Brendan Botond Performing pullups for the Armstrong Program

In this article, we will be covering what the Armstrong Pullup Program is. What you need to do on the training on each of the different days.

The rules for performing a proper military type pull-up and some of the fundamental errors that will result in a no count for a repetition will be covered. When using the Armstrong program use these rules as a reference for how to count a proper pull-up.

Major Charles Lewis Armstrong is the person who developed the Armstrong Pullup Program. His reason for creating the program was to help him set the new world record for the number of pull-ups completed in one exercise session. Lewis Armstrong was able to complete 1,435 strict military style pull-ups, so this training method worked well for him. He credits much of his success for the number of pull-ups he did to this program.

Many people have achieved amazing results by using his training protocol. While it is similar to the Recon Ron Pull-up Program (the goal is to improve the number of pull-ups you can do), it has been designed to give maximal results with a much shorter period.

Like the Recon Ron pullup program, it is routinely applied in the army to prepare recruits for their PFT(Physical Fitness Test). The goal for Army recruit is to complete 20 strict military style pull-ups. Many people who can only do four to six pull-ups can achieve 20 after six to eight weeks of training with this program.

While this routine is used extensively in army training, anyone who is looking to increase the number of pull-ups they can perform should consider trying this program. If you are looking at enlisting or are recruit enlisted in a military and cannot perform 20 pull-ups yet, you definitely should give this program a try for at least one month.

If you are not able to perform a single pull-up, you can still utilize this training method by using negative pull-ups. Negative pull-ups are when you use a chair (or jump up) to have your chest at the pull-up bar. You then need to lower yourself down until your arms are fully extended. When dropping down make sure you do it in a slow and controlled manner. Within a short period, you should find that you can complete a proper pull-up.

Unlike the Recon Ron program that requires you to be performing pull-ups every day, the Armstrong program has you training five days a week with pull-ups.

Another difference is that the training protocol for the Armstrong program is to begin your training in the morning with three maximum sets of morning push-ups. Then at least four hours later perform the pull-up portion. The recon Protocol has no specified starting time other than keeping the time of day you do the training at consistent.

While the Armstrong program does have some chin-ups (underhand grip palms facing toward your body). The majority of your time you will be using an overhand grip (palms of your hands are facing away from your body).

If you have no interest in joining the army and only really care about improving the number of chin-ups you can do, then feel free to change the majority of your grips to using an underhand grip instead.

If you do plan on joining the army, do not alter the grips and perform them precisely as stated in this guide. The reason you will want to be using an overhand grip the majority of the time has to do with the fact that many obstacles in an OCS test will require an overhand grip.

Before we explain how to perform the daily pull-up routine for this program. We are going first define what the military rules are on how to perform a correct pull-up.

  • Rules For Completing A Military Pullup

  • You are given as much time as you need.
  • Shirts are removed to observe lockout of the elbows with each repetition.
  • At no point can your chin rest on the bar.
  • You are allowed assistance to get into the pull-up position, but this cannot be used to help achieve the first pull-up, starting from a dead hang is required.
  • The bar is to be grasped with palms facing forward or to the rear.
  • Have your arms fully extended when your body is at the bottom, and your feet are to be free from touching the ground with the body motionless, this is the starting position.
  • Your legs can be straight or bent but must be below the waist.
  • Whipping, kicking, kipping, or any leg movement to assist with progression is not allowed, if observed the pull-up will result in a no count.
  • One repetition requires raising your body until your chin is above the bar, then your body must be lowered until your arms are fully extended, and the body is once again at a dead hang.
  • The score you receive is determined by how many pull-ups you can complete before dropping off of the bar.


It is important to note that no physical training programs should be started by you until you have consulted a licensed physician and you are told that you are healthy and can begin this particular type of physical training.

How To Do The Armstrong Pull-up Training Program

Morning Routine

Each morning you are to begin by performing three maximal effort sets of standard push-ups. This is an important part of the routine and should not be skipped. The push-up is one of the best exercises for strengthening the entire set of muscles making up the shoulder girdle. Major Armstrong described this morning routine in the following manner:

"After rising, I would drop to the deck and do my first set of push-ups. I would then move into the head 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 and shave. After shaving, I would return to the bedroom and complete the third and final set. Having completed all of the push-ups."

Major Charles Lewis Armstrong

Many people find that the morning push-up routine helps to soreness during the first couple of weeks. You should at least try it for a couple of weeks and see if it helps many find it useful for the initial adjustment to the program.

Armstrong Day One Training Protocol: Maximum Effort Sets

Day One of your weekly Armstrong program requires you to complete five sets with the maximum number of pull-ups that you can complete.

Do not worry about the number of pull ups you perform unless you cannot do five dead hang Pull-ups. If you are not able to complete, five pull-ups do the few you can and follow that with three to five negative pull-ups and work on progressing to increasing the number of traditional pull-ups you can perform.

You should be resting between 60 and 90 seconds after each set. Make sure that you use maximal effort for these sets. Most people find that they are increasing on the last two sets before seeing progression on the amount they can complete in the first three.

Armstrong Day Two Training Protocol: Pyramid Sets

This day consists of pyramid training sets. The way these just work is you begin the pyramid with your fist set of one repetition. The second set will have two reps and the third set 3 reps and continue this pattern.

You will continue doing this until you do not complete a set.

So if the current set was five repetitions, but you were only able to complete four you missed the set. Once you miss a set take a rest period and then complete one more set of maximum effort pull-ups(as many as you can do).

Your rest period will be 10 seconds for every repetition that you accomplished in the previous set. See below for an example of how this staggering would work.

  • 1 rep, 10 second rest
  • 2 reps, 20 second rest
  • 3 reps, 30 second rest

Keep following this pattern until you miss a set. Once you do miss a set rest 10 seconds for every repetition you completed and you will do one more set of maximum effort.

For the maximum effort set complete as many pull-ups as you can.

Training Sets What Are They And How To Do Them

Before we continue to the day three training, we need to define what Training Sets are and how exactly you go about performing them. Training Sets have a specific number of repetitions, but that number is distinct to the individual who is performing them. So two people doing the same training can have a different number of repetitions required.

Day 3 is when you will start determining the number of training sets that you should be using. On day three you will be performing nine training sets, and you must use a rep range that allows you to complete ALL NINE. Completing all nine of the sets is the most important thing.

It may take you a couple off weeks to find the correct number of reps for your Training Set routine. Do not let that discourage you just keeping working towards finding the optimal number of reps for you.

For example:
If the third training day you choose three as your Training Set number and complete all nine sets, the next day you use Training Sets you should be increasing the number of reps in your sets by one repetition.

If you fail to complete all nine training sets with the extra repetition, remove the extra rep that you added when you perform the next Training Set day.


Do not change the number of repetitions that you are doing midway through a Training Set day. As you progress through each set, the exercise will become harder and more challenging, if you miss the rep range you were aiming for don't worry about it just alter the number of repetitions the next Training Set day until you find a rep range that works for you. If you keep modifying your repetition range midway through it will only take you longer to find the optimal range of repetitions you should be using.

If you are not able to complete all nine Training Sets with one pull-up, read below on the type of progression model you should focus on until you can.

Beginner Training Sets

If you cannot do a single pull-up, the above Training Set protocol will not apply to you. However, you will be performing training sets with the negative pull-up instead.

You are going to use the same principles as above. The only real difference is that a miss for you is when you are no longer lowering yourself in a slow and controlled manner. You need to pay attention to this, don't allow yourself to drop uncontrolled this will not help you move into being able to complete real pull-ups.

Once you strengthen up over the next few weeks, you should find that you will be moving away from performing higher repetitions with negatives. Focus on moving onto Training Sets of pull ups beginning with one repetition. Until you can complete all sets of nine with one pull-up, keep focusing on improving your negatives.

Armstrong Day Three Training Protocol: Multiple Grips

You are to perform nine Training Sets on the third day.

Three of these sets you do with a standard grip (palms facing away from your body with the hands slightly wider than your shoulder width).

Next, you are to complete three Training Sets of close grip Chin-Ups. The inside of your hands should be about two to four inches apart. You need to alter your grip so that your palms are facing towards your body for this exercise.

The last three-set will have you doing wide grip Pull-ups. The palms of your hands should be facing away from your body when you grip the bar. The width of your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder width.

You are to rest between 60 and 90 seconds between each set.

Armstrong Day Four Training Protocol: Maximum Number Training Sets

You will be doing the maximum number of training sets that you can complete. Use a rest duration of 60 to 90 seconds between each set. You continue to do training sets until you fail to complete a set.

Many people find this the longest day as they advance through the program. As you continue to progress through the program, you will notice that Training Sets become easier and easier to complete.

Whenever you can complete more than nine training sets on this day, you need to increase the number of repetitions the next week by one on day four.

Armstrong Day Five Training Protocol: Repeat Day

Every week on day five training what you do could change. You need to analyze each day of this week and select the day that you had the most difficulty with completing. That will be the workout that you are going to perform again on this day.

Armstrong Day Six And Seven Training Protocol: Recovery Days

On these days you are not to be performing any pull-ups. Try to relax and get some sleep to help you recover for the upcoming week.

Throughout the program, you need to make sure you are suitably meeting your body's nutritional needs. This will ensure that you are getting the most out of the Armstrong Pull-Up Program program. If you are not eating the proper amount of nutrients, your recovery time and gains will both suffer.

To calculate your daily nutritional needs check out are Daily Calorie Counter. For information on how you should be eating and the different macros you should aim for read our post How Much Protein Should A Man Eat. or How Much Protein Should A Woman Eat

You can also register and use our Food Log free of charge to make sure you are eating the correct amount of nutrients each day.

Armstrong Program Modifications

This program works very well with flexed arm hangs as well. The training sets you can replace with hang times. You can also substitute pull-ups with chin-ups if you prefer using an underhand grip. The only day this does not apply to is day three where you should still be completing it as outlined with six of the sets done with an overhand grip. Again if you are using this to prepare for the OCS, you need to be using an overhand grip.

Master The Pull-Up

The Armstrong Pullup program will work for anyone who is willing to put in a sincere effort and not skip any of their training days. Noticing a drop in your maximum effort sets, in the beginning, this is common. This is normal and caused by a physiological reaction referred to as tear down. Over time as you continue with the program, you will improve, and your maximal effort sets will increase.

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