Sometimes I like to give myself a workout challenge and just see how many pushups or pullups I can do at one time. These are two functional exercises that incorporate the most basic of movements: pushing and pulling. Despite being so basic, it can be a challenge for people to increase pullups or increase pushups per session. Pavel Tsatsouline's "The Naked Warrior" talks about a technique called "Grease the Groove" that I would like to share with you.
Before I get into the background and specifics, I'll get right to the bottom line. Grease the groove is an amazing technique that can help you improve exercises like pushups, pull ups, or even bench press and squats.
What does this mean? It will help you to improve the way you do a specific exercise by doing it over and over again. As Pavel says, "if you want to get good at pull ups, why not try to do…a lot of pull ups?" The key is not training to failure. I think this is best explained with an example. If you can perform a maximum of 10 pull ups, then you'll want to train by performing 5-8 reps, 3-4 times per day, 4-6 days per week. Another great idea is to hang up a pullup bar in your doorway at home or at work and start doing 5 pullups every time you go through the door. That will give you plenty of practice!
Why does this work? If you're working toward strength training, it takes time for your muscles to gradually become skilled at a certain movement. During this neurological process of getting more efficient, it becomes easier for your muscles to repeat that movement. So, quite simply, you will get better at pullups the more frequently you do them. You can apply this technique to other forms of exercises as well. For example, you can use the same method and apply it to help increase your squats or bench presses.
With just 1-2 exercises at a time you can effectively "Grease the Groove". Although I would advise trying only one exercise at a time, I have been successful at doing both pushups and pullups at the same time. In order to avoid working to muscle failure, you will want to be sure to only do about 50-80% of your maximum reps during each session. And while you can do these any time of the day, it's best to stick with 3-4 times - morning, noon and evening, and before you go to bed. The more often you do it, the better you'll get at pushups or pull ups. The next day, you'll repeat the process. To keep your confidence up, remember to stop at least 1 rep short of failure. You don't want to teach your muscles to fail during this process.
For whatever reason, if you're looking to increase pull ups or increase pushups or even increase bench press or squats, just remember the old adage: practice makes perfect. By using the grease the groove technique, you'll find your numbers continue to improve as you get more efficient at your target exercise.