Four Pull-Up Challenges to Blast your Back

Sometimes there just isn’t enough time in the day, and you might have only ten minutes to get a workout in. While that might see impossible, I can and have had great workouts which have left me sore the next day in ten minutes or less, and you can too. The key to making that short of a time frame effective is to ramp up the intensity beyond normal and take very short rest periods, and these four pull-up challenges will allow you to do just that. These pull-up challenges can also be used as a workout finisher, and if you had any doubts as to whether you had an effective back workout before doing one of these challenges, you won’t afterwards.

Pull-Up W’s

Pull-Up W’s are probably my favorite method for getting in an extremely fast workout, and they can be done easily with body-weight exercises.


W’s can be deceiving in terms of expected difficulty, so when choosing the reps done for the top set (the set with the most reps), I find that choosing a rep amount of 40-50% of my max number of reps works well. If you can do normally hit 10 clean pull-up reps, then perform the challenge using 5 reps for the top set. Using 5 reps again for our example, if you complete the workout, you end up performing 53 reps in a very short time frame, and it is that intensity over a very short duration which really works the musculature.

A word of warning, just adding a single rep to the top set, increases the difficulty of the W workout significantly. Increasing from 5 to 6 increases the number of reps performed by 23, from a total of 53 to 76. For a top set of 8 reps, you’re performing 134 reps total! It adds up quick so be careful choosing a rep number which will not overwhelm you.

One Minute Pull-Up Challenge

The one minute pull-up challenge is a great way to improve your pull-up form while simultaneously destroying your back, core, and forearm muscles. Using either a bar or rings, you perform a single pull-up (or chin-up) rep over the course of 1 minute. This minute can be broken down however you like between the concentric, isometric, and eccentric portions of the pull-up, but an easy way to program it is to perform a 20 second concentric, a 20 second isometric hold at the top of the rep, and then perform a 20 second eccentric to finish the rep.

Performing this rep so slowly eliminates any chance of kipping, placing all the stress on the back, and it requires you to hold a tight hollow position, which is a great core exercise. Performing the single rep so slowly also helps to improve your form throughout the entire pull-up range of motion.

If you can’t perform a full 1 minute pull-up, instead of letting go of the bar upon failure, drop into a dead hang and hold on to the bar in that position for the remainder of the 1 minute.

Here I demonstrate the one minute pull-up challenge.

Doing a single one of these 1 minute reps is brutal, but if you really want to prove your mettle, bust out five reps in ten minutes, resting 60 secs in-between each rep

The Hang Pull-Up Test

The Hang Pull-Up Test is something I first read from Dan John, and this is a great way to see if you have what it takes to hang, literally. While this challenge requires less brute back strength than the others, what it does require is incredible grip and core strength.

To do this challenge, set a timer to buzz every 30 secs, and grab onto a pull-up bar. Hang from the bar for thirty seconds, and when the timer goes off, perform a single pull-up. Without letting go, drop back down and hang for another thirty seconds. Once the timer rings for the next 30 seconds, do a second pull-up, and drop back into a hang. repeat this cycle of 30 seconds hanging/one pull-up for as long as possible. If you really have what it takes, you’ll hang for 5 minutes, in the process doing 10 reps.

It doesn’t seem all that tough reading about it, but hanging in a dead hang for an extended period really works your grip strength, and stabilizing your body throughout the challenge hits the core hard.

100 Pull-ups for Time

Set a timer and see how fast your can perform 100 strict pull-ups. If the max number of pull-ups you can do is 10 or less, then perform 50 pull-ups for time instead. While this sounds simple enough, your body will think differently once your reps completely close in on the triple digits.

When I first performed this challenge on 7-12-14, I completed my 100 pull-ups in 24:16 minutes, and now my fastest time for this challenge was set on 5-12-15 at 15:22 minutes, and I know the dates and times because I logged it all in my workout journal. Along with W’s, this is my go to workout when I am strapped for time and all I have is my doorway pull-up bar on hand.


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Stefan Burns

Stefan Burns

Fitness, nutrition, and powerlifting buff. Created Strength Cooperative as a way for hardworking, natural lifters to share advice on how THEY got results in the gym.
Stefan Burns

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