Being able to pull yourself over an elevated bar or on top of a high wall, as with a muscle-up or a climb-up, are two fundamental parkour skills that are both predicated on serious upper body strength. And, as we all know, pull-ups are one of the best tools for gaining real-life, functional upper body strength. To be able to get up and over something you MUST have a strong pull-up (technically, strong lats and biceps).
If you’re like me, and assuming that you can already do a pull-up, you’ve probably wondered how you can get stronger with pull-ups. More specifically, when should you start to add additional weight to your pull-ups?
Well, I just found a great explanation of when to add extra resistance from the book Practical Programming for Strength Training from Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore.
The rationale comes from a basic understanding of how repetition schemes relate to the different goals of strength, power, and endurance.
If your goal is to build muscle mass and pure strength, then you should be reaching fatigue at 1-5 reps of a given exercise. If power is your goal, then fatigue should be met over 8 to 12 reps. Endurance on the other hand is built through rep schemes worked from 15-20+ repetitions.
So… To develop monstrous pull-up ability, your first goal should be to be able to do 15 continuous pull-ups. Once you can whip out 15 pull-ups in 1 go then it’s time to look into adding weight.
How much should you add?
Look to the rep scheme goals for guidance. Pure strength and power are the two things that will help you get up and over an elevated obstacle with the greatest efficiency. Thus, my suggestion is to add enough weight that you are fatigued at a range between 5 and 10 reps. If you can still do 12+ reps with the extra weight you’re venturing into endurance territory and it won’t necessary make you faster at a single muscle-up or climb-up (but it would help you build the ability to climb a tall ladder/tree/cliff face).
Here are a few good ways to add weight to your pull-ups:
1. Fanny pack with weight
2. Dumbbell between your legs
3. Backpack with weight