How to add 25kg to your Bench Press in 8 weeks: Armstrong Pull-up Program

Brb adding 25kg to my bench with a few pushups

If you told me that this was possible, (despite not benching for 4 of those weeks) by doing pushups and pullups… I’d say you were living in lala land. Here’s what happened:

 

The Backstory

I had been going through a bit of a lull with upper body strength – particularly my bench press, which was all over the place. Having got a very ropey 125kg in the past, it had regressed to around 115kg, and it felt heavy. Not ideal.

A friend of mine was doing the armstrong pull-up program at the time, and suggested that I try it.

 

Me: ‘Pfft. I’m above that. I only do weighted pull-ups now.. 3 sets of pushups in the morning? That’s cute. Do you even lift?’

He berated me and wrote out the program on a scrap of paper… ‘do it, you fanny’.

Fine…

Little did I know this would be the best training decision I’ve made.

 

Results: Week 1  Week 8:

Screen Shot 2013-01-31 at 19.15.35

1
2 3


Pics or it didn’t happen:

Lats on tour: End of Armstrong Program

Lats on tour: End of Armstrong Program

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxmSjNwIn6Y

 

The Program

What you’ll need:

– A chin up bar

– Paralettes (optional)

 

Chin-up bar is a must – since you’ll be doing these every day it’s not feasible to go to the gym every day just for pull ups. If you rent a flat, you can get one of these to hook into your door frame and avoid upsetting your landlord:

 

chin_up_bar_MED

 

I did most of the pushups with the paralettes. They’re not vital, but they helped me get a deeper range of motion and made the pushups harder, as well as saving the wrists:

Screen Shot 2013-01-31 at 16.14.32

£7.99 from Play.com

The program is done Monday-Friday, with Saturday & Sunday as total rest days.

 

Monday:

AM: Pushups: 3 sets to failure

PM: Pull-ups: 5 sets to failure

 

Tuesday:

AM: Pushups: 3 sets to failure

PM: Pull-ups: Pyramid up to failure with 10 second rest per rep. + 1 additional set to failure.

e.g:

1 rep, rest 10 seconds

2 reps, rest 20 seconds

3 reps, rest 30 seconds

etc. to failure, plus one additional set of max reps.

 

Wednesday:

AM: Pushups: 3 sets to failure

PM: 3 x T wide pull ups, 3 x T chin ups, 3 x T pull-ups. 60 second rest between sets.

(T is the number of reps for the training set. Start low and add 1 rep to T each week).

 

Thursday:

AM: Pushups: 3 sets to failure

PM: Sets of T to failure. 60 second rest between sets.

 

Friday: 

AM: Pushups: 3 sets to failure

PM: Weighted pull ups RPT style, OR repeat the hardest session from this week.

 

Diet:

You’ll find your appetite will be slightly higher because of the training frequency. Embrace this in the form of more carbs, especially around your evening workouts. I ate ad libitum without obsessively tracking macros for most of the 8 weeks, settling around maintenance + 300-500kcal. Meal timing and macronutrient cycling were as per Propane Protocol. Bodyweight didn’t change much*, and I actually got a touch leaner.

*There was a 2kg gain in bodyweight during the 8 weeks, which happened over 2-3 days and was attributable to creatine and water retention.

 

Caveat:

Your lats will get very tight and accumulate a lot of scar tissue. YOU NEED TO KEEP ON TOP OF YOUR SOFT TISSUE WORK AND STRETCHING, or you’ll have a bad time. I didn’t stretch or foam roll enough, and I paid the price: lats shortened and I got some nasty tightness in the lat insertion and around the anterior deltoids.

 

FAQ: 

Will I definitely add 25kg to my bench press?

Possibly. I got particularly good gains from this because I’d never trained pushups before, thinking I was above them. As you can see, I was terrible at first, only managing 20 reps.

 

What if I can’t do pull-ups?

From Major Armstrong himself: “Ladies will find this program adapts well to the flexed-arm hang. Training sets are simply translated into hang time.”

Do I need to take every set to failure?
Not necessarily. As you can see from the table above, I didn’t take the sets to failure every time. That’s not to say you shouldn’t aim for progression. Just no need to kill yourself.

Why does this work?

There could be many reasons:

– Ability to handle more training volume by improving work capacity

– Increased appetite from the high frequency training

– Simply getting stronger from all the pushups/pullups

– Improved nutrient partitioning/mitochondrial density/GH output/neural patterning – anyone’s guess… but at the end of the day you get better at pressing and pulling by doing it all the time.

How were you training bench press during this time?
If you see my training log on the forum, I was using a reverse pyramid rep scheme before and during Armstrong. I didn’t change my bench training during the period, so we can directly attribute Armstrong program to the gains.

Would you do it again?

Not as written, but it has turned me on to the benefit of bodyweight movements, which allow you to accumulate some extra work without eating into your recovery.

 

What number should I start with for T?

I started with T=3, which worked well.

 

If I’m benching later that day, won’t the morning pushups affect my performance?

No. Even if it did, why would that matter? It’s a temporary ego hit, nothing more.

 

Did you modify your training to account for the program?

No, just transposed it on top of my regular split.

 

Can’t I just do the pushups?

No, that’s an injury waiting to happen. If you’re doing 3 sets of 90 pushups every morning, that’s a lot of medial rotation you’re creating. It’s only by doing the large amount of pull-ups that you can get away with it without disturbing your structural balance, posture and risk of injury.

 

What do you think helped your bench the most, the pushups or pull-ups?

Both will help: pushups for chest + trice strength, pull ups will improve the size and strength of your upper back, improving your stability on the bench.

 

Can I do chin ups (palms facing/supinated) rather than pull ups?

Why? Because you’re rubbish at pull ups and you’d rather do something easier? No – chin ups put strain on the wrist that can cause issues with the level of volume. The only acceptable alternative is neutral grip pull ups, but unless there’s a reason you can’t do straight pull ups, do it as written.

 

What grip width should I take?

For optimal shoulder health, stick to shoulder width or 2 inches outside of that. Do not use a wide grip.

 

Resources:

– Armstrong Log to print out and stick on your wall

– Full Armstrong pull-up guide

 

This was a great program, but requires discipline. Definitely recommended if you’re in a training plateau. If you have any questions/comments, let me know in the comments area below.

 

Comments

Comments for This Entry

  • Fred

    Sweet. Will be interesting if you gainz are maintained.

    January 31, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Yusef Author

    Fred said:
    Sweet. Will be interesting if you gainz are maintained.

    True, hopefully not smolov syndrome going on here. I think if you do this, you should probably sustain some form of bodyweight movements, even if it’s not as aggressive as the program – both for strength maintenance and just because they’re great

    January 31, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Reply to this comment

  • HuMont

    sweet write up.

    I did something similar a while ago but just for pull ups: Starting with 10, add one pull up everyday for one month, doing the first set every day to technical failure.

    Lats grew, but i developed a bit of pain in my right elbow, which is now flaring up when i squat… Just goes to reinforce what Yusef was saying: do your soft tissue work!
    In this case i would advocate stretching your wrist flexors out after the pull ups.

    January 31, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Kevin

    very interesting. I was already doing some chins / pull up at home but without any schedule. I will give it a try to add some volume without spending more time in the gym.

    January 31, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Yusef Author

    HuMont said:
    sweet write up.

    I did something similar a while ago but just for pull ups: Starting with 10, add one pull up everyday for one month, doing the first set every day to technical failure.

    Lats grew, but i developed a bit of pain in my right elbow, which is now flaring up when i squat… Just goes to reinforce what Yusef was saying: do your soft tissue work!
    In this case i would advocate stretching your wrist flexors out after the pull ups.

    Good thinking on the wrist flexors, always so satisfying to stretch them as well.

    I assume that was the chad waterbury thing you were doing?

    very interesting. I was already doing some chins / pull up at home but without any schedule. I will give it a try to add some volume without spending more time in the gym.

    Do it man! Lap up the bench gainz

    January 31, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Reply to this comment

  • 3alanii

    Hey Yusef, it’s Mo from the gym.

    Don’t mean to be negative but I’m a bit skeptical. A few queries:

    1. How is this not considered overtraining as you are literally working out your pecs and lats every day consecutively. Surely your muscles haven’t recovered from the previous sessions. Also push-ups work your lats to a small extent aswell as pull-ups working chest – so technically, you are working your chest and lats twice a day.

    2. Your reps per set are fairly high. Even much higher than for bodybuilding programs, how is it possible that you elicited such strength gains?

    3. Where you also working out at the gym during this period? – training other body parts (e.g. shoulders, triceps) or even chest or lats again on the same day?

    4. Your incline bench increased by the same amount as your flat bench whereas during the 8 weeks, you weren’t targeting your incline pecs – How is this? I can understand that it would certainly increase but it has gone up by just as much as your flat bench.

    Thanks man, hope your lats are okay.

    January 31, 2013 at 4:02 pm | Reply to this comment

    • PropaneFitness

      Hi Mo – I would certainly be skeptical too if I had read this article. Good questions.

      1 – We seem to have a higher ability to handle workload for bodyweight movements compared to if you were doing the same daily volume of say, deadlifts. You are sore for the first couple of weeks, but you adapt very quickly. Armstrong claims he added in the pushups to increase blood flow to the chest/lats and alleviate soreness rather than to create a training effect in itself. If a beginner were to do this program, they might not be able to recover, but for an athlete with a moderate amount of training history, they should have developed the recovery capacity to handle this.

      2 – I think the high reps issue is just untapped territory. If you’re used to training within a certain rep range for a long time, then you introduce a new stimulus and get stronger in the 50-100 rep range vs the 2-5 range, you’ll still bump up your top end strength.

      3 – Yep, didn’t change my training template.

      4 – I mixed it up with the pushups a little – sometimes did them with feet elevated, and sometimes flat floor instead of using parallettes. Got to note here that my definition of incline bench is only 1 pin, maximum 15-25 degree incline. Any higher than that targets anterior delts more than clavicular pectoral head

      January 31, 2013 at 6:30 pm | Reply to this comment

  • SCOTT

    Good article, few questions though…
    1. You said your diet was following the propane protocol during the period, does that mean you did the morning push ups fasted? would that not be counter productive? i am thinking about doing this but curently doing leangains, would this be a problem doing them upon waking, or would waiting till i break my fast be a better idea?

    2. what was your other back training like? did you keep rows in your workouts? or just use the weighted pullups in your routine

    3. Do you think this program would work on a cut? Or would the deficit cause problems?

    February 1, 2013 at 6:36 am | Reply to this comment

    • PropaneFitness

      Hi Scott:

      1 – I did the pushups fasted as soon as I woke up at 7am. It’s not a problem, you won’t go catabolic. I was also doing a similar setup to leangains.

      2 – I kept in some rows, probably did slightly less back assistance work during the period than I would normally, which would usually consist of light cable movements.

      3 – I wouldn’t do it on a cut, simply because it’s a lot of effort – so you want to get the best return on your investment. Strength gains would most likely not be as good either.

      4 – I used a pull up bar similar to the one pictured in the article

      February 2, 2013 at 6:23 pm | Reply to this comment

  • SCOTT

    Also what pull up bar did you use?

    February 1, 2013 at 6:38 am | Reply to this comment

  • Javier

    I’m starting the program today.

    Actually I had done the pushups in the morning, 1st set when I get out of bed, make some coffee, 2nd set, weighted myself and did the 3rd set just before taking a shower. The morning part is just a chore.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:07 am | Reply to this comment

  • Yusef Author

    ^ Awesome Javier. Yeah the pushups are the hard part for that reason – 3 sets to failure is not what you want to be doing at 7am.

    Let me know how you get on!

    February 11, 2013 at 10:53 am | Reply to this comment

  • Javier

    By 7am I’ve been driving for a good 10 minutes, hahah

    First day was actually pretty awful, had some breakfast (which I usually don’t do) with some workmates and then had some stomach issues.

    Later at the gym I did one of the worst sessions ever:
    Foam rolling
    Upper and lower body mobility (throwing some bands here and there)
    Pullups (5xF)
    Squats 4 sets pyraming down

    I just got 4 reps with a weight that I usually smoke doing 3×5, then decided to pyramid down to get some extra reps in and decided to came back home an eat all the calories in the world.

    February 11, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Stephan

    Yusef,

    besides your obvious improvement in the bench press I am much more impressed with the ridiculous increase in your pushup rep count (+125).

    I have also started the program with the end of the first week approaching –> still going pretty strong. The body is incredible at adapting to the workload we throw at it.

    As to the issue of overtraining, people’s definition of overtraining is often very blurry and vague – overtraining is much more systemic and mainly affects the central nervous system and not the muscles. I would bet most athletes (including myself) haven’t experienced REAL overtraining – it happens most often with triathletes and ironman competitors.

    February 14, 2013 at 2:16 am | Reply to this comment

    • PropaneFitness

      Hi Stephan – definitely agree, some people think they’re overtrained when they’re really just tired/underfed/sore.

      The pushups did increase a lot, but I guess because they were so low to begin with, it wasn’t hard to boost the numbers a bit!

      February 14, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Javier

    First week of the program almost done, and the feeling is great, I think I’ll take a lot of advantage of the extra upper back work.

    Split:
    Lower + Pullups (5xF)
    Upper + Pullups (Pyramid)
    Rest + Pullups (9xT)
    Lower + Pullups (Max T rep sets)
    Upper + Weighted Chins
    Off
    Off

    Today I’ll do my weighted chins as usual: 3 sets, using a RPT approach.

    For my “T” I started with T = 2, which is quite low but I was expecting to have a hard time on wednesday (9xT), but at the end it was doable. Better start low and build up to higher numbers than start to high and stall on the 3rd week.

    Yusef, I have a question regarding the order of pushups and pullups: I work 3 weeks in the morning and 2 in the evening.
    – 3 weeks -> Morning shift: pushups in the morning, training (+ pullups) in the evening.
    – 2 weeks -> Evening shift (1 of them I’m on-call): I try to train first thing in the morning so I can have as much free time as possible to study before going to work.

    I’m planning to do my pushups in the morning, but will it be beneficial to do them before dinner?

    February 15, 2013 at 3:25 am | Reply to this comment

    • PropaneFitness

      Hey Javier – T+2 is a sensible choice, it gets tough very quickly.

      I think the timing of the pushups isn’t a huge issue as long as they get done at some point. However, you don’t want them to affect your performance for the pull-ups, so you need to have adequate rest before you start the pullups.

      Looking forward to seeing how the rest of your training improves.

      February 17, 2013 at 2:23 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Javier

    Yusef, thanks for the template you emailed me. I’ll send you a copy with my numbers when I finish the program.

    Week 3 is finished, numbers are going up on monday, wednesday and thursday; tuesday not so much, I think i added only a couple of reps.

    I would like to say that you have to take care of your lats foam rolling them like crazy, you should take special care of your hands. If you get a bad callus or a blister, your training will take a hit.

    On wednesday I do the pullups at home, I have a pullup bar in my garage. The feel of this bar in your hands is pretty rough, on my third week I had to do the pullups with gardening shoes (not even trolling) due to a huge ripped callus on one finger in my left hand.

    Stay safe

    Message sponsored by NIvea

    March 3, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Javier

    Last friday I hitted a PR on weighted chinups, +30kg x 1 rep (@80kg BW). This was after hitting several weighted triples, so being fresh I think I can double it or even hit a +35kg x 1.

    Chins 2013/03/15
    + 25 x 3
    + 20 x 3
    + 15 x 3
    + 10 x 3
    + 5 x 3
    + 30 x 1 (PR)

    My pullups are improving veeeeeeery slow, but some of the staff and bros at the gym commented on how my back literally exploded. This has helped me a lot with stability and tightness on squats, deadlifts and bench.

    I ripped a shirt the other day at the pub, friends were joking about the hulk and shit, good times

    March 19, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Dave

    Hi – this programme looks quality. Going to start this this week. One quick question, I usually fast until about 2-3pm. If I am doing push ups in the morning would u reccomened that I break my fast earlier, or have some sort of protein/fat shake after the push ups? Cheers.
    Also want to commend you guys on a class website, found some really good articles and viewpoints on here.

    May 19, 2013 at 4:44 pm | Reply to this comment

    • PropaneFitness

      Thanks! We’re glad you enjoy the website. There’s no need to break the fast earlier or have a protein and fat meal if you’re just doing pushups. Let us know how you get on with the program!

      May 23, 2013 at 10:57 pm | Reply to this comment

  • mike

    Guys, did you not just prove that bodyweight exercises “could be” better than weights and machines? I have often wondered after seeing bodies of people who do gymnast and bar type workouts.

    You seem to prove that here?

    January 8, 2014 at 9:49 am | Reply to this comment

    • PropaneFitness

      Hi Mike – ‘Proof’ is a very strong word! This is nothing more than an n=1 case of how adding in a new form of exercise stimulus with a high frequency can have a large carryover to maximal strength. But there’s nothing to say that if I started doing machine pec-deck every day with the same rep range that there wouldn’t also be some good gains.

      January 8, 2014 at 5:58 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Manny

    Wow man that’s what I call progression! Congrats. I am starting the program myself but I have one question. Aren’t you supposed to do the pushups everyday even on weekends? The program says so but in your post you don’t mention it. Did you take those two days as full rest? Thanks in advance and keep the good work!

    February 21, 2014 at 8:56 am | Reply to this comment

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