Doing 20 Pull-Ups a day has become the popular benchmark for proving that you’ve reached a fit and strong level in your Calisthenics. Doing 20 Pull-Ups sets you apart from the rest. Only a few can do around 10 Pull-Ups while most people can’t even manage 3, or even just 1. Being able to do 20 Pull-Ups is affirmation to yourself that you’ve grown strong and endurant, and that you are a notch or two above your average joe. But doing Pull-Ups is hard, certainly 20 Pull-Ups a day is a hard challenge to meet. That’s why we’ll show you 5 ways to rise to that challenge and beat it. Soon enough, you too can do 20 Pull-Ups every day — maybe even more.
Pull-Ups or Chin-Ups? Why 20 Pull-Ups?
The difference between a Pull-Up and a Chin-Up can’t be simpler, but its implications are tremendous. Pull-Ups are performed with the palms of your hands facing AWAY from you. Chin-Ups are performed the same way but the palms facing TOWARDS you. Simple enough, but the difference in muscles you will use during the exercise is quite stark. With a Chin-Up, you are relying much more on your biceps. These large muscles make the ascent much easier. With a Pull-Up on the other hand, you are more reliant on the muscles in your shoulders and your back. It is the harder exercise of the two in general and so a better benchmark for our aims.
That isn’t to say Chin-Ups are in any way worse. They can work wonders for your biceps and are generally the exercise people learn after they’re done with their beginner biceps exercises.
You can do this challenge doing Chin-Ups too, if you wish. Alternatively, you can add Chin-Ups to your routine alongside Pull-Ups or mix them in by doing Pull-Ups until you can’t anymore and then try a few Chin-Ups afterwards.
The 5 Ways of Getting to 20 Pull-Ups a Day
Out of the many different exercises, the Pull-Up remains a superior movement for building upper body strength and size. It is also one of the most physically demanding exercises. Most people who are just starting with Calisthenics struggle to perform more than a few reps of this exercise. To get you to do 20 Pull-Ups a day, we need a somewhat specialized program. These 4 methods, if applied correctly, will greatly increase the number of pull-ups you can do. With time, you will be able to execute up to 20 pull-ups in just one set! Before you start, always remember to do your Pull-Ups with perfect form — lest all your hard work be for naught.
1. Greasing the Groove (GTG) Method: The Easy Way
With the Greasing the Groove method, you spread out your Pull-Ups over the course of the whole day. Instead of doing all your reps and sets in one, relatively short, session, you perform them at large intervals of time. This way, muscular fatigue is largely prevented along with preventing overly painful muscles the day after. Many find that they can execute this exercise for many days in a row without fail.
With a typical GTG formation, you can expect a specified exercise to be performed over the course of the day with 2-hour intervals between relatively small sets. The sets will consist of whatever number of reps you are comfortable with, including just 1 repetition.
Here is an example Greasing the Groove Day:
|1 to 4 Pull-Ups||1 to 4 Pull-Ups||1 to 4 Pull-Ups||1 to 4 Pull-Ups||1 to 4 Pull-Ups|
Instead of doing all 20 Pull-Ups in one session, they are split into 5 smaller sessions, each spaced out over the day. You can also start with a lower number of reps per set if going for, say, 4 per set is still too much. You can work your way up to 4 repetitions per set gradually or start combining sets once you can achieve 20 Pull-Ups over the whole day.
Here is an example of how Greasing The Groove Pull-Ups can be slowly combined into a single set of 20 Pull-Ups. In this case, each combination could be done after a week. This is possible since a GTG routine is typically very sustainable for the practitioner.
|4 Pull-Ups||4 Pull-Ups||4 Pull-Ups||4 Pull-Ups||4 Pull-Ups|
|6 Pull-Ups||3 Pull-Ups||2 Pull-Ups||6 Pull-Ups||3 Pull-Ups|
|8 Pull-Ups||2 Pull-Ups||–||8 Pull-Ups||2 Pull-Ups|
|10 Pull-Ups||–||–||10 Pull-Ups||–|
|12 Pull-Ups||–||–||8 Pull-Ups||–|
|14 Pull-Ups||–||–||6 Pull-Ups||–|
|16 Pull-Ups||–||–||4 Pull-Ups||–|
|18 Pull-Ups||–||–||2 Pull-Ups||–|
Advantages to the Greasing The Groove Method
- GTG can be done every day
- You will not be affected (much) by muscular fatigue
- It does not cause DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
- It helps build muscular endurance
- GTG is an easy way to get stronger
Disadvantages to the Greasing The Groove Method
- It is a slow way if you come from very far. Think months, not weeks
- It requires the (short) time to do your set spread during the day and access to a Pull-Up Bar during those times.
2. The Weighted Pull-Ups Method: The Quick Way
If you can already do a few Pull-Ups and want to progress doing 20 Pull-Ups quickly, the Weighted Pull-Up method is a better fit for you than the much slower Greasing The Groove method. This method is much more straightforward as well. You continue doing your Pull-Ups as regular, except you wear a Dip Belt or a Weighted Vest while doing your exercises. The extra weight will maximize the intensity of the exercise and you are ideally searching for that point where you can just about finish your sets and reps with that extra weight attached.
This additional overload causes an array of neurological and muscular adaptations allowing you to repeat the same movement with more ease. In turn, doing the same movement but with less resistance will be less tiring. The result is that you can do more Pull-Ups without the extra weight for every single Weighted Pull-Up you can do. It is a sort of multiplication factor.
Projecting your progress is much harder here, since we cannot predict any sort of repetition gains for normal Pull-Ups that would come from practicing Weighted Pull-Ups. Here is a very broad rule of thumb exercise based on doing 10 successful normal Pull-Ups;
|10 Pull-Ups||–||5 Weighted Pull-Ups||–||11 Pull-Ups|
|11 Pull-Ups||–||5 Weighted Pull-Ups||–||12 Pull-Ups|
|12 Pull-Ups||–||6 Weighted Pull-Ups||–||13 Pull-Ups|
|13 Pull-Ups||–||6 Weighted Pull-Ups||–||14 Pull-Ups|
|14 Pull-Ups||–||7 Weighted Pull-Ups||–||15 Pull-Ups|
|15 Pull-Ups||–||7 Weighted Pull-Ups||–||16 Pull-Ups|
|16 Pull-Ups||–||8 Weighted Pull-Ups||–||17 Pull-Ups|
|17 Pull-Ups||–||8 Weighted Pull-Ups||–||18 Pull-Ups|
|18 Pull-Ups||–||9 Weighted Pull-Ups||–||19 Pull-Ups|
|19 Pull-Ups||–||9 Weighted Pull-Ups||–||20 Pull-Ups|
In the above example, you are adding 1 Pull-Up a week. The Weighted Pull-Ups are perpetually playing catch-up at 50% the reps of your regular Pull-Ups. It will depend on your muscle mass and genetics how this multiplication factor turns out. Another big determining factor is your own willingness to suffer through the inevitable muscle pain. You could get faster results by adding 2 Pull-Ups every week and adding 1 Weighted Pull-Up every week. You could get from 10 to 20 Pull-Ups in little over a month that way.
Another factor is of course how much weight you add. We recommend not going over 10% your own bodyweight when you start with Weighted Calisthenics. By the time you reach 20 Pull-Ups on Monday and Friday, you can test to see if you can do a whole week doing 20 Pull-Ups a day without weights.
Advantages to the Weighted Pull-Ups Method
- Can be implemented into your regular routine
- Time saving during the day
- Results can be very fast and consistent
- Scalable as the stronger you get, the more weight you can add to get stronger yet again
Disadvantages to the Weighted Pull-Ups Method
- Already requires a baseline of Pull-Ups you can do (we recommend ± 10).
- Will induce much more muscle fatigue
- Will induce stronger DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
3. The Assisted Pull-Ups Method: Start High, End Low
The Assisted Pull-Ups Method starts out with doing 20 Pull-Ups a day immediately, with the aid of a Resistance Band. You use that Resistance Band you need to perform those 20 Pull-Ups. If even the heaviest band is not enough to support you, combine multiple bands until you can just about complete a set of 20 Pull-Ups. You then gradually pick Resistance Bands of a lower strength until you ‘graduate’ from them completely. Keep up this diminishing resistance for long enough and you will be able to do 20 Pull-Ups unassisted.
What’s nice about this method is that it sets you up with 1 routine that you can keep up. It builds discipline and prepares you immediately for what’s coming in the easiest way imaginable. By the time you get rid of the lightest Resistance band it will be as if you’ve always been doing 20 Pull-Ups every day.
There are many sizes of Resistance Band available. As an example, we’ll be taking a 100lbs Resistance Band (achieved practically by combining an 88lbs band with a 12lbs band). You should just start by adding Resistance Band(s) strength(s) until you can achieve 20 Pull-Ups and diminish from there;
Your tolerance to withstand muscle pain and how fast you grow in strength will determine how fast you can reduce resistance. In the above example, 10 pounds were subtracted every week starting at 100 pounds. This can take quite a while before you graduate. If you start at a lower resistance and/or diminish resistance in greater leaps, you can achieve results much faster.
You should also keep in mind that Resistance Bands offer range resistance and not set resistance. The lower-end resistance is for making the band stretch at all, while the high-end resistance is at full stretch. This method is not an exact science and relies a bit on feel.
Advantages to the Assisted Pull-Ups Method
- Instantly creates a disciplined routine
- Gradual build-up of strength and endurance
- Minimal but not quite non-existent muscle fatigue
- Minimal but not quite non-existent DOMS.
Disadvantages to the Assisted Pull-Ups Method
- Can take a long time to complete, depending on your starting resistance or diminishing leaps.
- Sometimes it’s difficult to find the right combination of Resistance Bands to make a perfect diminishing leap. This isn’t an exact science.
4. The Armstrong Pull-Up Program by Major Charles Lewis Armstrong
This is the Military Calisthenics way of training special forces to build immense upper-body strength. This method doesn’t specifically aim to get you to do 20 Pull-Ups, rather simply as many Pull-Ups as possible. That means going above and beyond those 20 Pull-Ups eventually. It also uses different Pull-Up styles to enhance the physique even further.
The Armstrong Pull-Up Program follows a 5-day routine, consecutively without rest days in between. This is followed by two resting days. We’ll take the working week as an example below. This method comes closest to a traditional Calisthenics Program of all the methods in this article. We’ll go by each day in the week below so that you can follow along yourself.
|Mon||5 set of maximum reps (to failure), regardless of number of repetitions you can achieve. As a rule of thumb, you will see the number of reps you can do in the last two sets increase before you see the reps in the first three sets increase.|
|Tue||Pyramid Pull-Ups, do the following; 1 Pull-Up, 10 seconds rest, 2 Pull-Ups, 10 seconds rest, 3 Pull-Ups, repeat this until you fail a set. After you failed your last set, take a 90 second rest and finish the day with 1 maximum rep set.|
|Wen||Normal Pull-Ups: 3 sets of your tolerable rep range. Narrow-Grip Chin-Ups: 3 sets of your tolerable rep range. Wide-Grip Pull-Ups: 3 sets of your tolerable rep range.|
|Thu*||Normal Pull-Ups: maximum SETS of your tolerable rep range, with 60 seconds rest between each set, until you fail to do a completed set.|
|Fri||Repeat whichever exercise of the preceding weekdays was HARDEST for you.|
*Your tolerable rep range in this case would be the number of Pull-Ups you can do comfortably but while still pushing yourself. This is the number you want to get to 20 Pull-Ups total at least, if not beyond. Every Thursday, if you can do more than 9 sets of your tolerable rep range, you add 1 repetition the next week. This is how you grow your maximum reps per day.
The Armstrong Pull-Up Program wasn’t designed to hit 20 Pull-Ups specifically, and neither does it test for that. It was meant simply to maximize the number of Pull-Ups you could do come test-day or Hell Week. You’ll find that once you hit 20 as your tolerable rep range for Wednesdays and Thursdays, you are capable of way more than 20 Pull-Ups a day.
Advantages to the Armstrong Pull-Up Program
- Very fast results, up to 20 Pull-Ups and more in a few weeks
- Integrates readily into a traditional Calisthenics Program
Disadvantages to the Armstrong Pull-Up Program
- Will induce much more muscle fatigue
- Will induce stronger DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
- Requires an iron discipline
5. Rep-a-Day Workout Routine: The Fastest Way
You may remember our Rep-a-Day workout from our easy Calisthenics moves article. You can apply the same workout routine to achieve 20 Pull-Ups a day too. This regimen assumes you can already do 1 Pull-Up at the minimum, but ideally you can do 2 Pull-Ups at the least. From there on, the Rep-a-Day routine follows the same layout; you exercise every day by doing 1 single set of maximum reps Pull-Ups where you add 1 repetition every day. You want to start with a number that you can easily achieve, one that is below your maximum effort number of reps.
An example layout, based on a maximum of 4 Pull-Ups, where you start easy with just 2:
Every day 1 is added to your set. If you fail that day’s set, subtract 1 for the following day and start growing from there again. If you keep failing, keep subtracting 1 rep each day until you can achieve your goal for that day. Continue this streak until you can do 20 Pull-Ups a day.
Advantages to the Rep-a-Day Routine
- The absolute fastest way to get to 20 Pull-Ups
- Very time efficient on the days themselves
Disadvantages to the Rep-a-Day Routine
- Can incur a lot of muscle fatigue
- Can incur a lot of DOMS
- The fastest way, provided you can make a decent string of 1 rep increments without having to decrease too many times due to failing a set.
Useful Tools and Equipment to do 20 Pull-Ups a Day
You’ll need the right Calisthenics Equipment to successfully achieve your 20 Pull-Ups a day. Even if you opt for one of the unassisted or unweighted methods, you’ll still need a Pull-Up Bar to do those 20 Pull-Ups. Also keep in the mind the best diameter Pull-Up Bar for your intended aims.
Here are the best options for you, including links to in-depth articles on these products where we review and test them thoroughly.
- Pull-Up Bars
- Dip Belt
- Weight Vest
- Resistance Bands
- Calisthenics Gloves (optional but recommended)
- Liquid Chalk (optional)
You can also try looking for a Calisthenics Park nearby and do your Pull-Ups there.
Calisthenics Programs that are Effective for Pull-Ups
Just working out on completing Pull-Up sets are of course not the complete picture. A wholesome, sustainable Calisthenics Program is a better solution in the long run. You can add one of our ways to do 20 Pull-Ups a day to an existing Calisthenics Program, or first reach 20 Pull-Ups a day before you start with a Calisthenics Program. In either case, a sustainable and holistic Calisthenics Program is what you need.
Since you’re here to build some real arm, shoulder and back strength, we can highly recommend the Cali Move Body Transformation course. The Cali Move program is a comprehensive, full-body workout routine that is well-suited for both beginners and (very) advanced Calisthenics practitioners. It aims a total transformation of the body, including doing Pull-Ups. There is also the Cali Move Complete Calisthenics Course, which does much of the same but at a steadier pace and is less about getting those faster results. Either course, however, will integrate well with your challenge to get up to 20 Pull-Ups a day.
Conclusions about the 20 Pull-Ups a Day Challenge
Confidence and determination will be the deciding factor whether you will achieve those 20 Pull-Ups or not. You need both in ample supply, because the average trained Calisthenics practitioner can only manage around 10. You’re aiming for twice that amount. If you do reach those 20 Pull-Ups, you can expect very impressive results. Not only is it an ambitious benchmark to reach, but it will also grow your upper body both in terms of strength and size.
We’ve given you 4 ways to reach those 20 Pull-Ups. Methods which, with confidence and determination, will achieve that 20 Pull-Ups set. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, of course, so choose a method that fits in with your schedule and can coexist with your working life and other obligations.
Never forget, always maintain perfect form and make sure you integrate your Pull-Up training into a full-body Calisthenics Program.
Frequently Asked Questions About Doing 20 Pull-Ups a Day
Here are a few (supporting) frequently asked questions about the 20 Pull-Ups challenge.
The average, untrained man, can do 0 Pull-Ups. Naturally strong men will be able to do a very low number of repetitions. Moderately trained men do 8 to 12 Pull-Ups in a single set, while moderately trained women can do 1 to 5 Pull-Ups in a set.
Depending on the method of exercise and how much muscle ache is acceptable, it can take anywhere between 6 to 12 weeks to get up to 20 Pull-Ups a day. There are various ways to achieve this, and it will depend on your starting level and how much effort you are willing to put into achieving this goal that will determine how long it will take.
Pull-Ups are a much superior upper-body workout compared to many other exercises. If you can do 20 Pull-Ups in a single set on any given day, you sit at about twice the average Calisthenics practitioner's capabilities. You can expect good growth of your upper body both in terms of strength and size.
If the skin on your hands hurts from doing Pull-Ups, there are two things you can do about this. First is to simply bite through the pain and continue. Calluses will form on your hands eventually and harden them against the friction of the bar. Second, you can wear Calisthenics Gloves during your exercise as a cushion between the bar and your skin.
If your hands a sweaty, you can either apply Liquid Chalk to stop the sweating or wear Calisthenics Gloves as a buffer.
Jari Dohmen has a B.A. in physiotherapy and has been involved with Calisthenics since 2013. Around the time Calisthenics began to proliferate in the Netherlands, he was already keenly interested in both the physiotherapeutic and general lifestyle benefits Calisthenics possesses. Jari started Calisthenics Worldwide (CWW) in 2016, after numerous internet searches for Calisthenics topics that sparked his interest yielded barely any information. Today, CWW is one of the largest and most widely recognized Calisthenics blogs in the world. Become part of the Calisthenics community by commenting on this article.