Pullups are the best overall upper body exercise to gain muscle mass in the upper back, biceps, and rear shoulders. A wide upper back is what gives a physique the much sought after V tapered look and can be quickly achieved by doing body weight exercises like pullups. If you struggle doing pullups check out these workout tips to get stronger and build your pullup strength fast.
What do I know about Pullups?
So why listen to me when it comes to pullups? I've been doing them for 25 years and found them to be superior for gaining upper body muscle and strength. When I graduated from Marine Corps bootcamp I did 55 pullups on the final physical test which was also because I didn't have an ounce of body fat adding extra weight to my frame. I can show you a thing or two about pull ups so take a look at a few simple workouts you can use to increase your strength.
Problem #1 - You can't do any pullups
If you can't do more than 1 pullup then you need to work on building your strength. It's not uncommon for men or women to not be able to do more than 1 pullup but it is easy to build from there. If you can do 1 pullup then we have a foundation we can start from.
Start off doing 10 sets of 1 rep on the pullup bar with about 60 seconds rest in between sets. Pull yourself up as quickly as you can and lower yourself down slowly with a 2 to 3 second count. This may not seem like you are doing much but you are in fact doing a strength workout and the back and arm muscles will adapt to this. You will need to do at least 10 sets of 1 and then each workout their will be a progression so log your workout. Writing down your workout is critical to success and consistent forward development.
During the 60 seconds of rest you aren't going to be resting. You are going to do a set of pushups in strict form. This is going to make sure there is a balance being built in the rotator cuffs. For every pushing exercise you do you should offset it with 1 pulling exercise. You could do the pushups in a separate workout but it is much more effective overall to use that time for a full upper body workout. So after you do your 1 pullup jump off the bar and do 5-10 pushups in strict form. Don't worry about doing more because you are going to do 10 sets total so the cumulative effect adds up quick and your chest will get a workout.
As soon as you are strong enough to do 2 pullups start your workout doing sets of 2 reps and continue the workout doing sets of 1 rep until you have completed 15 sets. The goal is to achieve 3 sets of 10 reps. This may take a couple months depending on your diet, rest, and recovery but once you are at 3 sets of 10 you are ready for more advanced workouts and your strength will have skyrocketed.
There should be noticeable improvement of muscle built in the upper back and arms. Do this workout 3 times a week until you can the 3 sets of 10. If you have been doing this workout for 6 weeks but still can't do 3 sets of 10 reps you'll need to make some modifications to the workout because the body will start to go stale and progress will get slower so move on to phase 3.
In this phase there will be a goal for total reps in the shortest amount of time. If you achieved the 3 sets of 10 goal you will now move on to a much loftier goal of doing 50 total reps. If you still didn't complete the 10 sets of 3 goal you will follow this same plan but your goal will be 40 total reps.
Do as many sets as it takes to get to 40 or 50 and rest about 2 minutes in between each set. Again you can do pushups in the rest phase keeping the supersets going. You might be able to do 8 or 9 reps for your first set but then you'll be only doing 5 or 6 reps per set. Keep adding them up until you hit 50 reps. Count to see how many sets it took you to get there and how much time.
The goal in each workout will be to decrease the total amount of sets it takes you to get to your goal of 40 or 50. After 3 weeks if you still haven't reached the target of 40 or 50 reps you will begin adding another intensifier. Instead of resting 2 minutes in between sets you will rest 90 seconds. It may take you more sets to get your workout done but that is o.k. because you are tricking the body to make it adapt and not go stale. You can setup a variety of exerise plans like this using the same foundation of boot camp workouts.
Meet the Goal!
Stick to this routine 3 days per week and the results will come. Make sure to take in some high quality protein right after your workout to assist in recovery of the muscles. I suggest whey protein because it digests very quickly and will go straight to the muscle. Then an hour later have another high quality protein meal consisting of lean proteins with some carbohydrates and healthy fats. Set some goals and be consistent and the gains will come.