Last updated on September 18th, 2022 at 10:21 am
Love them or hate them, you can’t fail to recognize the importance of pull ups.
So, when exactly should you do pull ups in your workout?
Is there a preferred time to perform pull ups if you want to increase muscle and strength?
Allow me to explain what you need to know, plus I’ve also included a great pull up workout tip from Arnold Schwarzenegger.
When Should I Do Pull Ups in My Workout?
If pull ups are an exercise that you wish to improve then you should always do them first in your workout. This way your muscles won’t be fatigued when it comes to performing them. Arnold Schwarzenegger always started each back workout by picking a number of pull ups and then committed to completing them. Additionally, doing pull ups at the beginning of every arm workout can produce some fantastic gains.
1. Do the Exercise You Want to Improve Most First
The best principle to stick by when it comes to exercise order is to perform the movement you wish to improve most first in your workout.
So, if it’s important to you to improve your pull ups then start off with them.
This will ensure that you get the best out of your pull ups, as it’s likely that you’ll be fatigued later in your workout.
With that being said, when you should perform pull ups in your workout will also depend on your specific training goals.
As an example, if you’re looking to increase strength in your upper back then performing horizontal pulling movements should be a priority.
By this I mean exercises such as bent over rows, one-arm dumbbell rows, and just about any rowing variation you can think of.
These horizontal rowing movements will focus more on increasing back thickness, as well as strength.
In fact, many experienced gym-goers who specifically train for strength often look at pull ups as an accessory exercise.
In other words, get your main back exercises done first, and then add a few sets of pull ups at the end.
There is obviously also an argument for training pull ups for strength by simply adding weight.
However, this once again comes down to what your priority is, and which exercise you wish to improve most.
Another way to look at it is that horizontal pulling (rows) work on back thickness, whereas vertical pulling (pull ups) works on back width.
Which one is more important to you?
2. I’ll Be Back (Training) – What Arnie Says About Pull Ups
Now, if there’s one person you’re going to listen to about training it’s the great Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Arnie always believed that in order to get a colossal body you had to prioritize back training.
Basically, Arnold was aware that he had to build his back up if he wanted an overall bigger and stronger body.
With that being said, pull ups are typically avoided by those who are looking to build maximum muscle mass.
In fact, pull ups are often viewed as an exercise for lean, fit, and athletic people, and not for those who are bulky and looking to build up even more.
Arnie simply didn’t subscribe to this theory and he had a huge focus on pull ups.
Plus, he also ensured that he varied his grip and the types of pull ups he performed.
Arnold typically performed conventional pull ups, wide grip, narrow grip, straight bar, V-bar, behind the neck, etc.
However, Arnie had one simple trick to ensure that he regularly got his pull ups in, and this is what he credits for his massive back.
Basically, at the beginning of every back workout Arnie would pick a number of pull ups and then commit to doing them.
Quite often this would be 50 pull ups.
He would perform a set to failure, rest one or two minutes, and then perform another set to failure, before another 1-2 minutes rest.
He would continue in this vein until he had completed his 50 reps, and then he was ready for the bulk of his back training.
If Arnie says it works, who are we to argue?
3. Do Pull Ups First on Arm Day
Here’s something else that I regularly do, and that you may wish to give it a go too.
Basically, prior to every arm workout I will perform pull ups.
For me, this really fires up my biceps, plus it allows me to have a main focus on the bigger arm muscle, the triceps.
In other words, once I’ve done my pull ups, I perhaps only need another 3-5 sets of biceps exercises, so my triceps enjoy much more attention.
Obviously, if you wish to bring up your biceps more, then you can start each arm workout with pull ups, and then perform a selection of biceps exercises.
Now, I know that chin ups are probably associated more with biceps, but again you don’t need to stick to one type of “pull up”.
Personally, I would have 2 different workouts to perform before each arm workout.
The first, much like Arnie, would be to perform 50 pull ups.
This would involve using a numerous pull up variations, while adhering to strict form with every single rep, but still trying to get it done as quickly as possible.
The second workout would involve setting a timer for 10 minutes and then simply getting in as many pull ups (variations) as possible.
With that being said, I always tried to ensure that each set was always in the 8-10 rep range.
So, depending on your current strength levels, you may need to do weighted pull up variations.
However, one thing’s for sure, this focus on pull ups on arm day will definitely help you add some serious muscle to your biceps.
4. Do Pull Ups All the Time
Something else to consider is that you can simply do pull ups throughout your workout.
Then again, if like myself you own a pull bar, then perform pull ups throughout the day.
Basically, just get your pull ups in whenever and wherever you can.
I typically go through phases when I workout, plus it’s good to change things up every few months.
However, every now and then I’ll have a workout phase when I perform pull ups all the time.
This isn’t about performing sets to failure, but rather focusing strictly on form and overall volume.
So, I would walk into the gym and perform 5 pull ups.
Resting between sets of squats, perform 5 pull ups.
I’ve finished my cardio, go do a set of pull ups.
I’m taking a break and chatting with a gym friend, throw in a few reps of pull ups.
My workout is finished, so just as I’m leaving I perform another set of pull ups.
The same can be said when I’m at home.
Every time I walk past my pull up bar I perform a few reps.
In fact, I have often ended up performing 100 pull ups or more throughout the day by focusing on this method.
Personally, I love pull ups, so I perform them when I can.
I Did 100 Pull Ups Every Day For 30 Days
So, as you can see, there is a heavy bias towards performing pull ups at the beginning of your workout.
This is especially true if you wish to focus more on improving pull ups.
Basically, regardless of the actual exercise, you should also perform the movement that you wish to improve the most at the beginning of your workout.
Furthermore, Arnold Schwarzenegger knew that building his back was of extreme importance for a big, strong body, so he focused on doing pull ups first thing on back day.
So, if it’s good enough for Arnold, it’s good enough for us.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.