Reader Q&A: 2 Workouts per Week, Pistol Squat Alternatives and Increasing Pull-up Reps

In this article, I’m going to answer some exciting reader questions. We’ll talk about entry points for bodyweight progressions, pistol squat alternatives for tall guys, increasing pull-up reps and how to effectively train calves.

I’ve been busy with work and life lately. Therefore, my writing for Neat Strength wasn’t as frequent as I would’ve liked it to be.

I also don’t like to come up with bullshit articles just for the sake of writing something. When I write an article, it’s usually because I explored some training method or idea and I want to share it. This way, people can benefit from my learning process as well.

In the last few weeks, I simply tried to stay more focused with my planned workouts — actually implementing what I write about.

Luckily, a lot of subscribers of the Neat Newsletter as well as readers who used the contact form come up with interesting questions. I try to answer every question I get.

So here goes the questions:

Nicolas asks:

“I only have time for two strength sessions a week. So I have to make them count. I’m going to focus on compound exercises.

Is going to failure on all exercises in both sessions the way to get the most out of the limited time I’m strength training?”

Going to failure is not the way, in my opinion, especially not with compound exercises. Pushing yourself is great, but keep the movement controlled (keep one rep in the tank).

With 2 weekly sessions, you just have to be more economic with the way you structure your workouts and choose your exercises.

Do full-body workouts on both days. Push/pull/squat every time.

Do super-sets: Either do upper/lower body or push/pull back to back. Squeeze in mobility drills in your resting period.

Focus on strength movements such as handstand push-upspull-upspistol squatsone-arm pushups and muscle-ups. 3-5 sets of 4-8 reps. Always strive to add more reps/sets.

Do a finisher circuit at the end of your workout, for example with regular push-upsrows and bodyweight squats. Or: Do 4 hill sprints with minimal rest at the end of the workout.

This full body approach will up the intensity without having you to go to failure. You can train hard and smart that way.

Although you have a bit more lee-way with just 2 workouts per week, manage your recovery. Scale the exercises based on how you feel that day. If your triceps are hammered from doing too many handstand push-ups in your last workout, do some light high-rep sets of easy push-ups.

You can still make good progress with your movements if you prioritize your goals.

Pick a few moves and really focus on these. With only 2 days a week, too much “muscle confusion” will lead to stagnation.

Jon asks:

“Hi Silvio

Got anything for calves? At the moment I’m doing 4×25 calf raises off a step / ladder. Should I progress to single leg calf raises?”

The best two things I’ve found for calves are

  1. Rope Skipping
  2. Heavy Farmer Walks

You can skip rope for 10 minutes as a warm-up or finisher. Try to do one consecutive set with minimal rest. Try different variations. Jump on both feet, alternate feet or stay on one foot for as long as you can and then switch to the other foot.

For Farmer Walks: Try to choose a weight so you can still walk with “soft knees”. Meaning, you can absorb the weight without bouncing while keeping a slight bent in your knees. My calves are really pumped after a long walk like this. Trap bars are best if your gym has one.

Calf raises are fine, but I find them super boring. To up the intensity, try them weighted with kettlebells or dumbbells in hand.

Prajwal asks:

“Hi. My max pull-up reps is 7. Can you give me some methods to build up to 12 or more reps?”

Try one of the following methods for at least 4 weeks.

Grease the Groove: Several times a day (every 2-3 hours), do 3-4 pull-ups (daily). Read Naked Warrior by Pavel Tsatsouline if you want to dig deeper into this.

Pyramid Training: 2-3 times a week, do 1 rep. Rest half a minute. Do 2 reps. Rest. Repeat until you can no more increase the reps (let’s say that’s 5). Then go down again. 4 reps. Rest. 3 reps …

To 25: How many sets does it take you to get to 25? Rest as necessary between sets.

Drop-sets: Normally you would do this with weights. Try to get to 12 reps. Let’s say you could do 7. Drop the weight by about 20%. Try to do the remaining 5 reps with the lighter weight. Drop the weight again by 20% if you couldn’t get 5 reps and do the remaining reps.
With pull-ups, instead of “dropping weight”, make the exercise easier. Switch to chin-ups after your first set (without coming off the bar). Switch to jumping negatives as a third option (jump up to the bar and use the momentum to get over the bar, then slowly lower yourself down). Over time, the reps of your first set will increase. Do drop-sets 2-3 times per week, 2-3 rounds per session.

Active Hanging: At the end of each of your workouts, actively hang from the bar (lats engaged) for as long as you can. This will increase your grip endurance, which can be a limiting factor.

Decide to do ONE of these methods. Commit to it for 4 weeks. Make pull-ups your primary exercise for the next 4 weeks.

None of these methods are magical. These are just different ways to accumulate more volume in a manageable way. Choose whichever fits your own schedule best.

Marc asks:

“I am a tall guy (1.94m) and I am pretty close to shrimps. But I just cannot get the hang on pistols.
Is it a legitimate substitute?”

It’s totally plausible that pistol squats are harder for taller guys than they are for smaller, more compact athletes. You have a longer way down (long legs), so the range of motion is increased. You also have to keep a long leg straight and you’re probably a bit heavier.

That’s not to say pistol squats are unattainable for you. It’s just a bit more challenging.

Unfortunately, I cannot perform a remote diagnosis and tell you exactly what your stumbling blocks are. It could also be a lack of mobility in your ankles or hamstrings.

In any case, shrimp squats are a superb alternative. Try doing airborne lunges for reps. Here, you’re holding both of your arms straight in front of you instead of using one hand to grab your rear foot. The movement is also a better fit if you want to add load (either with a dumbbell or kettlebell held in front of your chest). Start with a very light weight.

You can also change the range of motion to scale the difficulty of shrimp squats / airborne lunges. Try standing on an elevated platform and lower your rear knee to the ground. Or vice versa, lower your rear knee to an elevated platform to make the move easier.

That’s it for todays Q&A. If you, too, have questions you’d love to ask, don’t be shy. Contact me.