Pull-ups, Body Recomposition and Weight Loss

Last year, I weighed myself and was shocked to see 166 pounds on the scale. How did I let myself go so far? I couldn’t even do a single pull-up, which meant my strength-to-weight ratio was terribly off. My pull-up failure, coupled with my burgeoning waistline and the impending arrival of our son, prompted me to dedicate myself to a healthier and lighter lifestyle.

I began my weight loss journey in June by deciding what I didn’t want to do. I wasn’t interested in crash diets where I basically starved myself. I said no to a gym membership, since I wanted to do this as inexpensively as possible. I didn’t have time to journey into the wilderness on a week-long solo backpacking trip (which worked in the past). Finally, I didn’t want the pounds to come back again afterwards as they have in the past.

In addition to some diet changes (something I’ll talk about in a future post), I started by running more consistently, doing half-marathons from my house to Levi’s Stadium and back and my first ever self-supported marathon. I also added in the occasional bike ride, stroller runs with the kid, and swimming in our pool (during the summer), along with daily push-ups and pull-ups. I’ve always been good at push-ups; I was able to do 100 straight back in high school. As for pull-ups, our high school workout room had a climbing hangboard, and I remember being able to jump up from the bench press onto the hangboard and crank out five finger pull-ups. Unfortunately, I can’t recall how many I could do back then, so I don’t have a baseline for my high school pull-ups records like I do for the half-marathon and 5K.

The goal is to do 50 consecutive pull-ups. Until I get there, I'll have to suffice with this animated GIF of me doing pull-up after pull-up!
The goal is to do 50 consecutive pull-ups. Until I get there, I’ll have to suffice with this animated GIF of me doing pull-up after pull-up!

To get back into pull-up shape, I immersed myself in various pull-up articles on the web, learning about strict pull-ups, kipping pull-ups (popular in the Crossfit community), weighted pull-ups, pyramid pull-ups, muscle-ups, and other variations.

By the time I added pull-ups to my exercise routine, I had already lost enough weight so that I could do a few. For those who can’t do a single pull-up, there are plenty of articles on the web that describe negative pull-ups, assistive bands, and other techniques to help you get to one. My experience has shown that if you practice every day, you’ll improve to the point where you can do multiple pull-ups. Just keep practicing!

My current regimen consists of strict pull-ups, weighted pull-ups, and pyramid pull-ups. I started tracking my progress in September with a spreadsheet in which I logged how many I did each day. My ultimate goal is to be able to do 50 pull-ups consecutively, and my max thus far has been 20 (when done fast and not super strict, otherwise 17). My daily regimen is to do between 50 to 100 pull-ups throughout the day for three days, followed by one rest day. When I started logging my pull-ups, I was doing 10 sets of 5 reps each for 50. Now, I can get to 50 by doing 4 sets of 15, and I am getting close to 3 sets of 17. I use the greasing the groove method and do my pull-ups throughout the day. My time between sets has gotten shorter as I’ve gotten stronger and better at doing them.

I place 12-24 pounds of dumbbells in this Ribz vest.
I place 12-24 pounds of dumbbells in this Ribz vest.

I also have mixed in pyramid (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 for a total of 100) and weighted pull-ups (12-24 pounds). Today, I was able to do 9 sets of 6 reps with 24 pounds of dumbbells in a vest (FB friends only). That’s about as much weight as I lost over the past six months! I’ve been able to do one set with a 45-pound child wrapped around my waist.

In addition to 50 consecutive pull-ups, muscle-ups are another goal that I want to accomplish; these guys make it look so easy, but they are anything but! As for the Iron Cross… there are rings at a nearby park I can practice that move, but I honestly don’t think I’ll ever get to the point where I can do it.

I'm not quite there with the muscle-ups, let alone the Iron Cross!
I’m not quite there with the muscle-ups, let alone the Iron Cross!

I first wrote about my weight loss journey two months in, at which point I had lost fifteen pounds. Since then, six months in, I’ve lost an additional eleven pounds, reaching my ultimate goal of getting to 140 pounds. More importantly, all that running and pull-ups means I’ve recomposed my body, replacing fat with muscle; this means means I’ve melted a lot more than 26 pounds of blubber from my body. I look and feel much better than I did a year ago. With a good plan, dedication, and hard work, one can dramatically recompose one’s body and turn back the clock on aging!

Lastly, what’s great about doing pull-ups is that our son wants to get into the act. He’s able to hang from short bars, but can’t yet from our door frame bar. He’s improving, however, and we expect him to be cranking out pull-ups and muscle-ups in the future!

Our son wants to do pull-ups too!
Our son wants to do pull-ups too!

7 thoughts on “Pull-ups, Body Recomposition and Weight Loss

  1. Very inspiring article, Adam—especially on setting goals, taking massive action, and achieving them through consistence and constant feedback (e.g. measurement). Amazing how much you have improved in just one year!

  2. Thanks, Felix. I’m only six months into a lifelong habit. You’ve been my role model for someone who’s kept in shape (and documented it) for so many years since college.

  3. Great job! And very sweet that your son wants to get into the action. Sometimes I’ll take the twins to the tennis courts where they can run unimpeded (yet gated) and run laps

  4. Michelle Luke

    Adam! Great article! Thanks for sharing about your journey. I saw that you didn’t do any crash diet, but what did you modify about your eating, if anything? Was it just increasing protein and decreasing sugar, etc.? Just curious what worked for you. thanks for being an inspiration and congratulations on your adorable son! He is lucky to have you and Rae for parents!

  5. Michelle – It was more portion control and not eating as much some of the things that I like (i.e. chips and pizza). I haven’t been much of a juice/soft-drink person in recent years, so I didn’t have to cut that out. I basically did a better job of moderating what I ate. I did use the Calories burned figure from RunKeeper and Strava as basic guides as to how much food I could consume throughout the day.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a log of all the food items that I ate (like I did with my runs or pull-ups), as I have found food logging takes too much time to input.


    Hey Adam, can you email me your weight loss plan? Thank YOU very much

    1. There’s no written plan. What I wrote in the article is what I did: lots of running and pull-ups. Good luck!

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