: If you go to a gym, it probably has a machine to do lat pull-downs. You can do this at different widths, to increase the strength of your entire back.

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