The pull-up is one of the most popular bodyweight exercises in existence. Everyone wants to be able to do one, and once they can, most are inclined to progress by attempting to do more and more consecutively.
While this isn't always a bad progression model, there's one considerable risk associated with this approach. Chasing a higher number of reps often leads to sloppy form and lousy mechanics... done repeatedly.
If your priority is always rep quantity, you'll never devote the time that's necessary to properly master the exercise, and therefore you'll never extract all of the benefits it has to offer. Rep quality should always be prioritized, which is why I often recommend doing fewer pull-ups per set, not more.
Before attempting a set of multiple pull-ups, first demonstrate the ability to perform one single strict pull-up on a consistent basis. Once you've mastered a single strict pull-up, make sure that each successive rep you add is exactly like the one that preceded it. If at any point during a set you notice your form beginning to waver, you've gone too far.
After you've developed the strength to do a clean set of double digit pull-ups, there are still reasons for doing pull-ups at lower rep ranges. My two favorite ways to make low rep pull-ups challenging is with pauses and tempo. When utilized correctly, these two methods are great for subjecting your muscles to new stimuli.
Here are four pull-up variations that work well for sets of 1-5 reps:
Pauses are great for:
- Familiarizing positions
- Strengthening sticking points
- Building acceleration and deceleration strength at varying points
- Keeping the working muscles under tension for extra time (TUT)
Slower tempo is great for:
- Familiarizing proper movement
- Body control
- Motor unit recruitment