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

by Yusef · 25 comments

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

 

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.

 

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