It’s pretty much impossible to walk around a Marine Corps base and not see at least a dozen pull up bars.
Pull ups and chin ups are a great way to build all around upper body strength and endurance while packing some muscle onto your arms and back, which makes them perfect for anyone with a tactical occupation and for civilians who just want to get fit.
There are plenty of guys in your local globo gym who hammer lat pull downs a couple times a week, but can barely break double digits when it comes to real, full range of motion pull ups. If you can count yourself among the guilty then these two Marine Corps-inspired pull up programs are for you.
Side Note: I’ve used both programs and both are highly effective. As with anything else, consistency and effort are key.
I’ve known about the Recon Ron program for a while, but never really got around to trying it until this summer. I made it about 2/3 of the way through until I had to back off on pull ups due to an unrelated shoulder issue. I made it to week 29 and was performing 25 good pull ups for my first set – there was some kip and a bit of shortened range of motion during the final two reps or so, but the first 23 were coming out nice and clean.
The great thing about this program is that you really only need to be able to do six pull ups to start. That means if you’re the average gym rat you can jump right in at week one and get going, and if you’re a bit more advanced you can regress and start at week one – using fewer reps than you normally would – and really learn to groove the technique.
Expect this program to gradually improve your ability to do pull ups, and thanks to the high rep volume and extra elbow flexion, you’ll see your arms get a bit bigger too!
I’d suggest decreasing the number of pull up training sessions you perform as the weeks go by. Weeks one through 19 will allow you to train through the program about four times per week, but once you hit week 20 I’d suggest scaling it back to two or three depending on how you’re feeling and how the clean the reps are coming. If you can’t hit all the reps for a given workout, keep chopping away until you do, and then advance to the next week’s rep scheme.
The Armstrong program is a little bit different from Recon Ron. Instead of a simple linear progression it employs variety, overload, and regularity to turn you into a pull up machine. This is the program that I used to prepare for OCS and never had a problem hitting 20 clean pull ups on the PFT even under the miserable, exhausting conditions that Brown Field and its staff have been known to create.
Here’s how it works. Every morning, bang out 3 max sets of pushups. Maj. Armstrong – the program’s creator and namesake — would do them as soon as he woke up, starting before he even went to the head. Doing pushups will do a couple of things; it will improve stability in the shoulder and it will boost recovery in the lats, biceps, and other pull up muscles.
The pull up portion of the program differs by day.
Day 1 – 5 maximum sets of pull ups, with 90 seconds rest between each set.
Day 2 – ‘Pyramids’ – start with one rep, add a rep for each continuous set, keep going until you can’t complete the next set. Perform one more max effort set. Rest 10 seconds per rep performed on the previous set, between each set.
Day 3 – Three training sets with a normal grip (a training set is a set that you can perform repeatedly and still land within a similar rep range i.e. 3 sets of 10), three training sets with a close grip, and three training sets with a wide grip. Rest 60 seconds between sets.
Day 4 – Perform as many training sets as you can without missing a rep. Rest 60 seconds between sets.
Day 5 – Think back to your training week…which day was the most challenging? Repeat that one.