This is When to Add Weight to Pull Ups (& Not Before)

Do you want to know when to add weight to pull ups?

We all know (assume) that the ideal way to progress with any exercise is to add additional weight once we are able to perform a certain number of reps.

This ensures that you don’t hit a plateau in your training, and that you build muscle and strength while still using the same exercise.

So, today I’d like to focus on the pull up and the ideal time to start adding weight.

When to Add Weight to Pull Ups?

You should add weight to pull ups once you can perform 10 reps of paused pull ups. Pull your chin above the bar and pause for 2 seconds. Lower yourself until your elbows are at 90 degrees and pause for 2 seconds. Finally, come down to a full hang and pause for 2 seconds.

Why I Think Most People Start Weighted Pull Ups Too Soon

A Child Hanging From a Bar

Most of us get to a certain number of reps of pull ups and then decide it’s time to add some weight.

This ensures that we continue to progress with the exercise.

You’ll typically read or hear recommendations that once you’re performing pull ups in the 8-12 rep range then it’s time to add some weight.

In truth, initially this actually appears to be sound advice.

That being said, I generally see most people absolutely massacre the weighted pull up.

They suddenly go from performing awesome pull ups for a few reps (without weight) to some hybrid jumping/kipping/pulling exercise.

The whole point in adding weight to your pull ups is to perform the exercise with the exact same perfect form.

The idea is maintain both your technique and performance when doing weighted pull ups.

I actually think it’s better to have complete control during pull ups, almost to the point where the standard pull up becomes easy.

Enter the Paused Pull Up.

The Paused Pull Up – Preparation For Weighted Pull Ups

A Man Performing Pull Ups

My advice would be that you should be able to perform 10 paused pull ups with perfect technique before you move onto weighted pull ups.

As with all bodyweight exercises you can dramatically increase the challenge you face by focusing on another variation.

Many people believe that the only total bodyweight variation of the standard pull up is the one-handed pull up.

And I would hazard a guess that most of us are nowhere near ready to complete the one-handed variety with great technique.

However, the paused pull up is a fantastic way to progress with the exercise without the need for any additional weight.

You are incorporating short isometric holds, while spending longer on the bar.

This in itself will continue to build muscle and strength in the upper back, traps, shoulders, biceps, and forearms.

You can also expect your grip strength to significantly improve.

What I love about paused pull ups is that it takes away momentum.

So, there’s no kipping, no bouncing, and you definitely won’t be doing any partial reps.

These are quite common issues for most people who claim that they can do 8-12 reps of pull ups and are ready to move onto the weighted variety.

By slowing down the entire movement and focusing on pausing at particular points you’ll also reveal any weak links in your pull up technique.

Paused Pull Up Technique

There are a couple of ways to perform paused pull ups.

The “standard” paused pull up will involve a 2-second hold at the top, in the middle, and at the bottom.

Here’s Al Kavadlo, who happens to be one of the world’s leading experts in calisthenics, performing the paused pull up.

Also, note that he is averaging around 9 seconds per pull up.

So, in effect, you will need to be on the bar for around 90 seconds to perform 10 paused pull ups.

Can you currently just hang from a bar for 90 seconds?

If not, you’re probably not ready for weighted pull ups

Another method of paused pull ups that I like to do is the 3-pause method.

This involves 2 very strict pauses on the way up, another pause at the very top of the movement, before slowly lowering yourself down.

Here’s Nick Nilsson, “The Mad Scientist of Muscle” performing the 3-pause pull up.

Now I feel ever so slightly bad for saying this, as Nick happens to be one of my favourite coaches.

In fact, I’ve reviewed and recommended a few of his workout programs on my website, including his smash-hit, Time-Volume Training.

However, in the example below I believe Nick was done with this exercise at least 2 “reps” before he stopped.

This shows just how difficult the 3-pause pull up is, and why it can be considered a fantastic progression exercise.

Now You’re Ready to Add Weight to Your Pull Ups

Once you can complete the “standard” 10 paused pulls ups you are ready to progress to weighted pull ups.

You will generally find that going from 10 normal pull ups to 10 paused pull ups could take quite a few weeks, or even months.

However, you are still progressing in terms of building muscle and strength throughout this transition.

As soon as you’re ready to progress to weighted pull ups there are a number of factors to consider.

Start Light and Progress Slowly

There’s absolutely no point in achieving 10 paused pull ups and then strapping a 45lb pound plate to yourself the next time you complete the exercise.

You must treat weighted pull ups in the same manner as you would when it comes to adding weight with any other exercise.

The big lifts, such as the squat, deadlift, and bench press will usually involve you adding around 2-5kg every few workouts.

For some, it could take a month to increase their lifts by these numbers.

So, I would suggest that when you’re ready for weighted pull ups, you start with no more than 5kg in additional weight.

Remember the idea is to stick to strict form, as this is the best way to increase strength and size.

You will be better off performing a variety or sets and reps, and increasing the total number of reps per workout.

I would also recommend performing 3 short pull up workouts a week.

After 3 weeks you will be ready to add weight.

You Should Still Do Pull Ups Without Weight

I still think it’s important to do unweighted pull ups as you progress with weighted ones.

This will ensure that you adhere to strict form, plus you will know that you are definitely progressing as unweighted pull ups become easier.

A great way to do this if you’re training pull ups 3 times a week is to have your second workout solely as an unweighted session.

The Weighted Pull Up Workout

I’m going to assume that you can now perform 10 paused pull ups in a set.

If so, moving onto to standard weighted pull ups will actually feel quite easy in comparison.

Here’s an example of what your workouts should look like:

Week 1
  • Workout One – 4 sets of 8 reps with 5kg
  • Workout Two – 3 sets of 8 reps with bodyweight
  • Workout Three – 6 sets of 6 reps with 5kg
Week 2
  • Workout One – 4 sets of 9 reps with 5kg
  • Workout Two – 3 sets of 10 reps with bodyweight
  • Workout Three – 5 sets of 8 reps with 5kg
Week 3
  • Workout One – 4 sets of 10 reps with 5kg
  • Workout Two – 4 sets of 6 reps with bodyweight
  • Workout Three – 6 sets of 8 reps with 5kg

At the end of 3 weeks you should be ready to progress with more weight.

How much weight will depend on you, but try adding another 5kg.

You’ll also note that the unweighted pull ups each week take you nowhere near to failure.

This is basically an “easy” session, but a great way to ensure that you’re still training the muscles in some way.

You can complete the unweighted pull ups in the standard manner or with the paused technique.

I leave this completely up to you and your abilities.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have my take on when to add weight to pull ups.

The main issue as I see it is that most of us want to progress, but in reality we have yet to master the basics.

If you’re still performing standard pull ups and you find yourself rushing to finish the set, you’re not ready for additional weight.

Should you find that you’re kipping or bouncing at any point during a set, you’re still not ready for additional weight.

This is why I feel it’s important to build up to weighted pull ups by mastering paused pull ups first.

You’ll learn a lot about your technique by doing this.

Plus, you’ll still be building strength and size with paused pull ups.

Once you’ve mastered 10 paused pull ups, only then are you ready to progress.

Another related subject that I have spoken about is why pull ups hurt your neck.

2 thoughts on “This is When to Add Weight to Pull Ups (& Not Before)”

  1. I’m seeing posts about adding weight to various “movements” and exercise.
    Then I see all these guys wearing waist belts and knee braces if the body/skeleton needs to be braced then the weight is to heavy.
    Just me being conservative and the need to have my body working for me into the future.

    • Hey Steve,

      In truth, I totally agree.

      I’ve never really been one to focus solely on very heavy weights, but more to build functional strength.

      And it seems to have served me well.

      I still regularly train with guys half my age and twice my size, and there’s very little difference (if any) in strength.

      I think that’s the issue nowadays, everyone focus so much on how much weight is on the bar, they forget there are a myriad of ways to train strength.



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