The Silverback Pull Up Protocol

*Disclaimer: This protocol is for someone who can do 6 or more strict bodyweight pull ups. I will be writing an article for those who aren’t yet proficient in bodyweight pull ups in the future.

I’ve personally tried dozens of pull up routines. Most were great for a short period, but few offered a long term progression. Though it may be boring to follow a linear progression with the same exercise for weeks, months, or a year on end, an effective one can yield much greater results than any movement/exercise rotation can offer.

I have tested this protocol on myself and clients over the last few years, as well as other variations. From members of the special forces to combat athletes, each one improved dramatically in their pull up strength. Many able to execute 10 strict pull ups with 40 pounds and 1 even able to do 15 pull ups with 60 pounds. 

But before diving into the protocol, I think it’s highly important that I define what a “strict” pull up actually is:

Phase 1: Hang

Phase 2: Pull sternum to bar explosively with chin over bar

Phase 3: Lower with no swinging or swaying to hang

Got it? K, good. If your pull up doesn’t meet the standard above, then you need to reconsider your ability progression (as seen below).

The Protocol

This progression is straight forward: progressive overload through increased volume. This is also known as escalating density.

When looking at choosing where you should start on this progression, you need to know what you are able to do 6 or 10 pull ups with. If it’s just bodyweight, you’ll start with the bodyweight progression that suits your ability. If you can get 6 or 10 pull ups with 20 pounds, you will do the first weighted progression. If you can get 6 or 10 pull ups with 40 pounds, you will do the second pull up progression. Needless to say, if you can execute 10 perfect pull ups with 40 pounds attached, I can guarantee you have some pretty impressive back development. Based off this progression, you can go from 6 pull ups at bodyweight to 10 pull ups with 40 pounds in 18 months. Sure, this sounds like a long time. But imagine the difference in strength and muscular density you’ve built without spending a year or more spinning your wheels!

Now let’s get to it break it down:

Splits That Work

Recovery plays a large role. I don’t like training a pull exercise 4x a week as it will somewhat inhibit your recovery in between pull up work. This is why I like to program all pulling exercises on the same day. Here are two effective training splits that work well with incorporating the Silverback Pull Up Protocol.

1) Upper/Lower Body Split (4x/week)

This is my favorite and most effective training split. Two upper body days and two lower body days. You can also do 3x a week consisting of two upper body days and one lower body day. Just be sure to get in the needed volume on your single lower body day.

Here is what the upper body workouts might look like:


The main concern here is doing The Silverback Pull Up Protocol first and to execute a horizontal row along with a 2/4 of a: horizontal push, vertical push, upwards push, and downwards push. The order after pull ups doesn’t necessarily matter. Just be sure to do heavier and/or most important exercises first. Auxiliary movements optional but can include bicep work, tricep work, and possibly delt work.

2) Full Body Split- Push/Pull Focus (4x/week)

This split works well for those who wish to do lower body more frequently or who prefer a more “functional body building” style training split. Two days will focus on upper and lower body pull movements while the other two days will focus on upper and lower body push movements.

Here is what the pull focus workouts might look like:


The main concern here is doing The Silverback Pull Up Protocol first and to execute a horizontal row along with 1-2 hip dominant exercises (1 bent leg, 1 straight leg). The order after pull ups doesn’t necessarily matter. Just be sure to do heavier and/or most important exercises first. Auxiliary movements (biceps, rear delts, traps, glutes, trunk work, etc) optional.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What if I miss a week?

A. Don’t skip. Resume at the week you left off on.

Q. What if I can get 6 reps with 30 lbs but not 40 lbs yet?

A. Follow the same progression with 30 lbs. Then go for 50 lbs on testing day. If still not there, use 40’s for the next progression.

Q. Can I do any other additional lat work?

A. You can if really want to. Just know that based off the volume and time under tension you are getting the necessary amount to stimulate muscular hypertrophy and illicit strength gains.

Q. Can I use a traditional bodybuilding split?

A. No.

Q. What if pull ups using an overhand grip hurt my shoulder?

A. Use a medium width neutral grip. Use a closer width neutral grip for the sets to failure. Same applies to overhead athletes.

Q. What if I am already able to 6 reps with 60 pounds?

A. First, congrats. That’s awesome. Second, you can follow the same progression starting with 60 pounds.

Q. What if it isn’t working for me and/or I’m not getting stronger.

A. It’s your recovery. Manage your sleep and nutrition better and ensure you aren’t doing an excess of volume that’s inhibiting you recovery.

Final Thoughts

Well there we have it. My “Silverback Pull Up Protocol”. Nothing fancy, nothing overly complicated…just straight forward progressive overload that will help you build a bigger and stronger back.

Questions? Comments? Drop one below!


Published by Nick Knowles

Nick is a certified personal trainer through the National Strength & Conditioning Association who has worked with hundreds of individuals around the world and coached a wide variety of clients ranging from special forces, active duty, first responders, law enforcement, paraplegics, mixed martial artists, powerlifters, endurance athletes, large group classes, rock climbers, high school and collegiate athletes, youth teams, general population (weight loss), and clients with special needs. Education being at the forefront of his approach, he has been a guest speaker at corporate wellness events, college job fairs, and has also taken on a handful of interns who have found successful careers in the fitness industry. He is also a former NCAA division 1 wrestling and competitive powerlifter.

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