The Workout

I received this awesome workout from my recruiter. Many Marines use this, so hopefully some of you will see success with it. I know it’s a long read, but well worth it.

Jump to Day 1

First…do you have a pullup bar? If you want to easily challenge yourself daily–get that piece of gear!

If you need an easier start, try our Beginners workout here.

If your pullups have plateaued, try the Advanced workout here.

If you’re a lady, you’ll find the Armstrong for Women workout here.

Armstrong Pull-up Program

That’s what pullups build up

This program was used by Major Charles Lewis Armstrong, USMC to prepare himself to attempt to set a world record in number of pull-ups completed in a single exercise session. The program provides the necessities for successful physical improvement namely, VARIETY, OVERLOAD, and REGULARITY. Users have achieved remarkable results in only 6 to 8 weeks. This means that most, if not all, have been able to meet the performance level they have set out to achieve, a single set of twenty repetitions. It can not be overemphasized that his program depends upon regularity. Daily performance of the exercises listed in the following paragraphs holds the true key to reaching and to maintaining the twenty repetition level.

The Morning Routine

Each morning perform three maximum effort sets of normal pushups. The pushup is one of the best, single exercises for strengthening the entire set of muscles that makes up the shoulder girdle. Major Armstrong described his morning routine in the following manner. “After rising, I would drop onto the deck and do my first set of pushups. I would then move into the head (bathroom) and start my morning toilet. I would return after a few minutes and do my second maximum effort set after which, I would go back into the head to shave. After shaving, I would return to the bedroom and complete the third and final set. Having completed all of the pushups, I was awake and ready for a relaxing shower. “ This routine should be followed during the entire training period. Since it takes most of us at least four weeks to reach our goals, you will probably find that you have inadvertently established a morning routine that is easy enough to keep as a lifetime habit, if not, you will at least appreciate the morning shower a little more. It has been noted that this pushup routine helps to alleviate any soreness during the first couple of weeks. It is recommended that you use the pushup routine everyday during this period so that you feel more comfortable during your initial adjustment to this regime of exercises.

Training Routines

A rifleman with the Provisional Rifle Company, Headquarters and Service Battalion, 2d Force Service Support Group, does pull-ups as part of his daily PT

The following represents the heart of the training program. I recommend that you do not attempt the pull-ups until 3 or 4 hours after the pushup routine was completed. The program is conveniently divided into five training days. This is easily translated into a Monday through Friday approach to pull-up training. It is important to cease the pull-up routine for two days, Saturday and Sunday. Further, it is necessary to use consecutive days (not to skip days) when on the pull-up routine. Finally, it is more important to do the pull-ups than it is to do the pushups. The training program was developed to improve performance in a specific exercise, the overhand pull-up. The program can be adapted to doing chin-ups and flexed arm hangs. The program depends upon quality exercises, numbers of repetitions are unimportant. When you are doing these routines you should concentrate on perfect execution of each repetition. The only person that you can fool is yourself.

Day 1

The Armstrong Pullup Program Tracker is a one page visual guide to the program

The Armstrong Pullup Program Tracker is a one page visual guide to the program

Five maximum effort sets. Rest 90 seconds between each set. Do not concern yourself with numbers. You will find that you will increase the numbers in the last two sets before you see much improvement in the first three. Make sure that each set is a maximum effort set.

Day 2

Pyramid Day. Start the pyramid with one repetition, the next set has two repetitions, the next has three. Continue in this fashion until you miss a set. (e.g. your last set was five, your next set would be six, but you could only do four. You missed a set) Do one more set at a maximum effort. Rest 10 seconds for each repetition in the previous set.

Day 3

Do three training sets with a normal overhand grip. Rest 60 seconds between each set. Do three training sets gripping the bar so that your palms are toward your face and your little fingers are touching each other. Do three training sets with wide grip. Rest 60 seconds between each set.

Day 4

Do the maximum number of training sets that you can accomplish. Rest 60 seconds between each set. You do training sets until you fail to do perfect training set. This day can wind up being the longest training day as you continue with the program because you will find it easy to do lots of training sets.

Day 5

Repeat the day that you found to be the hardest in the previous four days. This will change from week to week.

Training Sets

Full “dead hang,” aka extension of the arms, is required

Training Sets are easy to define, but require some experimentation to determine for the individual participating in the program. A training set a specified number of repetitions. That means one individual may have 3 repetitions in his training set, but another individual may have more or less. The key to determine the proper number of repetitions in a training set comes on Day 3. You must perform nine training sets that day. If you only do twelve repetitions in your best single set (a PFT set or a maximum effort set), then your training set would probably have one or at most two repetitions. If you were concerned with gross numbers performed, you might try for the higher numbered training set. This is not advised. It is much more important for you to successfully complete the scheduled workout on Day 3, doing one repetition per training set, than it is for you to complete only 6 or 7 sets, trying two or three repetitions in each training set. Day 3 calls for you to do nine training sets. Adjust your training sets so that you can complete this routine properly. The best gauge for the number of repetitions in the training set comes on Day 4. If you successfully complete Day 3, try to raise the number of repetitions in your training set by one when you do Day 4. If you get a least nine sets done on Day 4, that tells you that your training set ought to be one repetition higher. If you get less than nine sets, you will still have accomplished a good day’s work, and confirmed that your training set was correct for this week. It is important that you do not change the repetitions in a training set in midstream. When you schedule yourself to the day’s routine using three repetitions in your training set, do not change it to two when the exercises get hard.


Ladies will find that this program adapts well to the flexed arm hang. Training sets are simply translated into hang times. Chin-ups may be substituted for those who prefer this technique, however, day 3 must still be completed exactly as described with 6 sets done with the overhand grip. It is highly recommended that you follow this program using overhand grip as most of the obstacles that you will have to get over at OCS require an overhand grip.

Maintenance and Final Thoughts

Once you have achieved your goal, you will remain at that plateau by doing at least 50 repetitions each day. Though this may sound like a large number of repetitions at this point in time, it is not, as you will happily discover during your time on the program. The program will work for anyone who will make a sincere attempt. You cannot expect any physical training program to work for you if you do not practice it regularly. In the first few weeks you may find that you are able to do fewer repetitions. This is a normal physiological reaction called teardown. As you continue, you will improve. If your performance is at the 12-15 repetition level when you begin this program, then it will take about 4 weeks to complete. If you are lower than that it will take longer. Have heart because if you continue with the program, you will reach the 20 repetition level.


Get a pullup bar and bust that plateau!


Armstrong Pullup Program Advanced

Have you plateaued on your pullup routine? Try the Armstrong Advanced Workout, which is designed to pick up where Armstrong original leaves off.

49 thoughts on “The Workout

  1. Hello!
    I read all the information above and it looks interesting and captivating.I wanted to do this for a long time and I think now I am more motivated then ever.I do want to mention though that I am completely out of shape and I dont think I am able to do more then a couple of pull ups in a set.I havent done physical effort in a long time but I really want to start this programme and keep it for as long as I can.I really hope this could work for me to and you will be able to give me a hand
    with a reply to my post.
    Thank you in advance

  2. I love this program! I actually used to use it for my flexed-arm hang and it had always worked wonders. I was a little worried though when they came out with the new order for females to do pull-ups. Still, I buckled up and for about 4 or 5 months straight stuck to this program (starting off with just doing jumping negative pull-ups when I could do none). I went from barely doing 1 pull-up to doing 9 on my recent pft during that time (the max for females is currently 8). I’m really glad I found this site afterwards though, when I hit my plateau I definitely plan on utilizing the advanced routine!

    1. Carmen, your story is awesome. I hope it inspires many more ladies in their future workouts. Great job. The Armstrong Program can be modified for any age, gender, or experience level.

  3. how long do you wait between the 3 training sets? so in between the normal overhand grip and the underhand grip and wide grip

  4. this blog says I should wait at least 3-4 hours to do the pullups after i have done the pushups, is there a maximum time i should wait before i do the pullups. if i am up at 7 doing pushups is 5pm too late after work to do pullups or should i do them earlier?

  5. I’m confused by the definition of a ‘training set’. Is this just a number that I choose that would allow me to comfortably do 9 sets of pull-ups with a 60 second rest between each set, as per day 3?

  6. Could someone tell me if you use all three grips on DAY 4 or just normal grip to see how many training sets you can do thanks

  7. Check out Barstarzz on YouTube. “How to do more pullups program”. They show how to do the Armstrong program. Both normal and advanced.

  8. I have a few questions, I hope you may answer:

    Can I still do my regular training schedule, mainly running, abdominal work, and pushups (see my next question). ( and if i can, can I do them in the same session? say first I would do the pull up routine, then I would do the other exercises as I usually would)

    should I refrain from doing any more pushups during the day ( eg, should I exclude them from my regular training schedule)

    Does it matter if I take longer than 3-4 hours after the morning pushup routine before doing the pullups ( eg. do the morning pushups, go to work for 9 hours, come home and do the pullups)

    Sorry for so many questions, and I appreciate your time!

    1. Grant,

      Great questions. For when you’re doing the Armstrong workout, go easy on pushups and bench when you’re doing this program’s pushup routine. Start all workouts with pullups, so you’re not tired out by that time, but feel free to combine other exercises. Personal opinion, the more time between the pullup and pushup portions, the better. You want to hit that pullup bar at 100% every night after work, because it’s the most important exercise in this program. Good luck!

  9. Also ( I forgot to include), do I still do the morning pushups on the 2 rest days, or do I rest the pushups as well?

    Thank you again!

  10. man, I just did day 4, doing 3 reps per set… I did 100 sets for 300 pull ups (no joke). had to stop because I felt like I could have gone all night. ( my current max is only 13). Is this normal? haha.

    1. Grant, that’s ridiculous. You should increase your training set up to 6-10 reps per set so that each training set is actually doing something for you.

  11. Over the last 6 months I’ve been doing home workouts. My strength level got to the point where I could do 210 push-ups over 5 sets with a 60# vest on. Also, I’d be doing 3 sets of each grip (wide/vertical/chinup) to a total of 65+ pull-ups and be doing (3-set) free-weight curl and (3-set) 60# weighted dips to a totals of 45+ and over 220 squats also with the vest on. I’d do this every other day so that I’d have a rest day in between training days.

    I did Day 1 yesterday and it took me about 1.5 hours to complete all the exercises. With the 60# vest I managed 94 pushups, 58 dips, and 233 squats. Then with my bodyweight I did 35 standard grip pull-ups. Topped it off with 65 total floor presses using two 50# freeweights.

    I was wondering if it is acceptable to use the Armstrong program for my entire routine of: Push-Ups + Dips + Squats (with my 60# vest) + pull-ups + floor press (without the vest.) 5 days a week with only two rest days. Or would that be over-training?

    P.S. – It’s been a while that I’ve felt sore from a workout, Day 1 really did it for me! :-) THANKS!

    1. Day 2 – Pyramid to a total of Decline Push Ups : 106 | Dip : 54 | Squat : 305

      Pullups : 22

      I’m thinking that is way too many squats and I should hold a 50# freeweight when I do them to get the reps down.

      Also, still wondering if this is overall too much to be doing, if not I’d also like to throw in curls or something.

      Thanks again.

  12. Cheers for putting up the site. Quick question:

    For Day 2, the Pyramid day. I faltered at 5. So I did 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 … should I then go back down with 4, 3, 2, 1? Or just do another maxed out set straight away?

    1. Mick, after you fail at one set on a pyramid, you just do one more max set, so it should look like this: 1,2,3,4,5,4 (missed 6), 3 (final max set).

  13. On the advanced program, should we continue to do three max sets of pushups on the days when pullups are done?

    Great regular program by the way-easily went from 18 to 25 max in a few weeks.

  14. I think it is pretty good that you have this program up.I never knew that Armstrong pull up program existed.I started off doing 2 pul ups and now I can do 8 .I am currently doing p90x.I would love to try this program afterwards.My goal is to reach 20 pull ups.Keep up the good work.

  15. hi guys im just starting this program and have a question about days 3 and 4. if someone would like to comment that would be great. so day 3 i do three sets of normal three sets of close chin and three sets of wide. and on day four im doing as many training sets as possible, so rather than doing three of the same in a row for example… three wide three close and three normal. do i do one at a time like… wide rest close rest normal rest and continue like that??

  16. How about adding the Beginner’s program and Women’s program to the main menu? They’re currently on the Recent Blog Posts list on bottom of the page, but that’s a pita to find, and they can get bumped off it by newer posts. Both were on the Most Popular list but one already got bumped off that.
    And/or add them next to the sentence “If your pullups have plateaued, try the Advanced workout here.” Give a short sentence for each, telling what each program covers. I know there is such a statement on each of those pages, but having all 4 listed and explained at the beginning of the main page will make it easier for people to find which program they want/need.

    1. yeah when to do legs?
      i think this program is designed specifically to increase pull up reps. i personally will be starting this program in the next week when i get my bar installed and will be doing legs and core after the pullups and pushups in the morning.

  17. I have gone through this program a few times. It really is a fantastic way to build strength. If you have an upcoming PFT start doing the Armstrong workout a few weeks in advance and then take a few days of complete rest beforehand.

  18. I started the program able to do 12 pull-ups, six months later I have been stuck at 16-17 for about six weeks. By definition I believe I have plateaued, although I have continued the normal, 5-day workout instead of starting the advanced because I have not yet reached my goal. Is there a reason for the previous slow improvement, and current lack thereof?

    Second, regarding the push-ups: from all the responses I have read on this thread, I’ve gathered that it is ok to do other exercises after pull-ups. Does it make a difference if push-ups are completed then? I have been rather inconsistent about doing push-ups, because my schedule does not allow me to leave 3-4 hours between the two exercises.

    Assuming that I do reach my goal (about 25), I’m slightly confused on what to do next. The page that describes the workout (under maintenance) says to complete 50 reps a day to stay at that level (at this point, I can complete 50 reps doing most of the different days’ exercises, which one should I stick to?). However, should I move on to the advanced workout if I get there, or should I move on now (see question 1) since I’ve plateaued, even though I’m not at my goal?

    Finally, I have a fitness test coming up, and I’m not certain about the optimal time to leave between the last (pull-up) workout and taking the PST. Is there a good universal standard or does that change by person?

    I know this is a lot, many thanks in advance. I appreciate whatever you can tell me

    1. Kevin,

      Congratulations on your success so far. That is definitely within the normal range of where people plateau. Time to switch over to the Advanced workout! You may be overtraining if you are doing 5 days every week with high repetition counts.

      If you’ve plateaued, you’ve plateaued, wherever you are in relation to your goal. Don’t live in denial. There’s no shame. Everyone plateaus at different places.

      Personally, we recommend 72 hours rest before fitness tests. No exercises inside that time will improve your performance, but rest, stretching, eating lean and sleeping a lot certainly could help!

      Good luck and please continue to share your feedback!

      1. Haha I’m wanting to go to OCS once I get into college and continue working out. I love pull ups I can do 38 using this system. I like the name as well.
        J. Armstrong

  19. With the training sets, say if I choose the number 1 to work with does that mean I perform 1 overhand, 1 palms inward then 1 wide pull up equating to 1/9 training sets?

    Also I’m incorporating this with my day to day program. To ensure I don’t jeopardise the armstrong program I make sure I perform the pull ups at the beginning of my workout. Also as I workout first thing in the morning I perform my push ups before I go to bed. Is this all ok?? I’m worried about overtraining performing push ups at night, the pull ups in the morning plus my workout program.


      1. Jake,
        If you’re asking about day 3, a 1-rep training set would be 1 overhand, 1 over, 1 over, 1 in, 1 in, 1 in, 1 wide, 1 wide, 1 wide. That’s you’re whole workout. Please clarify your question–it’s not clear what you’re asking about.

        As far as your timing, that is fine.

        As far as overtraining, let your body speak to you. If you’re having very painfully sore recovery days or your performance is plateauing or even falling off, give yourself more rest days.

        1. Sorry I meant to reply to this ages ago, thanks for the help but I clarified what I was doing wrong by watching a training video. Cheers for the response though. Love pull ups now

  20. Folks,
    Thanks for your insights and advice. Do I understand correctly that one never actually completes the “pyramid” in the sense of descending back down to a final 1-rep set? Just do a final max set after failing to step up and that completes the workout?

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