Pull-ups, chin-ups and dips are among the best exercises you can ever do. The reason for this is that because you are using your bodyweight, you cannot gain excessive weight and body fat while building strength. You can only get good at chin-ups, pull-ups and dips by increasing your relative strength – the ratio between your bodyweight and your strength level.
The cool thing is that by doing this you are simultaneously improving your looks. As I wrote in a an earlier post, the way to get a great body is to get strong and keep the bodyweight down so the waist stays small and the shoulder area gets bigger.
Plus, for both guys and girls, a chin-ups, pull-ups and dips work the muscles of the upper body in such a way that they create an athletic look – improving the waist to shoulder ratio for men and hips to waist to shoulder ratio for women. So here are the top 7 ways you can use to add resistance to pull-ups, chin-ups and dips.
1. Put A Dumbbell Between Your Feet
This is pretty self explanatory. You place a dumbbell and slide your feet just underneath its top. The benefit of doing this is that it this is the easiest way to add resistance. Also, placing the dumbbell in this way works the muscles of the front of your lower leg.
However, this method has its limitations. Your feet cannot carry too much weight in this way so you will soon outgrow the technique. But as a start it really is the easiest way.
2. Cross Your Feet And Put A Dumbbell On Top
This really is the best way to use a dumbbell for additional resistance on pull-ups, chin-ups and dips. Cross your feet just above your ankles and have a friend or a training partner help you put the dumbbell there. In fact, for lighter dumbbells you may be able to put it yourself.
If you train alone at a gym, don’t be shy to ask somebody to help you put the dumbbell there. Gyms can be intimidating, but this is mostly a perception. In fact, I’ve found that the biggest and most bad-ass looking guys at gyms are most often the most humble and helpful.
3. Use A Belt And Chain And Add Weight Plates
This is my preferred method when adding weight to bodyweight exercises. You can do it alone and you can really stack the plates here. Just a note of caution – make sure and put the belt just below your hip bones. This way the heavy weight will not suffocate you when do the exercise.
The drawback here is that it can be sort of awkward to remove the belt between sets, etc. However it is worth it – dips, chin-ups and pull-ups really pay off when you add weight to them and this is the way to go if you or your gym has a dipping belt.
4. Use A Backpack Full Of Something Heavy
This is how I started getting really good at pull-ups & chin-ups. Initially I trained using ladders, but this got me to around 12 pull-ups. Then I figured that if I increased my strength (maximum weight I could lift) on these lifts, it would be a breeze to do them with bodyweight only.
It was the perfect timing – spring had just begun. I filled my old high school backpack with a bunch of heavy books I no longer needed and started training at the playground in front of my building. I soon had to switch to rocks instead of books (very uncomfortable but effective) and later got a set of adjustable dumbbells and used their plates.
The biggest drawback is that a backpack will only allow up to around 30kg (65lbs). More than that and the thing tends to fall apart. I had to stitch my backpack quite a few times. The biggest plus is that doing any kind of training with a heavy-ass backpack makes you feel like a ninja. Or a Jedi. I mean – look at Luke!
5. Leverage By Putting Priority On One Of Your Arms
The idea here is to make the exercise harder by shifting the effort towards one of your arms. This is a photo from one of the variations of leveraging the pull-up found in Convict Conditioning. The book has a nice progression from a beginner to a one-arm pull-up expert and this is one of the stages.
Another variation I like (and currently use) is to put one of your hands in an underhand grip and one in an overhand grip. Then try to chin yourself up towards the fist of the hand in an underhand grip. This puts great emphasis on this side of your upper back and increases the difficulty a few times so you don’t need added resistance.
Leveraging the pull-up is great because this way you can train (and I mean really train heavy and not just monkey around) anytime you are near pull-up bar or dip station without the need for any equipment (weights, belt, backpack, etc). For example I walk my lab Lucky when I get home in the evening and I go with him to the playground where I do my dips and leveraged pull-ups.
6. Use A Weighted Vest
I’ve never really tried this method because these vests are not available here and it would be super expensive to get one, but I always imagined putting on a vest would make you feel like a super hero robot. Robocop or Iron Man.
The closest I’ve been to wearing such a vest is when I bough my first adjustable dumbbell – 40 kilos divided between my backpack and my arms. Trust me, getting home from the free weights shop was the workout of my life.
7. Use A Combination Of The Above
Some ways that I’ve personally combined these methods are to use a belt with a few plates on it and also put a heavy dumbbell on top of my crossed lower legs. This setup might sound a little weird, but there is great benefit in it because by dividing the resistance between a belt and your feet you can actually. I’ve done a 47.5kg dip with only a belt but am confident that I will be able to do much more than that by dividing the weight between my feet and a belt.
Note: I would like to thank Geoffrey, a reader of the site from the Netherlands, for giving me the idea for this post. I would also like to thank my friend Spas for modeling for some of the photos.