What type of exercise program piques your interest the most?

Are you someone that is goal-driven, disciplined, and takes pride in compelling results? If so, the Armstrong pullup program is definitely for you. 

Major Charles Lewis Armstrong

Designed by Major Charles Lewis Armstrong for the sole purpose of setting the world record for the number of pull ups completed, this training program helped him to achieve 1,435 pull ups in less than five hours.

Talk about leading by example. 

The Armstrong pull up program can be used in training by those with all varieties of goals, from building serious upper body strength to meeting performance requirements for military training.

As most US military and marine corps recruits are required to perform at least 20 strict military-style pull ups, this program is used frequently by military personnel who want to increase the number of pull ups they can complete. 

Outside this performance-based utility, the Armstrong pull up program is followed by men and women who want to see fast and effective results, all while following a strict yet personalized pullup program. 

Professionally, we think this program is incredible and recommend it highly to anyone who works well with structure and discipline.

If you are consistent with the Armstrong pullup program, you can expect to see real results in as little as 6-8 weeks. 

Have some questions? Don’t worry; we are about to get into some informative detail about who the program is for, how it works, and whether or not it is worth it. 

Who Should Try the Armstrong Pullup Program?

Are you worried this program will be a bit too intense for you? Or that you are already comfortable enough with the exercise that it won’t challenge you?

Let’s see who would benefit the most from this program and whether you fit the bill. 

As previously mentioned, the Armstrong pull up program was designed with military personnel and the marine corps in mind but is not exclusively beneficial to that demographic.

However, reviews and information on this program recommend that you have a necessary threshold for pull ups to get the most out of the progression. 

How Many Pull ups Should I be Able to Do?

To answer this question, we refer to the experts. While coming up with an exact number of pull ups we should be able to do, there are many variables that can lead to exceptions.

According to fitness expert John Sifferman, however, there are some general guidelines that we can follow.

His research has shown that athletes can be classified into various groups based on the number of pull up they can do.

These classifications can be used to measure your preparedness for programs such as the Armstrong pullup program. 

John Sifferman has been a practicing personal trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA-CPT) since 2006, coaching a variety of strength training disciplines.

He is also a Circular Strength Training Instructor (CST) as well as a CST- Kettlebell specialist.

He knows his stuff, so we defer the “unofficial” pull up standards to his expertise. 

In his book The Pull Up Solution, John gives this general breakdown of classification:

Standard Pull ups for Men  Standard Pull ups for Women 
Newbie = 1st unassisted pull-up
Beginner = 2-5 repetitions
Intermediate = 6-10 repetitions
Advanced = 11-15 repetitions
Expert = 16-20 repetitions
Master = 21-25 repetitions
Wicked Sick = 26-30 repetitions
Superhuman = 30+ repetitions
Olympian = 40+ repetitions
Pull-up Immortal = 50+ repetitions
Newbie = 1st unassisted pull-up
Beginner = 2-3 repetitions
Intermediate = 4-6 repetitions
Advanced = 7-9 repetitions
Expert = 10-12 repetitions
Master = 13-16 repetitions
Wicked Sick = 17-20 repetitions
Superhuman = 21-24 repetitions
Olympian = 25-29 repetitions
Pull-up Immortal = 30+ repetitions

Generally speaking, women have less upper body muscle mass (average 40% less), making the classifications slightly skewed between the sexes. 

So, where do you need to be in order to get the most out of the Armstrong pullup program?

While there are no official “prerequisites,” those that start the program sit with a threshold of 12-15 reps can expect to see results in as little as four weeks. If you can do less than that, you can expect it to take longer to reach that 20 pull up goal. 

We recommend that anyone from late-beginner to advanced classification give the program a try.

For newbies and beginners who are struggling with proper form and technique, starting with a pullup training program or the Pre-Armstrong pull up workout is a great way to build foundational strength.

Why Master the Pullup?

Pull ups are used in many calisthenic programs and are often considered one of the most versatile and practical full upper body workout exercises.

Engaging a large number of muscles with every repetition, pull ups are a lethal way to build serious upper strength and fast. 

There is plenty of scientific proof for physiology nerds like us that demonstrates a pullup’s effectiveness on the entire upper body.

In a 2010 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, 21 male and 4 female participants were observed while completing various pull up grips.

The Electromyographic (EMG) signals were normalized to a percentage of maximum voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC) and monitored for each activated muscle set to measure muscle activation.

The average results for the three pull ups used were as follows:

  • Latissimus Dorsi: 117-130%
  • Biceps Brachii: 78-96%
  • Infraspinatus: 71-79%
  • Lower Trapezius: 45-56%
  • Pectoralis Major: 44-57%
  • Erector Spinae: 39-41%
  • External Oblique: 31-35%

As the Armstrong pullup program employs various grip types, a significant number of muscle groups are activated and developed.

Unlike programs that focus solely on one category of pullup, the Armstrong pullup program develops a larger number of stabilizer muscles. 

By slightly changing hard grip, programs such as the Armstrong pullup program can energize a wide variety of muscle groups, providing the ultimate upper body workout. 

The Armstrong Program Pullup Workout

Now that we have provided enough evidence to demonstrate the pullup’s effectiveness and importance let’s look at how the Armstrong pullup program delivers serious results with only a few exercises. 

The Armstrong pullup program is designed as a 5-day program with two days of rest.

While there are alternative training schedules posted on various fitness forums, we recommend building the foundational strength needed to tackle the pull up training in its original format.

If you’re not ready, start easy with the beginner workouts to build strength. 

Note: “Proper” pull up training is defined as the chin coming over the bar on the pull and the arms locking straight on the fall. Kicks or bends are not permitted. 

Ensure you have a pullup bar free hanging with plenty of space and that the feet do not touch the ground between reps. 

To track your progression properly, download and fill out the Armstrong pullup program tracker.

The 5-day pull up training schedule is as follows:

Daily Pushups to Warm Up

In preparation for the daily training program, athletes are recommended to complete a morning pushup routine to supplement the pullup routine.

The pushup routine consists of 3 maximum effort sets of pushups completed three to four hours before starting the daily pullup training.

Completing these sets first thing in the morning is recommended, as it gives plenty of time for recovery before the pullup training later in the day.

For those who want to maximize the results of this program, make sure to do your pushups.

However, if both exercises become too much, too fast, focus on the pullup training and add in pushups as you build strength and stamina. 

Day 1: Five Maximum Effort Sets

Complete five maximum effort sets, each with 90 seconds rest in between them. Maximum effort means that you can’t do even one more pullup and that you do the exercise “to fail.” 

If you are a beginner attempting the program and unable to perform a proper full-hang pullup, complete as many full pull ups as you can, and then a few more (3-5) negative pull ups to build strength. 

Day 2: Pyramid Sets

For the second day of the weekly schedule, we do pyramid sets. These work very simply, starting with one pullup, rest, then two, rest, etc.

The amount of rest taken is determined by the number of reps you complete (1 rep = 10 seconds). Here is an example of a pyramid set:

1 pullup – Rest 10 seconds

2 pull up – Rest 20 seconds

3 pull ups – Rest 30 seconds

4 pull ups – Rest 40 seconds

You continue this pyramid until you “miss a set,” as in you can’t complete the subsequent progression.

If you complete 4 pull ups but then can’t do a full 5 pull ups in the next set, you have missed a set. 

Once you miss a set, do one more maximum effort set, where you complete as many pull ups as you can. 

Day 3: Grip Switch Training Sets

On the third day, we complete 9 training sets, 3 of each grip variety.

Rest 60 seconds between each set.

The 9 training sets consist of:

  • 3 training sets of standard overhand grip pull ups
  • 3 training sets of close hand chin ups– palms face the body and pinky fingers touching each other. 
  • 3 training sets wide grip pull ups

It may take a few weeks to determine the number of reps in each training set, but we want to ensure we start with “low effort” sets that allow us to complete all 9 reps.

Completing all 9 sets is the third day’s goal, so be sure to set realistic expectations and see the exercise to fulfillment. 

DO NOT change the number of reps between each set of pull ups.

The exercise is supposed to get harder and harder, so find your ideal training set number (challenging but possible), and track your progression. 

Day 4: Maximum Number of Training Sets

Taking your previously determined training set number, complete a maximum number of training sets with 60 seconds rest in between each set.

Completing a maximum number means being able to finish a training set with proper technique and form completely.

When you fail to complete a set of pull ups with the determined rest in between, you have reached your maximum number of training sets. 

As you progress through the Armstrong pullup program, you will continue to increase the number of reps in a training set. Day 4 can quickly become the longest day of the week. 

As a general rule, if you can complete 9 training sets or more before reaching your max number, increase the number of repetitions in each set by one the following week. 

Day 5: Repeat the Hardest Day

Adding insult to injury, day 5 asks nothing more than repeating the most challenging day of the week.

While this may sound subjective, actively tracking your progress will quickly tell you where you need to improve the most.

Determine which of the previous 4 days provided the biggest struggle, and repeat the exercises on the fifth day. 

Day 6-7: Rest Days

It is recommended to schedule two consecutive rest days to recuperate your body and get ready for the next 5-day cycle.

It is best to avoid upper body workouts to ensure the muscles are recovering properly during these days. 

In addition to resting from upper body exercise, these are the days we need to make sure our body is getting adequate nourishment so that muscle can grow.

Hit the protein shakes and do some food prep for the next week.

Any fitness program is only as good as the nutritional support it receives. 

Make sure to fill out your program tracker every day to ensure you have a visual aid of your progress and avoid plateauing. 

Modifications to the Armstrong Pullup Program

While it can be tempting to make the program easier by implementing modifications, we encourage those undertaking this program to build foundational training before starting.

While complete beginners can do the program, a lack of functional strength at the start can be frustrating. 

For those with trouble building confidence and strength, or those who want to develop more grip strength, the program training sets are easily substituted with hang times.

Determine your hang time the same way you would determine your pullup training sets. 

It’s best for women who lack the initial upper body strength to either focus first on hang times or refer to the Armstrong pullup program specifically for women.

For those who reach their pullup goal and want to go beyond the 50 pull up plateau, there is an Armstrong Advanced program to keep you challenged.

If you’re looking for an even more formidable challenge, take on the one-arm pullup progression

Does the Armstrong Pullup Program Work?

The easy answer to this question is a resounding YES.

The Armstrong pullup program takes one of the most effective calisthenic exercises and incorporates a training program that engages a wide variety of muscle groups.

Those that follow this program with consistency and discipline will see the results they desire. 

However, just because this program can yield results does not mean it is the perfect option for everyone.

As the Armstrong pullup program benefits those most from a current intermediate to advanced level, beginners might find the program difficult and frustrating.

Likewise, advanced athletes who already have developed upper body strength necessary to achieve high reps might not be challenged to their potential. 

This program is ideal for those who already have a decent fitness level but want to master the pullup and build impressive upper body strength. 

And the best news of all? The Armstrong pullup program is free!

You can try with no risk and see if it can provide the accountability and structure needed to master the pullup. 

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