If you are interested in calisthenics you have probably seen someone doing pull-ups with what looks like a bulletproof vest on. That’s not an actual bulletproof vest though. It’s a weighted vest. Yes, you read that right. Weighted vests exist. They famously feature in the movie Dragon Ball as turtle shells (around 300 kg) that Goku and Krillin had to wear and train with. That allowed them to get significantly stronger with simple exercises like jumping higher, running faster and hitting harder. It works great outside movies too. Weighted training makes you stronger. The most common exercises with weighted calisthenics are weighted pull-ups, weighted push-ups and weighted leg training. But there is no limit with what you can do with them. Let’s focus on weighted pull-ups for now though.
What are the Benefits of Weighted Pull-ups?
Weighted pull-ups have a lot of benefits in comparison with regular pull-ups. But they are harder too. As a beginner, you should be able to do at least 3 sets of 10 reps in pull-ups before starting to add extra weight.
Getting Bigger and Getting More Gains
The primary benefit of weighted pull-ups and weighted training in general is more muscle growth in terms of strength and size for your back, shoulders and biceps.
By increasing the weight you create more overload. It is like adding a plate to your regular bench press. The exercise is harder and a correct form therefore more difficult. But you definitely see results in the end. More muscle tissue tear damage leads to bigger gains if you are consistent.
You feel and see the progress mostly in your latissimus dorsi, middle and lower traps, posterior deltoid, rhomboideus major and minor, teres major and minor and biceps. You will get more width but also build up more depth in your size.
Fun fact: Pull-ups with more weight resistance will create more testosterone in your body than regular pull-ups. Increased testosterone also leads to more gains.
The secondary benefit is that you increase your rep number for regular pull-ups. Since the weighted pull-ups are harder to perform you will get used to this resistance. If you then train without the extra weight you notice that your pull-ups are suddenly much easier. This is perfect for mastering the regular pull-up and its form. If you are not struggling with getting in multiple reps, you get time to feel how you do a rep slowly. That, in turn, helps you improve your technique.
Preparing for More Advanced Techniques
In addition to more reps of a regular pull-up, more advanced techniques such as a high pull up, the archer pull-up and even the one arm pull-up will become easier to train since your pull-ups have gotten so much easier. A perfect way to prepare.
Building More Bicep
Weighted pull-ups and especially chin-ups will help you build your arms as well. Since these are compound exercises, your bicep will gain strength from this. Click here for the 3 best bicep exercises for beginners in calisthenics.
Building Quicker and More Proportional
Isolated exercises can be a great addition to your training (doing 1-2 per muscle) but you build overall strength with compound exercises. Compound exercises will also give you less training time and a more satisfied feeling since more muscles are used in one single training. The pull-up is a compound exercise. With added weight you make it very difficult for yourself and let your muscles work as a team to perform the reps. You build your entire back and biceps in balance. Building your back this way will have great impact on your body posture.
Since you are heavier with weighted pull-ups, your hands have to work harder. The muscles of your hands and forearms need to hold tighter. In time, that leads to better grip strength and endurance. Make sure to do enough stretching of these muscles after a training to reduce the risk of a tennis or golf elbow.
Less hip flexion
Some people will (automatically) kick up their legs with a pull-up and it’s not easy to resist that. If you have a dipping belt on or a dumbbell between your legs this will be more difficult to do and helps you correct yourself to a perfect form.
How to Do Weighted Pull-ups
A Weighted Pull-up Vest
A weighted vest is a sort of vest/harness you wear over your shoulders. The weight will mostly be distributed over your chest and belly and back. It is almost like a bullet proof vest. You get these in different weights, often 5 kg, 10 kg or 20 kg. Most of them have little bags of sands in them (1kg each) and which allow you to adjust the weight. If you train outside in a calisthenics park you can walk towards it or run with the 5 kg weighted vest. A big advantage is the way the weight is divided over your body and that you can still jump with it.
Get your own weighted vest right here.
Weighted Pull-up Belt and Weights
A pull-up belt (a.k.a. dip belt) with weight on it is another way to do weighted pull-ups. You put on a belt around your waist and with a carabiner and steel chain you can put weight plates on it. A big advantage is that you can add as many kilo’s as you can handle. But this comes with a downside. The weight is distributed between your legs and will pull your lower back into a hyperextended position. You can’t jump with this since the weight plates will move back and forth.
Only do this kind of exercise if you are well-trained or with a trainer that knows how your core was developed. Going to extremes with this exercise can injure your lower back and even your upper body.
Weighted Pull-ups Alternatives
There are also some alternative methods in case you don’t have a vest or belt.
- Backpack: Use a regular backpack. Use anything you want to add weight. Even books will help. But be aware that all the added weight is distributed behind your back. More than 5 kg is bad for your posture and could lead to injuries.
- Dumbbells: In the gym you can grab a dumbbell and put it between your quads or feet. Your form will be less good though so this is not suitable for every training.
How to Progress with Weighted Pull-ups?
Well, to put it easy you just have to add more weight gradually. But you need to build it up slowly. First, ask yourself can I perform 3 sets of 10 reps (with 90 seconds of rest) of regular pull-ups? If your answer is yes, be critical and ask yourself or someone else about your form. All good? then you can progress to weighted pull-ups.
Start with a weight of 2,5-5 kg. If you have a 20 kg vest, remove weight on the front and back of the vest. Do 5 sets of 5 reps (180-300 second rest) with this weight. Keep practicing this until you do 5 x 5 reps with ease.
The 5 x 5 method is perfect for building strength quickly and lets you get used to the extra weight. Rest long enough for your muscles to recover as much as possible.
Now keep the same weight, but do 3 of your maximum number reps. If you do 3 sets of 15 reps or more it’s time to add more weight. If you added 2,5 kg and it’s too easy to do 3 sets of 15 reps then start with 5 kg.
Always add weight in increments of 2,5 kg or less to get used to the new weight. Your shoulder and elbow joint and ligaments can’t handle to much weight at once, especially if your muscles are not strong enough.
After adding weight do 3 sets with a maximum number of reps to see how far you come. Then do the 5 x 5 method until you can repeat 3 sets of 15 reps. You can then add weight again.
You should do weighted pull-ups 1 to 3 times a week. Your body needs time to recover. Switching to regular pull-ups every now and then can help you improve form.
Weighted Pull-up Routines
You can create many routines with some pull-up variations. Think about australian pull-ups, chin-ups, muscle-ups (very advanced), archer pull-ups (advanced), alternated grips pull-ups, etc.
Of course, looking at weighted calisthenics you could combine the weighted pull-ups with weighted push-ups or dips. So you can do a full-body routine. Scroll down for 5 pure back routines for you to try out. These contain only weighted pull-ups or some variants of a pull-up.
Do a routine with the maximum amount of weight you can handle while still holding good form. If you are noty on that level yet do it without weight first!
30 seconds per exercise, 30 seconds rest and 3-5 rounds
- Small grip pull-ups
- Normal grip pull-ups
- Wide grip pull-ups
- Wide grip chin-ups
- Small grip chin-ups
1 minute extra rest between exercises
- Archer pull-ups 3x maximum reps
- Wide grip pull-ups 3x 8 reps
- Small grip pull-ups 3x 12 reps
- Chin-ups 3x maximum reps
- Australian wide grip pull-up 3x 20 reps
- Normal grip weighted pull-ups in pyramid form: 1 rep, 15 seconds rest, 2 reps, 15 seconds rest until failure.
- IF you fail 2 times in a row, take a 5-minute break and then do the last number of reps and go down with 10 seconds rest.
- Normal grip pull-ups 3x 5-10 reps
- Australian pull-ups hand supinated 3×5 5-10 reps
- Chin-ups 3x 5-10 reps
- Australian wide grip pull-ups 3x 5-10 reps
- Australian small grip pull-ups 3x 5-10 reps.
maximum reps, 20 sec. Rest between exercise. 5 rounds rest 5 minutes between rounds)
- Weighted muscle-ups
- Normal grip pull-ups
- Australian pull-ups