2,409 Chin-Ups in 12 Hours

by Jason Armstrong

Never during my training, for this event or any other, has my preparation included consumption of anabolic steroids or any other performance enhancing drug. In fact, for the 6 months preceding this particular event, I did the exact opposite. To lose weight (I was around 195 pounds at the start of my training in January, 2006), I went on a strict vegetarian diet, and stopped consuming any synthetic protein supplement. I also stopped lifting weights and swimming. I stopped lifting to lose the necessary weight (even lost muscle is less bodyweight to pull up and strain the joints) and stopped swimming because I believed at the time that it was too fluid an exercise to be conducive to maintaining the requisite unilateral, mechanical form each pull-up would require.  Each pull-up needed to be performed in exactly the same clean, simple, strict manner as the last not only to be official, but also to prevent overexertion and reduce the risk of injury induced by excess motion.  By the start of my first and only trial run at this event, which was performed at my house on July 8th of 2006, my total bodyweight was down to 183 pounds (though it would further decrease to 176 pounds over the course of that trial event) and broke the record unofficially by performing 2,228 complete pull-ups and chin-ups.  Note that the Book of Alternative Records now has further subcategories to differentiate pull-ups and chin-ups, with pull-ups employing the over-handed (pronated) grip and chin-ups using an under-handed (supinated) grip.  At the time I established this record officially, there was no such subcategorization, and my record was later sorted into the “pull-ups” subcategory because I performed vastly more pull-ups than chin-ups during the event (it had originally been my intention to perform 50% of the total repetitions with each grip style, but I abandoned the chin-ups after only a few sets because they were causing excruciating elbow pain).

My initial philosophy was that to train for an event like this, I needed quantity, not quality, but I soon learned that even the slightest drop in quality or care could cause a serious injury, and I started training for more quantity and quality. Most days I would just do a pull-up workout, or a pull-up workout and a light calisthenics workout to maintain minimal functionality of the muscles not directly stressed by performing pull-ups/chin-ups.  I would perform anywhere from 200-900 pull-ups a day at a pace anywhere from 12/minute down to 3/minute.  A typical workout would consist of 100 warm-up pull-ups and then 4 pull-ups per minute, in sets of 4, for approximately 2 hours. I would never do sets of more than 6, as I couldn't still do a clean set of 6 by the end of 2 hours, and I wanted to finish with everything looking exactly the same as when I started: effortless, confident, and most importantly, keeping in order with the established form criterion set forth by the administrators of the Book of Alternative Records.  During the official attempt, most sets consisted of 3 or 4 repetitions, the numbers which I found to work the best for me, even though many athletes (including my father who also set this record once) find larger sets to be more efficient. I would walk briskly between sets to maintain and continue developing my cardiovascular endurance, without having to take emphasis away from my pull-up workouts by supplementing my training plan with additional workouts focusing specifically on cardiovascular conditioning. I always trained without gloves, attempting to build up as much callus as possible on my hands, fingers, and the joints between.  Most athletes prefer to wear gloves, but doing so would put more material between my hands and the bar, effectively increasing the diameter of the grip and requiring more exertion by part of the forearms.

Many fitness experts have theorized that training for such intense, lengthy endurance events will detriment strength and speed. I found this to be very true. The most effective way to train for this event, according to my personal experience and research during training, was to perform massive amounts of repetitions every single day. However, training like this does not allow the muscles enough time to recover and makes any increase in strength an impractically slow process. When I started my training, I could do about 40 consecutive pull-ups, and at the time of the record break, I could only do about 25 consecutively.

Another common belief is that tall people are bad at pull-ups. I also found this to be somewhat true. At over six feet of height, I have an incredibly long distance to lift myself on every pull up, compounded by the “Ape Index” that I’d relied on during my years as a swimmer. My pull-up stroke is nearly twice the length of my father's and it is because of this that I have had to train so much harder and longer to excel at pull-ups than he did when he established his own endurance pull-up records in decades past. Weight is also an important factor. Even for an athlete of minimal body-fat (I was between 5% and 6% at the time of the record break), 183 pounds is still 183 pounds, and after 2,408 pull-ups, it feels like at least 1,830 pounds.

I had always admired the dead, expressionless faces gymnasts use during their routines and trained myself not to use the snarling, grit-toothed, face-contorting method I, and most other serious athletes, previously employed while trying to squeeze out that one last repetition.  I think I might have even saved some energy by relaxing my face.  I also came to be extremely resilient after acquiring so much endurance, and found that even a brief 2 to 3 minute rest could rejuvenate me for several hours, so it was easy to keep my body looking and feeling strong for every pull-up.  Over the course of the entire twelve hours, I had only one missed repetition, which occurred when a friend of mine cracked a joke in mid-pull and my laughter forced me to surrender the current set and drop off the bar.

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