The Pre-Armstrong Workout for Pull-up Beginners

If doing full dead-hang pullups, or as a whole, the official Armstrong Pullup Program is too difficult for you, we recommend trying the following workout until your max set is 7-10 controlled, full dead-hang pullups. Best of luck!

The Pre-Armstrong Pullup Program Workout

The Pre-Armstrong Program for Beginners (click for jpg)
The Pre-Armstrong Program for Beginners (click for jpg)

When required, simply pick any bicep curl type exercises (barbell, dumbbell, alternating, exercise tube, kettlebells) or row exercise (machine row, barbell row, single arm bicep curl, etc). Whichever exercise your ability and equipment availability allows will work, just stick with only one or two exercises per requirement and ensure you continually challenge yourself with the weights and repetitions.

Pullup Substitutes

This workout makes use of pullup substitutes. Based on your own ability and the availability of equipment, consider any (or a combination) of the following exercises:

Exercise Tube Pull-downs

Exercise tubes are some of the most versatile of all workout equipment

Loop an exercise tube over your indoor pullup bar, door, or tall piece of furniture. Kneel down or back up to increase resistance. Simulate the pullup movement as much as possible.

Lat Pulldown Machine

Most gyms will have some sort of pull-down machine. The closer the movement is to a pullup, the better.


Hop or step up to the top of the pullup position, and lower yourself to a hanging position as slowly as your strength will allow. This is the full downward “half” of the pullup.

Assisted Pullups

Use a partner, a chair, an assisted pullup machine–it doesn’t matter. Taking off a little weight will often make the difference for beginners who struggle with full dead-hang pullups.

Grip Hangs

While not a complete pullup substitute, grip hangs are extremely useful and an important part of this workout. Simply hang from the bar with a nice tight grip for as long as possible. Building grip strength can be the difference between 18 pullups and the perfect score of 20 pullups.


Pre-Armstrong in PDF

Pre-Armstrong in Word Format

18 responses to “The Pre-Armstrong Workout for Pull-up Beginners

Hi there,

I’ve been doing this program on and off, but not intentionally. I never knew why until now. This program is way too hard. One major flaw is the workout on the second day, where you’re supposed to five max sets, with 90 seconds rest inbetween. That is just ridiculous and I don’t understand how it took me so long do realize it. And this program is supposed to be for beginners?

Hi there,

is the max effort set on day 1 also done with substitutions or with “real” pull ups / chin ups and how much rest between the ladders and the max effort set?
If it is done with substitutions, when should one check the progress with real pull ups?

The max effort set should only be done with substitutions if necessary. In all cases, if you can do a set of real pullups, go for it!

A good general rule is 2 minutes rest between the sets, but for a ladder, here’s our recommended rest rule:
1 pullup x 10 = 10 seconds rest afterwards
2 pullups x 10 = 20 seconds rest afterwards
3 pullups = 0:30
4 = 0:40
and so on, even on the failure set.

Thanks for your answer, i can do 3 sets (4 / 3 / 3) chinups with about 2min rest in between sets. After my StartingStrength barbell training. Do you think i should do “real” sets instead of subs? I stalled a long time ago with these rather ridiculous sets so i looked for a twist in chinning.
The full programm seems to bit hard to be run besides Starting Strength though.
Maybe you have a better idea for me?

Thanks for the Advice, much appreciated.


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