How to Improve Your Chin Ups


The last post I wrote about how to improve your chin ups detailed how to get from zero to one. Once you get to one you will, in time, work your way up to sets of five or even ten reps. But again, you will hit a wall at some point and be unable to make any more improvements.

So today I am going to offer a very easy, completely unscientific method that will help you add more reps to your chins.

One of the major problems is that for most average guys a set of chins is a five rep max. Therefore it is true CNS draining Max Effort work. And they repeatedly do this time after time, workout after workout.

There is no other exercise that you would continually max out on and take to near death failure like you do with chin ups. You would know better than to do that with squats and deads. But everyone is fine with doing it on chins. And I truly believe that to be one of the major reasons why more people don’t improve on their chins with any regularity.

The other problem is that there isn’t enough variety in the rep ranges and when you continually do those five rep max sets you are never doing anything to improve your endurance in that movement pattern.

To get better on the 225 pound bench test you would do things like strap pushups, ascending board presses or pushups, high rep dumbbell presses, etc. on one day to build your endurance and some heavy pressing on another day to build your strength. But most people don’t take this approach with their chins; they only work on the lower end of the rep scale trying to improve strength, but do nothing to improve endurance. And obviously this doesn’t always work too well.

So the simple solution is to throw in more high rep work; which would again involve the use of the bands. The bands got you from zero chins to one and now they can help get you from your current plateau up to a new PR.

Exactly how, you ask…

Any way you want. Simply using more variety will be enough to do the trick and help you break out of a rut. Some workouts you can use the light band, some workouts you can use the mini bands, some you can use the average bands, some you can do with bodyweight, and some you can do weighted. Just mix it up each program and keep getting stronger on each variety of chins you do.

But remember not to go to failure and let your form break down. Again, most people are smart enough not to let their squat turn into a good morning, but everyone is ok with climbing up the invisible ladder, swinging, rest-pausing, severely protracting their shoulders and doing whatever else they can to make their final reps on chin ups look as ugly as possible. Don’t do this if you want to get stronger.

Below is a video from this past summer of Jen doing chin ups. She bangs out 13 picture perfect reps with no band. That’s something that most guys can’t do. In the video in the previous post about how to improve your chin ups she did 15 WITH the band. That was less than eight months earlier. The way she made such dramatic improvements was through variety and building up her endurance in that movement pattern with higher reps sets. She always did a variety of different grips and we varied her reps from 3-20. Some months she did chins twice per week (one day heavy, one day light), others only once. This is another way to boost your chins. Hit them 5 times per week for a month and then cut back to only once per week for the next month. The supercompensation effect from the reduced loading will often lead to improved performance in the second month.

Waving the reps up and down is more effective than just trying to make linear improvements; which only beginners can do. While a linear approach of starting with strong or average bands and working down to no bands worked well in the past, it won’t work so well now that you can do eight reps or so. You need to use a form of undulating or alternating periodization to get the best results.

But again, remember that you need to improve your strength endurance in that movement pattern. Having the arms extended overhead (as in a military press) makes it more difficult to breath. You need to get used to that. So even throwing in an exercise like the monkey bar climb, seen below, can be helpful as well.

Hopefully that gives you some good ideas about how to improve your chin ups and you’ll be setting some new PR’s real soon.

PS. For an awesome 16 week program that will help you make huge improvements on your chin ups and numerous other bodyweight exercises check out Uncaged by clicking HERE now.

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26 Responses to How to Improve Your Chin Ups

  1. miz-wacky December 1, 2009 at 11:20 am #

    This is helpful info for me. You’re right on the money. Ten months ago i could barely do 1 chin up and now the first set I get 6-7 and only about half that for each set after. I’m gonna try your advice and see if can pump out 13 in a couple months! Thanks as always.

  2. Chris December 1, 2009 at 12:18 pm #

    This is exactly what we all needed.

    Do you use elitefts.com bands or jump stretch bands? Can you recommend which tension to order for a 185 pound guy?

    Thanks Jason,

    -Chris

  3. Lame-R December 1, 2009 at 12:25 pm #

    This is great you’re addressing the pull-up–it’s a fantastic exercise, and way too neglected.

    Adding weights worked well to increase my reps, and was more enjoyable, imo.

    One thing you didn’t mention was speed work (knowing you, I’m sure you left it out intentionally); I would think it wouldn’t even be worth considering until you can do at least 10-12 reps, but with the bands it may be possible (and even worthwhile) to incorporate a limited amount of speed work earlier. I’m just speculating, though.

  4. Matty Holmes December 1, 2009 at 2:39 pm #

    Great article Jay, I wanted to get some monkey bar type thing in my gym

  5. Gards December 1, 2009 at 11:53 pm #

    Dear Jen,

    Would you happen to need a new spotter? haha jk!….Great work!

    Thanks for the post Ferruggia really beneficial!

  6. Dave December 2, 2009 at 1:10 am #

    This is exactly what I needed. I am on phase 3 of Max. Mass in Minimum Time, and am was wondering how to approach the 3 sets of 8-10 reps on chin ups. Now I know :-)

    Cheers Jason,
    Dave.

  7. Guðmundur Pétursson December 2, 2009 at 2:01 am #

    The photo there at the top … isn´t it a pull up ;-)

  8. jasonferruggia December 2, 2009 at 5:38 am #

    I was waiting for the first smart ass to say that. It was the best pic I could find in a rush.

    • onesimus July 29, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

      and you wanted to make sure it was a paisano :)

  9. Shane December 2, 2009 at 6:36 am #

    I have been using a 10 set progression to get better at these. I actually got this from a workout that Alwyn Cosgrove wrote. It’s 10 sets of 2 or 3 depending on where you are at, but each week you rest for 15 less seconds between sets. I start at 60 seconds and work my way down to 15 seconds. So maybe I need to throw in a day with some weighted chins and less total reps?

    I was able to do 7 reps max before I started this and after going through it the first time with sets of 2 I did 9 on a day that I was a little bit sick. So it seems to be helping me, but I’m all for making even more progress.

  10. tim December 2, 2009 at 1:17 pm #

    jay,

    finding you and “mgs” a year ago was best thing in my training life. you have changed my outlook and motivation when it comes to the iron. quick question where did you find the monkey bar set-up in your gym? all the ones i can find have a weight limit of around 120lbs.

    keep up the great work. peace

    -tim

  11. Rob Hudson December 2, 2009 at 3:49 pm #

    Great post on how to improve your chin ups!
    I would like to share another article on how to improve your chinups that I found on Clarence Bass’s web site http://www.cbass.com entitled :
    A Small Experiment in Synaptic Facilitation- The article was written by Pavel Tsatsouline.

    Cheers to more chins!!!

  12. Carl December 3, 2009 at 1:10 am #

    Great stuff! I had been guilty of hitting failure on a regular basis to try and improve my chin up numbers and I actually found it had a negative impact on my capacity to do them. Sometimes being too motivated can be a bad thing when it leads to poor choices!

    Thanks for continuing to show us a smarter way to train.

  13. Guðmundur Pétursson December 3, 2009 at 6:42 am #

    hehe … you should now better when writing to a bunch of exercise enthusiasts ;-)
    Great pic though, and a great article !
    -Smartass from Iceland

  14. jasonferruggia December 3, 2009 at 8:23 am #

    Chris, I have jumpstretch, but the Elite bands would be exactly the same. Like I said, you should have at least two different tensions, probably light and average.

    Lame-R, speed work may be of some benefit when you get strong. Not before that though.

    Matty, the monkey bars are awesome.

    Shane, finish Cosgroves program and then give my ideas a go.

  15. Alex Katsanos December 3, 2009 at 10:13 am #

    Hi, that looks like a good idea. Personally, I’ve been using Pavel’s “Grease the Groove” idea. I did lots of 1 rep pull up and chin ups during the day and now I am up to 10 straight pull ups.

  16. On a limb with Claudia December 3, 2009 at 1:12 pm #

    Chins are my 2010 goal, Jason. 3 days until the 1/2 marathon, then I’m back in the gym. Hurray!!

  17. Ignacio December 3, 2009 at 3:13 pm #

    muy interesante el post , con las bandas de asistencia se terminan los pretextos para no hacer chin ups o push ups.

  18. The X Hardgainer December 4, 2009 at 9:35 am #

    Great article Jason! Chin-ups are awesome. I’ve started off with bands so I could work in the higher rep ranges 12-15 and now I’ve lost the bands and am working anywhere from 3-12 reps.

    Usually I’ll do pull-ups first and hit 10-12 reps. Then I’ll do inverted rows and hit 10-12 reps. Then rope chin-ups… by that time my arms are burning so I only hit about 3 reps.

    On other days I’ll do wide-grip pull-ups, reverse grip inverted rows, and then neutral grip chin-ups. Same concept!

    As I continue to get stronger I’ll add my weighted vest to the mix!

    Keep going strong!

    Brandon
    HardgainerMuscleBuilding.com/blog

    PS: By the way I hung the article you wrote with the Sun Tzu quote on my mirror to remind me daily to bust my ass. I’m doing a six-month transformation and documenting it on my blog… I want the accountability it brings and the pain it will bring me if I give up on my goal. Like you said “Be careful what you ask for because now you gotta earn it…. or look like a failure in the eyes of everyone you told.” … VERY TRUE!

  19. Deven DeCoste December 5, 2009 at 11:32 am #

    Jay,
    I do not have any bands or money to buy them (just cleaned the bank account out for XMas)… Would using my gyms chin-assist machine be essentially the same thing/concept?

    Great post and thank you very much for writing it. I’ve been stuck at 10 chins for a long-ass time.

    - Deven

  20. Joe Hashey December 5, 2009 at 2:09 pm #

    Great Post – I like to see somewhat of a “resurrgence” of some serious body weight exercises lately!

    Joe

  21. Rob Hudson December 7, 2009 at 3:17 pm #

    Jason, i wanted to ask you where did you find the monkey bar system that you show in your video. I’d love to set one up in my gym! Thanks!!!

  22. Layout Hunter December 13, 2009 at 10:43 am #

    I can easily do 20 pull ups how can I get to 30?
    thanks

  23. jasonferruggia January 19, 2010 at 7:38 am #

    Brandon,
    Thanks for the post and glad I could provide some motivation.

    Joe,
    Bodyweight exercises rule!

    Rob,
    I got that from my buddy Jon Hinds. I’m not sure where you can get one.

    Layout Hunter,
    That’s a whole ‘nother topic. I would still mix it up though with some heavy weighted chins some days and higher reps on other days.

  24. amir November 15, 2011 at 5:06 am #

    nice and useful information

  25. Rory Ellis June 25, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

    What’s the best “at home, door frame” pull up bar that you would recommend?