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  • Writer's pictureGalina Parfenov

Help! I'm Stuck at 3 Pull-Ups

I recently had a former client reach out to me with a question regarding pull-up plateaus. She wrote:

“I am stuck at sets of 3. (I can do five, but then get too fatigued to repeat sets). I take a long rest, then another set of 3...I’m working at about 20-25 a day (3x a week). I do finger training on other days.”

Plateaus, or stalls in progression, are at the heart of training. After all, if we could progress at

the same linear rate for our entire careers as athletes, there would be no need for coaches and no need for more complex programming. Take squats, for example. Just add 5 pounds each workout and keep getting stronger. Unfortunately at some point the stimulus (weight added to the squat) will not produce sufficient adaptation (“gainz”) for the next workout. In other words, you will be unable to do the prescribed number of reps at the prescribed weight. This is where having an experienced coach is helpful. Or, in the very least, knowing your options (and that there are options!) and being logical and intentional with your programming decisions moving forward.

Here are some of these options. Pick one of these and stick to it for 4-8 weeks. Alternatively, you can combine methods (for example, if you workout Mon/Wed/Fri, you can add weight each Mon + Fri and add a set on Wed). You're aiming for a minimum of 15 total reps per workout. Rest 3 min between sets unless noted otherwise.

Added weight - stick to 5x3 (5 sets of 3 reps) and increase weight by 2.5-5 lbs each week

Workout 1: 5x3 (0 lbs)

Workout 2: 5x3 (2.5 lbs)

Workout 3: 5x3 (5 lbs)

Additional rep - add a rep each workout/week

Workout 1: 5x3

Workout 2: 5x4

Workout 3: 5x5

Additional set - stick to sets of 3 and add one set per workout/week

Workout 1: 5x3

Workout 2: 6x3

Workout 3: 7x3

AMRAP set - perform last set to fail; never do this on the first set

Workout 1: 4x3,1x4

Workout 2: 4x3,1x5

Workout 3: 4x3,1x6

Rest pause - if you can't do 5 reps on subsequent sets, add a 20-30 second rest after the last rep, then complete the set.

Workout 1: 1x5, 2x(4+1)

Workout 2: 2x5, 1x(4+1)

Workout 3: 3x5

Rests - stick to 5x3 and decrease rest interval each workout/week

Workout 1: 5x3 (5 min rest)

Workout 2: 5x3 (4 min rest)

Workout 3: 5x3 (3 min rest)

Tempo reps - increase the eccentric (negative) component

Workout 1: 5x3 (1 second eccentric)

Workout 2: 5x3 (2 second eccentric)

Workout 3: 5x3 (3 second eccentric)

There’s not necessarily an optimal method since each athlete responds to programming differently. But regardless of what method(s) you choose, stick with it for at least a few weeks, and try not to flip flop back-and-forth. Keep it simple and stay persistent, and you will start seeing results and break through that dreaded plateau. And make sure you are resting enough and recovering between workouts. More is not always better. There is such a thing as too much volume and too high frequency. And as always, feel free to message me or comment down below if you have specific questions!



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