If you want a toned physique then you should consider setting upper body calisthenics performance goals. Such as pull-ups, dips and push-ups. Here is a plan you can use to reach those goals.
Of these three the pull-up is the king. I have never met anyone who could do a decent number of perfect pull-ups and had body composition issues. Neither have you.
What is the reason for this phenomenon? Simple: even a little excess body fat makes pull-ups a lot harder. And losing a few pounds makes a world of a difference. Your scale might give you an objective number about how much you weigh but when you are pulling yourself up you get to feel every ounce in real life.
And undereating and starving yourself to see change won’t work. If you get weaker (less muscle meaning less toned) you will hit a wall and stop progressing.
You will have to find the balance between a diet that fuels your ability to exercise and enhances your ability to burn fat. And every workout is instant feedback about the effectiveness of the diet that you have chosen.
This plan is for those who can already do at least one pull-up (or chin-up) and one dip (or push-up). Pair it with a reasonable diet and make sure to get plenty of walking in.
Chin-ups are done with your palms facing towards you, while pull-ups are done with your palms facing away. Chin-ups are easier (for most people) than pull-ups.
The dip is preferred, because it involves holding your entire body in the air instead of the measly 64% that you need to do a push up. But if you must the push-up can be substituted for the dip.
If you can’t yet do one pull-up I recommend this article by Karen Smith. It will give you the core exercises and progressions you need to develop to do your first pull-up.
Basically you need to practice certain pull-up specific core exercises and improve how long you can hang from a bar. Once you have reached 60 seconds of a hold you are ready for your first chin-up. Once you have achieved 3 chin-ups then you are ready for 1 pull-up.
The progression is based on the Fighter Pull-Up Program by Pavel, which is an excellent program for quickly increasing your pull-up number.
But since we want balanced upper body strength you will be doing both the pull-up and the dip.
You will train 6 days a week and alternate sets of pull-ups and dips. Your max number of reps is based on whichever exercise you can do less of. For almost everyone this will be the pull-up.
The secret to making this plan work is being honest with where you are starting. If you cut the range of motion or move extra fast to get a few extra reps you will start the progression at a number that is too high for your current ability level.
Remember a good program is about starting under your current capacity and ending above your current capacity. Not the other way around.
Quick controlled concentric actions. Slow controlled eccentric (meaning lowering) actions. It is helpful to count on a 1-1-3-1 Tempo. Meaning 1 count up, 1 count hold, 3 count down, 1 count at the bottom.
But, if you want serious results consider a 1-1-5-1 tempo: 1 count up, 1 count hold, 5 count down, 1 count at the bottom.
Either way always make physical contact with the bar somewhere below your chin at the top and get your elbows completely straight at the bottom.
Say you can do 6 pull-ups in this manner – then your training plan looks like this (P represents pull-ups and D represents dips):
Day 1 - P6, D5, P4, D3, P2, D1
Day 2 - D6, P5, D4, P3, D2, P2
Day 3 - P6, D5, P4, D3, P3, D2
Day 4 - D6, P5, D4, P4, D3, P2
Day 5 - P6, D5, P5, D4, P3, D2
Day 6 - D6, P6, D5, P4, D3, P2
Day 7 - Off
Day 8 - P7, D6, P5, D4, P3, D2
And so on. Notice that the sets always alternate and the exercise you start with alternates every day. Also we are adding 1 rep a workout and increasing your max by 1 rep a week.
We call this a Mouse-in-Snake progression. The first set is the “tail” of the snake, the last set is the mouth of the snake and the one additional rep we add daily is the mouse. On Day 2 the snake eats the mouse and you add one rep to the last set. On Day 3 you add another rep but this time to the second-to-last set. And so on.
On Day 6 the bump is one slot from the tail and the snake takes a nap on the 7th Day. On Day 8 the bump settles into the tail, you hit a PR and the snake goes looking for another mouse.
You might notice this system breaks down if your start number is less than 6. The way we deal with this problem is by starting with 3 sets of 1 then adding 2 sets of 1 until we get to 5 sets of each (instead of the traditional 3 sets of each). At that point you go back to 3 sets and add a rep in a snake pattern going the other way.
The reason for this is beginners with low numbers will be too exhausted to add a rep to their last sets of the day. So we either increase the number of sets or add the extra rep to the beginning. At the beginning you will be fresh and ready for the extra rep.
The complete chart starting with someone who can only do 1 rep is as follows:
Day 01 - P1, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1
Day 02 - D1, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1
Day 03 - P1, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1
Day 04 - D2, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1
Day 05 - P2, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1
Day 06 - D2, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1
Day 07 - Off
Day 08 - P2, D2, P1, D1, P1, D1
Day 09 - D2, P2, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1
Day 10 - P2, D2, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1
Day 11 - D2, P2, D2, P1, D1, P1
Day 12 - P2, D2, P2, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1
Day 13 - D2, P2, D2, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1
Day 14 - Off
Day 15 - P2, D2, P2, D2, P1, D1
Day 16 - D2, P2, D2, P2, D1, P1, D1, P1
Day 17 - P2, D2, P2, D2, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1
Day 18 - D2, P2, D2, P2, D2, P1
Day 19 - P2, D2, P2, D2, P2, D1, P1, D1
Day 20 - D2, P2, D2, P2, D2, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1
Day 21 - Off
Day 22 - P3, D2, P2, D2, P2, D1
Day 23 - D3, P2, D2, P2, D2, P1, D1, P1
Day 24 - P3, D2, P2, D2, P2, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1
Day 25 - D3, P3, D2, P2, P2, D1
Day 26 - P3, D3, P2, D2, P2, D1, P1, D1
Day 27 - D3, P3, D2, P2, D2, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1
Day 28 - Off
Day 29 - P3, D3, P3, D2, P2, D1
Day 30 - D3, P3, D3, P2, D2, P1, D1, P1
Day 31 - P3, D3, P3, D2, P2, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1
Day 32 - D3, P3, D3, P3, D2, P1
Day 33 - P3, D3, P3, D3, P2, D1, P1, D1
Day 34 - D3, P3, D3, P3, D2, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1
Day 35 - Off
Day 36 - P4, D3, P3, D3, P2, D1
Day 37 - D4, P3, D3, P3, D2, P1, D1, P1
Day 38 - P4, D3, P3, D3, P2, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1
Day 39 - D4, P4, D3, P3, D2, P1
Day 40 - P4, D4, P3, D3, P2, D1, P1, D1
Day 41 - D4, P4, D3, P3, D2, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1
Day 42 - Off
Day 43 - P4, D4, P4, D3, P2, D1
Day 44 - D4, P4, D4, P3, D2, P1, D1, P1
Day 45 - P4, D4, P4, D3, P2, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1
Day 46 - D5, P4, D4, P3, D2, P1
Day 47 - P5, D4, P4, D3, P2, D1, P1, D1
Day 48 - D5, P4, D4, P3, D2, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1
Day 49 - Off
Day 50 - P5, D5, P4, D3, P2, D1
Day 51 - D5, P5, D4, P3, D2, P1, D1, P1,
Day 52 - P5, D5, P4, D3, P2, D1, P1, D1, P1, D1
Day 53 - D6, P5, D4, P3, D2, P1
Day 54 - P6, D5, P4, D3, P2, D1, P1, D1
Day 55 - D6, P5, D4, P3, D2, P1, D1, P1, D1, P1
Day 56 - Off
Day 57 - Begin with Day 1 of the standard program
If you can do more than 1 and less than 6 start on the first day that your current max appears on the program. This program has confused everyone that I have explained it to which is why I took the time to write out the entire progression for you. Just follow the days one by one.
And the way you screw this one up is by not resting enough between sets. Take your time, it will pay off.
What if You Can Do a lot of Pull-Ups and Dips
When your numbers are high you may take bigger steps down. Usually decrease by 2 each set.
Day 1 - P14, D12, P10, D8, P6, D4
Day 2 - D14, P12, D10, P8, D6, P6
Day 3 - P14, D12, P10, D8, P8, D6
In this example you also add 2 reps a workout in the snake and mouse progression. It is acceptable to add one as well. For example:
Day 1 - P14, D12, P10, D8, P6, D4
Day 2 - D14, P12, D10, P8, D6, P5
Day 3 - P14, D12, P10, D8, P7, D5
And so on.
But also remember that once you have 10 pull-ups and 10 dips down you don’t need to go higher. Certain tactical athletes have tests that are a good reason to increase to 15 or 20+ reps but for most people after that you should be thinking in other directions.
Such as adding weight, or more advanced skills. While this program wasn’t designed for Muscle Up Training the first person to do this program successfully got his first muscle up during this program.
What to Do if You Miss Days
Preferably don’t! That being said sometimes life will get in the way. If it happens occasionally (like once every 3-4 weeks) you can skip the missed day and move onto the following day and not have a problem.
If it starts happening every 1-2 weeks you should consider a different program.
What About Legs?
Yes. Feel free to add leg training to this program. Some great bodyweight ideas are hack squats and pistol squats.
Leg training will not get in the way of this program, but upper body and grip training can. Dips and pull-ups every day will work every muscle on the upper body and you do need to recover.
Ready to give it a try or have any questions? Send me an email at David@magenfitness.com