For Marines, doing twenty solid pull-ups is literally good for your career. Each time your chin crosses the bar's threshold is five more points added to your physical fitness test score. That's huge for any jarhead looking to get promoted. Plus, they're just a great measure of how strong you are.
Pull-ups are a great equalizer. Yeah, you may be able to lift a ton, but if you aren't lean, all that extra weight can hold you down while trying to pull yourself up. And if you think you've got it made because you're skinny, you'll quickly remember how important it is to be strong as your body flails around below the bar like a worm on a hook.
It takes discipline to master this exercise classic. So, to help elevate you young Devil Dogs, here are a few simple steps that'll make you more capable on the bar during a PFT — and throughout life in general.
Photo by Stew Smith
Sounds like common sense, but very few people actually stretch on a regular basis. And if they do, chances are they're not doing it very well. Understand that stretching leads to increased muscle control, enhanced range of motion, and improves circulation by upping blood flow to the muscles.
This is everything a body needs to perform and recover from exercise. It'll make you feel better, both now and later.
2. Take it slow
There's no disgrace in a red face — but try to breathe a little.
How many times have you seen a Marine who said they can do sixteen pull-ups — but when they get on the bar, it's a fury of swinging and kipping that ends in a red-faced warrior collapsing to the ground without having done a single real pull-up? One day, they'll find themselves being monitored by Sgt. Strict and not have even one of those reps counted, leaving them with a less-than-mediocre score. Don't be that leatherneck.
Instead, practice doing very slow, very strict pull-ups. Count out loud or have a buddy count for you: One full second to pull your chin up and over the bar and three full seconds to lower yourself down to a completely locked-out, dead hang. Breathe and take it slow. Doing this will likely cut your repetitions by half, but don't be discourage. Stay strict and your strength will increase exponentially.
3. Now kip, baby, kip!
You've been humbled by your new number, now it's time to spread your wings and fly!
When done properly, kipping pull-ups can help you break through performance plateaus, increase overall strength, incorporate back muscles that may otherwise go unused, and increase confidence by inflating your rep count.
Just be sure to wear gloves and do them properly, hands have been known to get torn up doing this exercise. Try alternating, week over week, between doing strict pull-ups and kipping to increase your overall performance.
4. Add weight
Is this really necessary?
When you start feeling comfortable with pull-ups, try adding weight. Start with an empty vest and add on gradually. Doing strict, traditional pull-ups with extra weight will make you feel as light as a feather come kip week and increase your number dramatically.
5. Get some rack time
Sleep is an essential part of the recovery process. All that work you're putting in will be for nothing if you don't allow your body the opportunity to rest and repair from the internal, micro trauma taking place in your muscles. If you want to do twenty, then sleep eight — it's that simple.
6. Actually do them
photo by Cpl. Kirstin Merrimarahajara
Get a calendar. Make a plan. Do it.
No matter how well-crafted your routine may be, if it isn't a part of your daily routine, then nothing will change. Being fit and strong is a lifelong endeavor that requires every bit of discipline and fortitude as anything else worth attaining. There may be better techniques and smarter methods, but there is no substitute for hard work. If you want to be able to do pull-ups, you must do pull-ups consistently and correctly over a long period of time without interruption.
Get motivated and go be great.