The 20 Pull-Ups Strength Standard

Hi! I am the author and founder of Old School Calisthenic

April 8, 2019

The experience I crafted after years of bodyweight fitness, I came to realize that one’s ability to do 20 pull-ups in a row stands for impressive upper body strength and endurance. And while there is nothing magical about the number 20, all the guys I’ve seen doing it flawlessly posses a nicely developed and chiseled upper-body. All these guys that are so powerful and look so fit share one thing in common – they can all do roughly more than 20 straight pull-ups without leaving the bar.

This is how I reached the 20 pull-ups strength standard. Here is the explanation…

It Requires Dedication!

Anyone new to bodyweight fitness will tell you that it’s damn hard to do 7-10 correct pull-ups. This is why, we, as calisthenics teachers we recommend to master the basics first. I’ve also seen guys who can’t pull themselves for more than 10 times even if they attended the gym for years and apparently look strong.

Mastering pull-ups is not about the number of repetitions, it is about the quality of each rep itself. How does the form look to an outsider, or how deep is the range of motion and also the speed and overall struggle? We all have to learn how to master each rep after another until we are able to repeat it 20 times.

I recall that my first attempt at a failure set went under 10 clean reps (I was a beginner after all). By the time I was able to do 20, anytime and anywhere, I was already looking a lot different, being a lot stronger and within a timeframe of more than a full year.

Therefore, it is not about the number 20 as it is about the journey and how it impacts in a positive way. Besides that, all of us need to establish clear fitness goals that are usually converted in numbers, starting with our own weight and up to measuring the strength and so on.

We all want to look good!

Looks matter to us even more than strength and it is a frequent question among beginners whether pull-ups are self-sufficient for growing big biceps and back muscles or not. They are, but while you may seek certainty of it, you also have to understand that once you set on the course, then strength is the one who will make the difference in aesthetics. So, reaching those 20 pull-ups will be of higher importance.

Instead of setting goals for growing bigger, set one that will make you more performant (stronger, more endurable etc). Performance comes faster and it is easily measurable. The body transformation comes after a long period of time in which you have worked your ass very hard on becoming better as an athlete.

What Means 20 Pull-ups

The training log that will prepare you for this failure set is very consistent and worth investing effort and time on it if you’ll do it my way. There are easier methods to reach it like greasing the groove but the point is to also get fitter and athletic and no only to boost reps.

For me, it meant doing in average 2 pull-up sessions a week, month after month. These workouts comprehended all the basic pull variations. I incorporated different grips and forms, from vertical pulls to horizontal. You can find a palette of at least 10 variations to train every week. They will ensure that your muscles are all well trained from all angles and perspectives because they are compound moves, not isolated.

In terms of volume, I started from doing 30-40 pull-ups per workout towards 100-200 in a matter of 1-2 years. The volume itself is very important to increase strength and especially muscular endurance.

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Aim for Volume

You will test yourself with every occasion but as a weekly goal, you have to try to do 2 sessions including multiple variations with the purpose of increasing the volume. By constantly doing pull-ups, after months, you will be able to do a lot more.

A friend of mine couldn’t do any pull-ups at all. So I told him to practice with an elastic band for months. From not doing pull-ups at all, he now begins with them for sets with a volume of 20 in total. In the end, to add more, he uses the same elastic band while he tries to increase the volume to 30.

Over time, he will become strong enough to do 50 bodyweight pull-ups in a single workout. His muscles look better and he became stronger. So allow yourself time to improve, but be smart upon the method used.

Most of my gains came after I was doing a volume of over 70-80 pull-ups per workout. Make some math and see how many pull-ups are there in a year with a volume of over 140 per week. I spare you from that, but the result is a couple of thousands. Aesthetics is related to volume and once I put enough, my body started to reshape a lot.

It is the same at every level. From not training to do 1000 pull-ups a year, it will change a lot for you and for the best.

Here are some quick improvements as soon as you train with regularity:

  • Fix posture,
  • Get fitter,
  • Getting a stronger grip,
  • Tense the muscles,
  • Increase vascularity, improve endurance,
  • Train the nervous system that affects strength gains,
  • Strengthen joint and tendons etc.


Let me know how you progressed in any aspect once you reached your 20 reps. Thanks for reading and join my movement if you are interested in more!

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