How to Improve Your Chin Ups

Posted by Jason Ferruggia

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.