McGill pull-up when, why and how

McGill pull-up when, why, and how

McGill pull-up is an exercise I learned from Dr. McGill about ten years ago. It’s a way to treat pull-ups as supersets of 1-2 reps, and in this article, I will explain how I work these in, when, and how. This assistance exercise has been a staple in my training and many others I coach and program. Dr. McGill refers to this pull-up in our joint book Gift of Injury as the Pavel pull-up, as he learned this strategy from Pavel T.

Why McGill pull-up

For some, doing sets of 10 on the pull-ups isn’t tricky or risky. Others, especially those who weigh over 250 lbs, can become more trouble than they are worth. Dr. McGill shared with me the athletes he has worked with building their pull-up volume this way; the athlete gets better at pull-ups the more I have used this strategy. My experience has been the same. My ability to do pull-ups improved, and I didn’t have to worry about my biceps tearing off. Do we want our 280lb plus clients trying to crank out sets of 10 pull-ups to fail exhaustively? I sure don’t! Perfect timing for an injury.


When I was competing, I would do these 1-2x per week. I would prime my deadlift with them and use them as a warm-up, then do another 10-12 singles at the end of the workout. Sometimes I would use them as a warm-up on bench day to practice my explosiveness and get ready to move weight on the bench fast. I know many athletes who begin training with this type of explosive work to set the tone. I used to do 30 sets of 2 on these and would be ready to deadlift, feeling even better than when I started them.


I’ve already established what a McGill Pull-up is, but how do you do them besides singles? The best explanation is in both videos above, but here are a few cues to focus on. First, dead hang, concentrate on squeezing your shoulder blades together, and anti-shrug with a stiffened core tuned appropriately. Then, when you are tight and locked in, you explode up and squeeze hard into contraction, then lower yourself back down to take a break for about 10-15seconds. You want to make each rep pristine and use the quality of quantity method of volume.

Form, then speed. This is always the case, and it’s not different with these explosive pull-ups.

Brian offers in-person and virtual video coaching to those needing programming, back injury, or form coaching. 

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Brian Carroll

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Brian is a retired world-class powerlifter with over two decades of world-class powerlifting. From 1999 to 2020, Brian Carroll was a competitive powerlifter, one of the most accomplished lifters in the sport's history. Brian started off competing in bench press competitions 'raw,' then, shortly into the journey, he gravitated toward equipped lifting as there were no "raw" categories then. You only had to choose from single-ply (USPF) and Multi-ply (APF/WPC). Brian went on to total 2730 at 275 and 2651 at 242 with more than ten times his body weight in three different classes (220, 242, 275), and both bench pressed and deadlifted over 800 pounds in two other weight classes. He's totaled 2600 over 20 times in 2 different weight classes in his career. With 60 squats of 1000lbs or more officially, this is the most in powerlifting history, regardless of weight class or federation, by anyone not named David Hoff. Brian realized many ups and downs during his 20+ years competing. After ten years of high-level powerlifting competition and an all-time World Record squat at 220 with 1030, in 2009, Brian was competing for a Police academy scholarship. On a hot and humid July morning, Brian, hurdling over a barricade at 275lbs, landed on, fell, and hurt his back. After years of back pain and failed therapy, Brian met with world-renowned back specialist Prof McGill in 2013, which changed his trajectory more than he could have imagined. In 2017, Brian Carroll and Prof McGill authored the best-selling book about Brian's triumphant comeback to powerlifting in Gift of Injury. Most recently (10.3.20) -Brian set the highest squat of all time (regardless of weight class) with 1306 lbs – being the first man to break the 1300lb squat barrier at a bodyweight of 303 lbs.
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