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Here’s how to add muscle in all the right places — your forearms, lats and biceps — by doing chin-ups. I’ll explain the exact process I’ve used to help clients double their chin-ups in 30 days.
But begs the question…Why do chin-ups matter? For most lifters, grabbing a bar and pulling their body to the top more than three or four times is tough. But doing 6-10+ chin-ups without kipping and wiggling like an angry honey badger? Less than 10% of folks are capable (C’mon, use your imagination. Honey Badger wouldn’t care.) Which leads me to say chin-ups are bad-ass. Beyond standing out in the gym and carrying bragging rights, chin-ups are one of the best exercises for adding muscle to your traps, lats, forearms, and lats.
Even better, you can do them in nearly any training environment, making them an ideal exercise for training on the road(free guide).
From a performance perspective? Chin-ups are a wicked display of relative strength–or how strong you are for your size. Relative strength begets greater control and movement of your own body. And while the skills don’t transfer directly, being a badass with your chin-ups is a good indication you’re strong, fast, explosive, and close to becoming one of the ninjas from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.
Okay, that was a stretch. But in the context of being strong, jacked, and athletic chins-up matter. A lot.
Real men do chin-ups. And so do badass women. Chin up prowess is a key indicator of:
* Relative strength: how strong you are for your size. * Balanced training: whether you’re spending too much time posing between bench presses and biceps curls. * Dedication: Wanna become a high-performance machine? Prove it by committing to chip-up improvement and getting strong for your size.
It won’t be easy. After the initial training stages, improving chin-ups is harder than staying composed during your first trip to the Boobie Bungalo. But, with this tested plan, focused recovery, and determination you can build size to your lats and arms, and brutal strength, and chin-ups to your repertoire.
Do Chin-Ups First in Training
A basic law of training is to do whatever is most important first in your workouts, especially technical and difficult exercises.This narrows your focus to the essential tasks to achieving your goal and helps base your training on neurological demands.
A lot of lifters mess this part up. They consider only squats, deadlifts bench presses, or Olympic lifts to be neurologically demanding.
Any exercise where you’re unable to perform more six perfect reps IS a pure strength exercise, especially if it’s a multi-joint lift like chin-ups.
If you were a 400-pound squatter training for maximum strength you wouldn’t wait three or four exercises before attempting to squat 370 x 5 reps, right?
The same logic of intensity applies to chin-ups. If you’re looking to make rapid improvements or are unable to do more than six perfect chin-ups, move them up to the beginning of your routine–this is a strength building exercise and you need to do them while fresh to continue boosting strength and performance.
Use Multiple Rep Schemes
The chin-up is a great test of relative strength and indication of whether you need to cut body fat and or improve strength.
There are two ways to improve relative strength: improve absolute strength or drop a few pounds. We’ll focus on the former.
Heavy strength work builds the foundation for everything you do. And like constructing a building, you need a huge foundation to build layers of muscle, endurance, and athleticism.
Pure Strength rep schemes
Make building strength your primary goal, improving your ability to move your body and/or extra weight with two to six reps set.
Avoid failure on heavy rep sets, whether it’s 5×2, 6×3, or 4×4 with two to three minutes of rest in between. Each rep should be explosive on the concentric and controlled on the eccentric.
You’ll be chinin’ on the regular, so don’t blow your….energy in week one and fry your nervous system. Stay calm, stay cool, and avoid grinding on too many reps to build strength.
Play around with rep schemes, but the sweet spot here is between 10 and 20 heavy reps per week. Progressively add resistance and get strong.
For years, coaches like Chad Waterbury have talked about twenty-five reps as a key trigger for size and strength. And when looking at most rep schemes, that seems about right.
Twice per week 5×5, 4×6,3×8, and even 2×12-15 hit the perfect blend of high-tension and total time under tension to help you build strength and mass. Rest one to two minutes between sets while focusing on perfect form.
Perform one or two workouts per week with moderate, hypertrophy driven rep schemes.
I’m giving you two options here. First, attempt Rep schemes like 3×10-15, 2×12-20 once per week work wonders in stimulating size and endurance. Pick one pull weekly, keep the tempo slow, and maximize the time under tension.
BUT, since most people struggle doing more than 6 chin-ups, high rep work sets are out of the question.
Instead, employ a plethora of other lifts like inverted rows, high-rep dumbbell rows, band-assisted chin-ups, pull-downs, and my personal favorite, 2:1 lat pull-down to build in volume for both endurance and muscle growth. You won’t be able to do a ton of reps on these, but what’s lacking in reps in made up in overloading the eccentric and time under tension.
Alternatively, here’s a chin-up with demonstrating 3-4 second eccentrics on my youtube channel. Here, the total time under tension for the set is 30-40 seconds, plenty to build endurance.
At the end of the day, your body doesn’t know reps. All it knows are it needs to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible (heavy, tension based work), and battle metabolic stress (moderate-high rep work) to complete a muscular action.
By subbing chin-ups and attacking local muscular endurance we can still provide tons of time under tension to boost endurance and gains.
Optimize Your Form:
You’re either getting better or getting worse with every rep, every set, and every workout.
Most lifters agree. They understand letting form collapse on exercises like deadlifts is not only risky but grooves faulty movement patterns likely to spark plateaus and injuries down the road.
Still, that logic isn’t applied to chin-ups. Why? The answer eludes me.
Most lifters think it’s fine to keep, squirm, and wiggle your way up the bar. Like any lift, you’re opening the door for injury and poor habits. Don’t. Make every rep as perfect as possible.
All exercises, even if they’re bodyweight, need careful attention to form. Rest, recover and maximize rep quality before piling on weight.
You’re either doing an exercise right and building good habits, or you’re cheating and opening the door for injury.
Train Chin Ups Often
My clients improve fastest when we increase training frequency to three, four, or even five times per week.
Mastering any skill requires practice, whether it’s learning a new language or a new exercise.
Or to get geeky about it: consistent stimuli to any movement pattern leads to faster skill acquisition.
Now, you don’t need to chin up every time you walk under a bar, but the increased training frequency will speed up your progress.
First, you’ll improve technique via better intermuscular and intramuscular coordination. Then, more muscular contractions up-regulate protein synthesis for growth. With a ramp up in training volume, you’ll set the body up for a huge super-compensation effect when frequency goes back to once or twice per week.
To focus in on higher frequency training you’ll focus on pure strength once per week. This improves overall work capacity and muscle fiber recruitment. Moderate rep training (6-12 reps) once or twice per week provides the volume to add strength and size concurrently.
Then, once per week hit high-rep, near failure sets. This provides the local muscular endurance to boost your chin-up prowess, test your progress, and add additional metabolic stress to boost muscle growth.
Vary Your Chin-ups
When training chin ups with high volume it’s important to provide slight tweaks to technique to prevent stagnation and overuse injuries.
It’s best to tweak grip position from supinated to pronated (overhand) and neutral (palms facing) once or twice per week. Also, move your hands narrower and wider by a few inches every few training sessions.
These small changes, even if it’s an inch difference in grip width, stress joints and muscles differently. This changes the recruitment patterns to prevent overuse injury and fire up new muscle growth and well-balanced strength.
Don’t overcomplicate this. Make small changes by moving your hands in or out an inch and add in a change of grip once per week, ideally on your moderate rep work.
Wrap Up: The Official Guidelines
Avoid failure and ugly reps. Remember, you’re either getting better or getting worse with every set and every rep.
Concurrently lift heavy, moderate, and lighter loads throughout the week. This obliterates weaknesses and sets your body up for a huge rebound after ramping up your training.
Train frequently. Do chin-ups four times per week for the next month. Then back off to once or twice per week. You’ll get stronger and bigger in a hurry.
Make small tweaks to your grip style and width weekly.
Step up to the plate. Balance push/pull strength to drive performance. A more powerful body will be your reward. And your new found muscle will stretch your shirtsleeves.
30 Days to Double your Chins Workout Plan
I kicked the tires on throwing this in the blog post as it’s directly from the Minimalist Muscle course. But, you’re worth it. Enroll now and use the code “GAINS” for a readers’ only discount.
For the next month, arrange a push, pull, lower, total body split like this:
Monday: Upper Body Push
Warm Up +
1a.Band Dislocations 2×10, rest 0 seconds
1b.Scapular Wall Slides 2×10, rest 0 seconds
1c.Band Pull Apart 2×20 rest 0 seconds
Chin-Up 2×5-6. Rest 60-90 seconds
Consider this an additional warm-up. We’re simply looking to boost volume here.
Bench Press 5×5, rest 2-3 minutes
Chin Up 3×6-8, rest 90-120 seconds
If necessary, add weight. This is your moderate rep hypertrophy work.
The basics of progressive overload apply on these workouts. Don’t go insane on week one and miss reps. Perfect technique, add weight over time and grow.
Once per week perform a ladder either on an off-day or 8+ hours separated from your pre-planned workout. Here’s the deal. If you can perform 1-6 chin-ups…. You start with one rep on a chin-up, take a brief rest, then add a rep until you hit five reps. We’ll set a total goal of 50 reps, which is plenty to add size and an extremely dense, arm-pumping workout.
1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1+1= 50 chin ups
If you can do 6+ chin-ups….
Start with six reps and perform 2,4,6,4,2,4,6,2,4,6,4,2,4,6 for 50 chin ups.
This should take 4-6 minutes, tops and build incredible strength, size, and endurance.
Want to Build 8-15 pounds of muscle without living in the gym?