Good old reliable chin ups! Is there anything better in the world for overall upper body strength? You name it the chin up does it all. Here is a concise list of the benefits of chin ups:

  1. It is the ultimate lat and upper back exercise, building back thickness and width.
  2. It balances out the shoulders and cures and prevents shoulder injuries. People who can do 10 quality chin ups rarely have problems with their shoulders.
  3. It increases upper body flexibility and improves posture, greatly aiding in conditions like kyphosis.
  4. It helps stretch and decompress the spine, preventing and curing back pain.
  5. It is an awesome grip, forearm and bicep exercise as well.
  6. It build the abs and even works the chest.
  7. It needs nothing more than a pull up bar, an overhead pipe or a tree branch.


In order to help people get better at this awesome exercise, I have put together a list of tips and pointers that will show you how to perform the exercise correctly, how to train it, how to work up to it if you cannot do a chin up and how to progress it.

1. Technique

A chin up is any exercise in which the trainee hangs from an overhead bar with the arms straight and pulls himself/ herself up until the chin is over the bar. Any hand position or grip may be used.

In a good chin the chest is kept out, the legs and hips are straight, the shoulders are down and away from the ears at all times and the trainee goes all the way up  until the chin crosses the bar and all the way down until the arms are straight. There should be no kicking or swinging at any time. Use whatever grip that allows you to perform chin ups correctly. Doing it is more important than what grip or hand-spacing to use.

2. Standards

Every male should eventually aim to perform 12 consecutive chin ups with good technique using the grip of his choice. Every female should aim to perform 5 consecutive chin ups in the same way. This would be considered a beginner-intermediate standard.  20-30 chin ups with all grips are achievable for all trainees and would be considered an advanced level of performance. Doing a one arm chin up with either hand with any grip is a truly elite feat of strength.

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3. If you cannot perform a chin up

You are either, weak, fat or injured, none of which are good. If you are over 20% bodyfat, the chances of you getting good at chin ups are slim, so lose some weight first. If you are injured or weak, there are two ways I recommend working up to chin ups.

My first and preferred approach is to do a set of bodyweight rows from an object that is waist level (pictured below) in between every set of every chest, shoulders and tricep (pressing muscles) exercise of every single workout. If you do 100 sets of pressing exercises a week, than this means you will do 100 sets of bodyweight rows a week as well. Also this does not count as your upper back, lats and bicep work. You will do that as well as per whatever routine you are following. Do not be surprised if you are only doing 1-2 reps a sets initially. This is normal and just try to add one rep every week to all your sets. You do not need to push yourself very hard on this. Eventually in 8-10 weeks try to do 12 reps in every set. When you can do this, 5-6 chin ups will be a breeze. You can use a smith machine or power rack or TRX to do these rows. At home you can also use a doorway pull up bar set to waist level.

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My second approach is to perform 5 sets of 10 lat pull downs two days a week, 5 sets of 10 seated rowing/ chest supported rowing 2 days a week, all sets as heavy as possible. 1 day a week hand form the pull up bar until you fall off for 3 sets. 1 other day jump to the top position of a chin up or use a bench to go up and hold that position until you fall off for 3 sets. Also do hanging leg/knee raises from a pull up bar as your primary ab exercise. If you do this right, you will be able to do 4-5 chin ups in 8 weeks.

4. If you do 5 or less chin ups

Do 1 set of chin ups in between every set of every  single exercise, except pulling movements. Initially you will be able to do only 1 rep. That is all right. Just keep working and try to do 5 reps in every set within 10 weeks. You will be able to do 12 chin ups after a few days rest.  Also ensure that rowing and pull down movements are still part of your routine.

5. If you can do 5 chin ups or more

Do chin ups 3 days a week. On the first day try to go to failure in every set for 5 sets. Try to set records each time and keeping changing the grip.

On the second day do 100 total chin ups in 1 hour. Any set and rep combination is fine, just get it down. Over time reduce the sets and the time taken. I recommend clubbing this with a regular workout, preferably lower body and using the chin ups as rest. Keep changing the grip.

On the third day you can either do 100 reps of body weight rowing from waist level in as little time as possible, or if you can do 12 or more chin ups, try weighted chin ups and try to break your record for the maximum weight you can use for 1 repetition. You can even alternate between the two every week.

6. If you want to make chin ups harder

You can try adding weight with a belt, playing around with different grips, doing chin ups using towels and rope or doing assisted one arm chin ups (other arm holding the bar with only one finger) and later full one arm chin ups.

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