A Thousand Pull-Ups In 7 Days (Quarantine Challenge #2)

published by Bren

Last updated: May 23, 2020

After finishing Quarantine Challenge #1 I wanted my next challenge to be something fitness related.

The goal was also to find something short and low intensity, rather than running or biking tons of kilometres, which is really strenuous on the body and immune system which is not what we want right now, is it?

My first thought was to do push-ups, but I do a lot of push-ups when I’m travelling to the point that they jack up my shoulder sometimes. Pull-ups is something I do rarely on the road, so I’m not that great at them, mostly because I never have a bar to do them on.

I don’t have an actual pull-up bar here at home either, but I do have a high bar on an old home gym that can be used as one. Luckily I’m a small and light guy so I don’t need anything too sturdy! If you don’t have anything lying around your house to do this challenge like a balcony you can hang from or a home gym, you can still easily replicate it with an affordable home pull up bar like this one, or even portable hangboards like these that are popular with rock climbers.

So the challenge was going to be pull-ups. I didn’t know exactly how many to aim for, but we would figure that all out on Day 1.

Day 1:

Day 1 was a litmus test; since I don’t ever do massive amounts of pull-ups I wasn’t sure where to set my limits. So the goal for Day 1 was to aim for 100 and use that as a benchmark:

  • If 100 was really hard, the challenge would be 100 per day for 7 days.
  • If 100 was really easy, the challenge would be 100 on Day 1, 200 on Day 2, 300 on Day 3, until I got to 700 on Day 7.
  • If it was in the middle, the challenge would be to do 1,000 in 7 days.

The game plan for Day 1 was to start with sets of 3.

That might sound low, but I was thinking of the advice of Russian guru Pavel Tsatsouline, who I learned a ton from during his podcast with Joe Rogan (I actually just pulled it up now to get the link for it and have been sitting here watching it again for half an hour, couldn’t stop!)

Specifically I’m talking about his idea of short sets and long rests – when most people lift weight they do a set, then rest for a minute or less, then go onto the next one, and often try and make the rests even shorter for bigger pumps. But Pavel’s advice was that really long rest periods is one of the best ways to build strength. Even 10 minutes between sets is good, or even longer.

Of course that is not practical in the gym because you’ll be there for five hours trying to finish your workout, but for a home challenge like this it was perfect.

So I set the timer on my phone to go off every 20 minutes, then I would go into the garage and do 3 pull-ups. Which meant super short sets (about 10 seconds) followed by a 20 minute rest! About as low intensity as you can get, and also meant it was easy to fit in during the day.

Following that math it was supposed to work out to 9 pull-ups an hour, so I’d reach 100 after 11 hours.

Of course it didn’t quite work out that way, sometimes I was in the middle of something so just offed the alarm, and then had to “catch up” some sets so I was doing 3 or 4 sets in a row. And it started getting annoying to interrupt what I was doing just for 3 pull-ups, so I preferred to stay in the garage and do at least a few sets each time.

It started getting sore-ish around 50, but as long as the rest was long enough I could always manage to a set of 3 whenever I tried. I hit 99 (33 sets) some time before midnight, then did a few extra to finish the day with 103.

Based on that day, I felt the 100-700 challenge would be possible but would literally take over my whole life for the week and probably end in an injury (or three or four). 100 per day would definitely be too easy.

1,000 in 7 days was the wiser choice and would still be a challenge 🙂

Day 1 total: 103
Running total: 103

Day 2:

I divided up 1,000 over 7 days to get a gradually increasing target for each day; then I knew exactly what I needed to do once I woke up and could start chipping away at it.

The game plan on Day 2 was no different to Day 1 – sets of 3, spread out over the day. The only difference was the daily target was a little higher at 125, which meant 42 sets instead of 33.

Nothing interesting to share, just hammered them out like the day before. I always like to be ahead of target, so I did a few extra at the end for a buffer.

Day 2 total: 132
Running total: 235

Day 3:

The target for Day 3 was 150.

I felt pretty good so I decided to increase it from sets of 3 to sets of 5.

A few things went wrong on Day 3.

First – sets of 5 is actually way harder than sets of 3 which I didn’t expect. Also when I say I’m doing “sets”, I’m actually still resting for a second between each pull-up. So I’ll do one, come down and put my feet on the ground for a second, then do the next one. Even with that little rest, my left delt started feeling beaten up halfway through the day. I had to give it a few good rubs and stretches and increase my rest times to make sure it stayed together.

The second thing I did wrong was I slacked off during the day so by midnight I still had about 100 to do. I ended up missing the target because my shoulder was starting to feel fragile and it was getting late.

I got to 145, by then it was 3am and my shoulder didn’t feel great so called it a day.

Day 3 total: 145
Running total: 380

Day 4:

Day 4 I tweaked the strategy a little bit. I did the usual marathon “mini-goals” mind trick and broke the whole day up into blocks.

The target for the day was 175.

So I split the page into 3 blocks, with 12 sets of 5 in each block.

Then I just focused on the first block of 12, which totalled 60 pull-ups. Then onto the second and the third.

This worked pretty well because it gave me visual targets to aim for, I told myself to finish one block early and fast, and make sure I only had one block left to do at night.

I was still up pretty late doing the final block but manage to hit the daily target and add a few more to buffer the next day.

Day 4 total: 184
Running total: 564

Day 5:

Since mini goals worked pretty well I decided break things down into even further mini goals.

Target for the day was 200.

This time I divided the paper into 4 blocks, with 10 sets of 5 in each block.

But since I was finding sets of 5 a fraction too hard, I also broke each set of 5 into two parts as well – one set of 3 and one set of 2.

How that worked is I started with 10 sets of 3 in each block, then when I had done all 4 blocks, I went back to the beginning and added 2 more to each set. Maybe that sounds kind of confusing, so on paper it looked like this:

First round (4 blocks, 10 sets of 3):

Second round (add another 2 to each set):

This was mentally way easier because you get to “finish” the page twice. And the second round is easier than the first round, so you start finishing each block faster and faster.

Each block worked out to 50 pull ups (10 sets of 5), over 4 blocks that was 200. Plus I did a few extra as a buffer. This tactic worked super well and even though I did more pullups than any other day it didn’t feel any harder, maybe even easier.

Day 5 total: 210
Running total: 774

Day 6:

Target for the day was 250.

Now that I’d found my winning strategy I followed the same approach, but this time I did 12 sets in each block instead of 10.

Once again my time management wasn’t great and I left a lot until late in the day. I was actually still sitting in the gym around 4am trying to knock off the final two blocks.

While sitting there resting, I started flicking through the pad and adding up all the numbers and realised I’d worked out my targets all wrong – I’d divided it into 6 days instead of 7….

That meant once I finished the final block I would already have passed 1,000. Even though the target for the day was 250, I had buffered myself on some of the previous days so I only needed 226 to get to 1,000.

That meant all motivation to get to 250 went out the window; it was late and I was tired so I didn’t bother finishing up to 250, at halfway through the final block it was almost morning! So as soon as I hit 1,000 I gave up and went to bed.

Day 6 total: 228
Running total: 1,002

Day 7:

Motivation was pretty low for Day 7, since I’d already hit 1,000 each pull-up felt like it was pointless, but it also didn’t feel right to stop a day early so I made a mini challenge.

The goal for Day 7 was it had to be bigger than all the other days, so at least 229.

I used the same strategy from the day before: 12 sets of 5 over four blocks. I didn’t even need to increase anything because I hadn’t finished all the blocks on Day 6. Just finishing it fully would make it the biggest day.

Started the day well but again left a good chunk until late at night. Still knocked them out pretty comfortably and finished all 4 blocks, then added 3 more sets of 5 just to FLEX!

Day 7 total: 255
Final total: 1,257

How’d I feel when it was over?

This turned out to be a helpful challenge for me because I don’t spend much time doing pull-ups, usually just do 2 or 3 for fun when I walk past the bar at the gym. This was a good opportunity to experiment with different techniques and work some new muscles.

I was actually sick of it by Day 3 but other than those few late nights in my garage, it didn’t take up that much time so I was able to stick with it.

Also a good challenge for the current situation, it might sound like a lot of work but you’re only ever doing pull-ups for a few minutes at a time so you’re never short of breath or even breaking a sweat. Just sore arms and shoulders every night!

This is a great challenge for anybody, and you can do it with any exercise you want – crunches, push-ups, squats, planks, star jumps, box jumps. And it doesn’t need to be 1,000, it can be any number you want, even 5 or 10 a day. Just make sure it’s challenging!

Moving on, Quarantine Challenge #3 starts tomorrow. Haven’t actually decided what it is yet, but have a few ideas.

Talk soon


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