Jen’s New Chin Up PR (And How We Did It)

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Training

Jen set a new PR on chin ups this week, beating her old max of 13 by four reps (17). We determined that her strength endurance was good but in order to bring up her numbers we would need to improve her explosiveness and maximal strength.

Over the last few months we’ve had her do nothing but low reps on chin ups. Except for the rare sets of five we haven’t gone above three in quite a while.

Basically we worked on maximal strength and speed. She would often do twenty explosive singles, 8-12 doubles, or ten triples as fast as possible or as heavy as possible. Each day would start with something explosive, like a med ball slam to fire up the CNS before she hopped on the bar.

Ladders are another effective way of bringing up your chins that we use as well.

For example, you start with one rep, rest 15-45 seconds, then do two reps, rest again, then do three reps, rest again, then do four reps, rest again, then do five reps, then start the ladder over.

Again, it looks like this: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

This allows you to build up a good amount of volume while minimizing fatigue. And unlike some other muscle groups the lats can handle a lot of volume. Vince Gironda and many old school Russian strength coaches came to this conclusion many years ago and has proven to be true a million times over.

You burn out a lot slower when doing ladders than you do with traditional loading parameters. Use a prescribed rest period or do the ladders with 2-3 partners. You do a single, they do a single. You do a double, they do a double. And so on and so on up the ladder. Then you start back down at the bottom again.

If you can only do five chins or pull ups don’t go up to five reps. Instead stick with three as the top rung of your ladder.

Each workout try to beat the total number of reps you got in the previous workout. So if you got three full ladders as shown above, that would be 45 reps. You need to get at least 46 reps at the next workout.

When trying to improve chin ups high frequency works quite well so consider training them three times per week or more. Be sure to always keep the sets strong and fast. The quickest way to kill your progress on chin ups and usually get weaker, is to do slow, grinding, shitty looking reps.

They must be perfect or you get nowhere. I would even say that this applies to kipping pull ups. When the kip starts getting way uglier and harder than the first rep was the set is over.

Finally, make sure your body fat is low. You will never score high on the ultimate measure of upper body strength with a huge spare tire around your waist.

Below is the video of Jen’s new PR. Since this was her first day above five reps in quite a while I expect her to be hitting a new PR of twenty reps pretty soon once she gets used to the higher reps again.

Note that she is rounding her shoulders forward at the end and letting the reps get slow and “grindy.” This is never, ever allowable in training; only on a test day once every few months where you are just going for numbers. If you do that regularly you will get weaker. That I can promise you.

Drop a comment below and let me know what you think or if you have any questions.

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32 Responses to Jen’s New Chin Up PR (And How We Did It)

  1. CaroleLB November 20, 2010 at 7:04 am #

    Jen is amazing!

  2. Ryan November 20, 2010 at 7:08 am #

    Wow!! Great job Jen! My PR is 10. I am trying to convince my wife that she can be strong, and not look like a guy, maybe this video will show her that.

  3. Rog November 20, 2010 at 7:14 am #

    Can this type of technique be used for pushups?

  4. Britt November 20, 2010 at 8:02 am #

    Like Jen, I find myself grinding out the last few reps toward the 4th and 5th set. Now I know this will hurt my gains I won’tbe doing that anymore. I began the second phase of MGS doing 3 reps but now I’m up to 5 and son to be at 6 for all 5 sets. Thanks for the info Jay!

  5. Rhuben Williams November 20, 2010 at 9:27 am #

    good job!

  6. Dave November 20, 2010 at 9:31 am #

    Good work!

    I use ladders a lot with my guys especially on the chins, will have to experiment with the multiple singles and doubles that you used.



  7. Marcos Torres November 20, 2010 at 9:32 am #

    Sounds like chin ladders would allow you to train pulls/chins more often during the week. Did she have any banded reps during ladders or training?

  8. Jim November 20, 2010 at 9:54 am #

    How much rest do you recommend between sets in the ladder?

  9. Mateusz November 20, 2010 at 11:47 am #

    Damn, she put me into shame! Her PR is better than mine. Can’t let that, gotta go to work.

  10. Raymond - ZenMyFitness November 20, 2010 at 3:44 pm #

    Firstly great form ..better than most guys I see and myself included so pretty impressive.

    Those shoulders are looking really well defined too.

    For trying to build some size .. is it better to do keep on doing reps until failure or load it up with weights with less reps or both?


  11. Matt November 20, 2010 at 4:29 pm #


    How often would Jen train maximal strength on chins? I would love to have my clients do that many sets, but I often find it time consuming especially having them get in and out of a weighted belt. What exercise would you pair it with, if any, so that they aren’t standing around between sets?!



  12. jc November 21, 2010 at 3:11 am #

    Jason- do you find those grinding reps are detrimental in all movements, not just chins and pull ups?

  13. Vaclav Gregor November 21, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    Interesting, I’ve never heard that something like that would minimalize fatigue, I will definitely try that technique. Thanks for the tips, I’m curious to see how it feels.

    Vaclav Gregor

  14. Dave - Not Your Average Fitness Tips November 21, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    If I recall, I first read about ladders from Pavel (the evil Russian). Certainly a great way to do more pullups. Another method recommended by Pavel is “grease the groove” and that’s always helped me.

  15. Craig November 21, 2010 at 6:09 pm #

    Could these be added at the end of your programs, or would that result in over training? I’d like to improve my ability to do chins as well.

  16. Carl November 22, 2010 at 1:25 am #

    Great post yet again Jason and well done Jen! I have a few questions:

    1) Would you perform the ladders as part of your normal routine as your main pulling exercise (in this case) or additional to your normal routine (on the same day or different day)?

    2) Would this work well for two opposing exercises (chins & dips or chins and pushups)?

    3) In terms of cycles, how long do you think it’s sensible to keep trying to push for one more rep (total) in your ladders before working back down to a lower total and working up again?

    I like keeping my own routines very simple (1) Full body power move, 2) Squat or Deadlift variant, 3) Pull, 4) Push, 5) Ab roller/Plank) and my main interest is in building a little size, staying lean and really bringing up my chin and dip numbers.

    The site continues to be my first stop for my fitness fix. It’s a fantastic resource and thanks for proving exercise doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective.

  17. Jason Ferruggia November 22, 2010 at 5:30 am #

    @Carole- Thanks. She appreciates that.

    @Rog- Yes, but you do more reps in each rung of the ladder.

    @Marcos- No bands during training recently for her.

    @Raymond- You want a mix of high and low reps. Nothing under 5 and nothing above 10, usually. Never go to failure.

    @Matt- 2-3 times per week. You can pair them with some type of overhead press or handstand pushup or even ring dips or suspended pushups.

    @jc- Yes

    @Craig- They have to replace something. They can’t be done in addition to or your will overtrain

    @Carl- In place of pulling in normal routine. Yes. As long as you can.

  18. Dylan November 22, 2010 at 8:15 am #

    I guess the reason more people haven’t commented on this is because they are all too busy trying to get better at pull-ups cos they just got their asses whupped by a girl. Or am I the only one?

  19. Jason - Workouts and More November 22, 2010 at 5:52 pm #

    Just wondering if that is something you do with all levels. Do you do the same thing thing with added weight?

    Nice job Jen!

  20. Jen November 22, 2010 at 8:21 pm #

    @ Carole-Thanks so much!

    @Ryan -thank so much, tell your wife- “strong is the new sexy”!

    @Rhuben -Thanks!

    @Dave -Thank you

    @Mateusz- time to catch up!

    @ Dylan -too funny! Time for all you boys to get busy!!!!

    @Jason- Thank you!

  21. Jason Ferruggia November 25, 2010 at 5:07 am #

    Jen just hit 18 reps last night.

    • G. Graham November 27, 2010 at 11:46 am #

      @Jason Ferruggia: Very inspiring watching Jen do her pull ups. The position of her hands are palms facing each other, is this considered a pull up or a chin up? Should this hand position be part of a training routine just as palms out/in are?

  22. Kei November 30, 2010 at 2:26 pm #

    Thanks for sharing Jason. Jen, do you write? Do you have a place where you can guide women? Congrats Jen…

  23. Kei November 30, 2010 at 3:58 pm #

    For Jen-Over the course of three days what does your diet look like? Thanks for answering if you have time!

  24. Claudia Hall Christian December 1, 2010 at 11:01 am #

    Oh Squee!! Did I tell you I found a bar for the floor joists in the basement?? I’m on this J. Going to happen!

    You know, I think you should marry that tough, beautiful, smart woman… ;)

  25. Laszlo Szabo December 8, 2010 at 3:52 pm #

    Dear Jayson,

    Huge congrats to Jen and his trainer!
    I think this video could also serve as a great demonstration for us to clearly understand (and visualize) where You consider the border of reps becoming “grinder” reps is. Can You tell us which rep of Jen’s should be the last one in this set if she was doing normal training?

    All the best to You two,

  26. Laszlo Szabo December 8, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    Oops, SORRY for writing Your name in a so terribly analphabetic way! Please, delete that “y”.

  27. Doug Parker December 16, 2010 at 11:29 am #

    What is Jen’s phone number? I would love to do chin ups between her legs if you catch my drift

  28. Kevin January 8, 2011 at 8:35 am #

    Jason – going to be working with some Ladders for adding reps to pull/chin ups. Can one possibly consider doing another workout (dips for example) with a ladder plan simultaneously with the ladders for chin/pull ups. Could be done on alternating days. Or, should they be staggered completely? Finally, would there be more complimentary combinations for doing ladders at the same time – such as chin/pulls & _____ and dips & _____. Thanks in advance for your awesome advice. KC

  29. tyciol February 10, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    She has an excellent looking posterior deltoid.

  30. gary August 14, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

    Great job! Looks tough but it seems like the results speak for themselves.

  31. Kevin December 9, 2012 at 9:59 pm #


    I am currently doing the ladder approach 3 times a week using the middle assistance band . I am trying to work up to doing unassisted chin ups. Currently, I can do between 5-7 clean non grinders with the middle band so I know to keep the ladder at 3-4 at most. Should I do these first thing in the day or before my workout on my three workout days each week or Should I do them as a finisher after each workout.

    Also, how many ladders should I do or should I have a running set time such as 10-15 minutes? At what point do I progress to the skinniest band and so on to unassisted?

    Also, can I use ladder approach with regular push ups and so on moving on up to elevated push ups and so forth? Any changes in frequency or method of doing push up ladders as compared to chin up ladders?