Get Your Chin-Up

If I’m ever on Death Row, my last meal would be scrambled eggs cooked in Kerrygold butter, a sliced avocado, and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream.  My last workout would probably consist of deadlifts, chin-ups, Blast Strap Push-Ups, and sprints.  Assuming that the deadlifts add to my vertical, I’ll be able to leap right over the fence and put Michael Scofield’s escape to shame.


Don’t worry, this is an impossible scenario, because there is no chance I’ll have a 20 foot vertical leap, and I’ll only be on Death Row if the CIA finds out I’m a spy for the KGB.  We climbed a lot of fences in our training, and you can only do that with upper body pulling strength.  That’s why if I’m ever caught, the chin-up is in my Final Lift.  Few exercises compare when it comes to pulling strength.

Chin-Ups are tricky to learn, and the inherent difficulty of moving your body mass through space serves as a barrier to entry for most who first attempt this lift.  I’ve just begun working with someone who’s training from home, and he has the goal of multiple-rep sets of chin-ups.

Developing vertical pulling strength can be done with a variety of ways, from performing a high volume of single reps throughout the day, to utilizing exercise regressions to deload the movement a little bit.  Today, I’ll share with you several strategies that can help you develop your chin-up.

Do More Chin-Ups.  This may sound silly or overly simple, but you won’t get stronger if you’re not trying to do more chin-ups.  The only requirement is that you can already do a single chin-up.  If you can do a single chin-up, you’re set; just repeat that whenever you get the chance.

A set of 10 straight chin-ups can be pretty tricky, but what about 10 sets of one chin-up?  Easy-peasy!  You can spread these out over the course of the day, but they’ll add up and train your brain to make you stronger.  Here’s a sample schedule:

  • 5:55am – You woke up 5 minutes before the alarm goes off.  Isn’t that the worst?  Do a chin-up instead of going back to sleep.
  • 7am – You flossed, brushed your teeth, and now you feel awkward standing there with Listerine in your mouth.  Chin-up time.
  • 11am – I’ll bet that you can find something to do a chin-up on during your lunch break.  A fence, a playground, scaffolding, something.  You wear a suit to work?  I don’t care, tell people you’re Clark Kent.
  • 4pm – Do the same thing on your way out of the building.
  • 5pm – You made it home, and now it’s time for that bring-my-smartphone-to-the-bathroom-and-check-Facebook part of your daily routine.  Do a chin-up before you sit down.
  • 6pm – You’ve read everyone’s status, Tweeted about it, and posted selfies to Instagram.  Do a chin-up as you leave the bathroom.
  • 7pm – It’s time for dinner.  Preheat the oven, prep your food, set the timer…then do a chin-up.
  • 9pm – You’re ready to curl up on the couch with your favorite TV show, but the previous show ran long.  Why does that always happen?!?  Do a chin-up while you wait.
  • 9:15pm – First commercial is when you text friends about plot twists?  False.  This is chin-up time.
  • 9:30pm – Oh, you thought you were waiting for the 2nd commercial?  Nope.  Chuck Testa, and chin-up time.

Did I nail that or what?!  See, there’s no reason for not having an Iron Gym in your bathroom doorway.  You can also hang clothes on it so that steamy showers help to release wrinkles.  Moving on now…

Eccentric Chin-Ups are a great option to use during your training sessions.  Raising yourself to the bar can be tricky, but we’re usually stronger lower weights, so you’ll be able to lower yourself for more than one rep.  The solution here is using the ground, a step, or a bench to jump back up to the top of the chin-up and then slowly lowering yourself under control.  Here’s an example:

Band Assisted Chin-Ups are an option that allows you to deload the movement, as the band gives you a boost as it stretches out.  There are three simple rules to doing band assisted chin-ups.  They are:

  1. Larger bands provide more assistance.
  2. The further the band stretches, the more assistance you receive.
  3. Don’t let it snap into your face.  That will seriously hurt.

I’ve used bands ranging from 1/4″ to 1″, and as well as looping them from the knee as well as the foot.  If you’re new to chin-ups, you’ll want a larger band, and you’ll recieve more assistance if you set it under your foot.  In the video below, I have a band hooked under my left foot.

As you develop strength and this exercise becomes more comfortable, move to a smaller band, or loop it around your knee instead.  Here’s an example:

Band assisted chin-ups are great because you can complete the full range of motion, but don’t get carried away with numbers.  The goal isn’t to be good at band assisted chin-ups, it’s to be good at bodyweight chin-ups.  Complete several reps, then find a thinner band or move it higher on your body.  And remember, don’t let it come flying off of your sneaker or knee.


If eccentric chin-ups or band assisted varieties aren’t your cup of tea, you can always try modified chin-up variations. These help to deload the movement, but keep you pulling vertically, rather then substituting a horizontal pull like an inverted row.  While there is some carry over between the pulling variations, it’s not as great as we would like to believe.  You should still be doing inverted rows, but they won’t build your chin-up as much as an exercise like the “Seated chin-up” with Blast Straps:

There are many variations of modified and/or supported chin-ups with suspension trainers, but I’m not very fond of them because we tend to use our strong legs to fill in any upper body strength deficit.  Instead of coaching against this tendency, I prefer to avoid it in the first place.

Each of these variations can provide you with improvements in strength as you progress towards the goal of performing multiple sets of chin-ups, and in a variety of settings.  You can implement these strategies at home, in the gym, or any place that has a sturdy handle that’s over your head.  If you’re working towards completing body weight chin-ups, let me know which one of these variations you use, and please share your strength with your friends.  Get your chin up!

3 Replies to “Get Your Chin-Up”

  1. I’ve been stuck at three (sometimes three and a half!) chin ups for months now. I know I just need to practice more often. I’m moving into a bigger place in four weeks and I’m buying an iron gym as my housewarming present1

    1. That’s my kind of housewarming present! Have you you tried completing your set of 3 and then using a resistance band to build some volume with submaximal sets? Or following a set of three with multiple sets of single reps? Those could help you break through that plateau!

  2. Oh my goodness! an amazing article dude. Thank you However I am experiencing issue with ur rss . Dont know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anyone getting identical rss problem? Anyone who knows kindly respond. Thnk

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