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 Carroll is committed to helping people overcome back pain and optimizing lifts and movement. After years of suffering, he met back specialist Prof. McGill in 2013, which led to a life-changing transformation. In 2017, they co-authored the best-selling book "Gift of Injury." On October 3, 2020, Carroll made history in powerlifting by squatting 1306 lbs, becoming the first person to break this record. He retired with a secure legacy and a life free from back pain.
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