Armstrong Pullup Program for Women

After the Commandant of the Marine Corps announced the addition of pullups to the female physical fitness test, the original Armstrong Pullup Program began frustrating tens of thousands of new “victims” who were not yet ready to jump right into such a rigorous program. Female candidates to USMC OCS will be doing pullups not just for their PFTs, but also during the physical training while at OCS.

The Rules

  • Follow the full, original Armstrong Pullup Program, including the pushups. Substitute with knee pushups as necessary.
  • Complete the workout with working sets of five minimally-assisted pullups. If unable to get five pullups, increase the resistance.
  • When you can complete the workout with maximum working sets of ten assisted pullups, decrease the assistance.

If you’re not ready to start knocking out five working sets of dead-hang pullups, transition to pullups using these techniques.

Assisted Pullup Techniques

assisted pullup machine

The assisted pullup machine gives an adjustable, weighted boost to your feet or knees

If you don’t have an expensive assisted pullup machine (pictured right), there are many ways to get the same effect–affordably.

Chair-Assisted Pullups Easiest using a doorway/indoor pullup bar, place your feet up on a high-backed chair in front of you and see how little weight you can take off and still complete training sets of 5 pullups. Also, instead of a chair, consider using a partner to give you a boost.

Pull-down exercises using a machine or inexpensive exercise bands or tubes is a relatively close approximation to pullups, but should only be used by beginners, until techniques closer to pullups is possible.

Negatives Use an assistance, like a partner’s boost, to reach the up position, then use your own strength to slowly descend on the “negative” half of the pullup movement.

Improvised Pullup Alternatives

Easy improvised table rows leave you no excuse for not working your back!

Easy improvised table rows leave you no excuse for not working your back!

Improvised Rows and Curls You can work your back with rows and arms with curls, building the same muscle groups that are taxed with pullups. Curl simple dumbbells or a barbell. Row on a machine, a lower pullup-type bar, rings, or even a table.

Kipping It’s a sin on the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test, and doesn’t really work the same muscles well. Don’t give in to the temptation to prepare for your pullup tests by kipping. Here’s a kipping fan admitting the major differences between the two workouts.

The Program

Day 1

Five maximum effort sets. Rest 90 seconds between each 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. 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. Do three training sets gripping the bar so that your palms are toward your face and your little fingers are touching each other. 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.

Day 5

Repeat the day that you found to be the hardest in the previous four days.

Success will come with perseverance, so work hard and good luck!

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  1. If I am doing this program with flexed arm hangs how would I complete the pyramid set on day 2? Or should I be doing Day 2 with assisted pull ups or negatives instead?

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  3. I’m excited to try this! Before I do, though, I have a question.

    I’m a bit confused about the 5rep working sets. If our training sets on Day 3 and Day 4 are each 5 reps, what rep range should we be seeing on each of our maximum effort sets? Using the logic from the men’s version, it would be 45reps (5repsx9 sets on Day 3) but that goes against the goal of 10 reps in a maximum set before we decrease the assistance?

    • I hope this is not too late to answer your question. My guess is that you are doing assisted pull ups, with an assisted pull up machine or with bands. If that is the case, what I think they mean is for Day 1 (Max Effort Sets), you should do 5 sets of 5 reps. These 5 reps should be at the lightest resistance (least amount of help) that you can handle, so that you are struggling with the last rep (max effort). If by the next week the 5th rep comes easy with the resistance from the week before, use less resistance. The goal in this is to eventually get you to use less and less resistance from the machine until you don’t need it anymore and can do pull ups on a bar. Once you can do pull ups on a bar without help, the 5 max effort sets you do on Day 1 should be 5 sets of as many Pull ups as you can do.

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