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.
17 thoughts on “7 Easy Ways To Add Resistance To Pull-Ups, Chin-Ups And Dips”
Another great example of adding resistance is attaching rubber resistance bands to the floor (I put them through 100 lb dumbbells) and then attach the other end through a weight belt. Having the resistance from the bands INCREASE as you get closer to the bar is a very different stimulus. I use this regularly with my personal training clients. Give it a try, I think you’ll like it.
Yeah I should try to add weights. I normally don’t like doing these exercises(unweighted)as I fatigue out too early(volume) before I really get progression benefits. So I prefer other exercises where I can add weights. BUT these are excellent for development so next time in the gym I’ll go back to chins and pulls but with Additive weights.
Great tips for making progressions with chin ups and pullups, Yavor. I wish I can add weight to mine someday. Right now, I’m working on just getting really good at them without weights.
You mentioned that you used to do ladders with these. What type of rep scheme did you do?
First off, love the pics Yavor! Yoda 🙂 Onto the post… I agree with you – pullups chinups and dips are unbelievably effective at creating strength and a V-Shaped athletic physique. They’re among my favorite exercises!
And I love your “spin” on them – Number 5, the one-arm priority pullups look amazing! Drinking my coffee right now and hittin the gym by noon, definitely will try these bad boys out! All the methods look great, I’ve only really implemented 1 and 2, but again, am REALLY looking forward to number 5! Great post man!
I’ve always just switched to one arm to increase the intensity of bodyweight exercises. I feel like I’d drop the weight if I tried to hold it between my legs, ha.
Great post as usual. I’ve always used the backpack method. I only do 20% of my bodyweight so the backpack hasn’t ripped just yet. Either way, great advice on making these bodyweight exercises even more challenging.
This is a thought-provoking post. While I still find pull-ups a real challenge (so no extra resistance required!) I am pretty good at dips and don’t find too much challenge to them. Because of this I don’t put too much time into them and tend to focus more on other exercises. Your article has got me thinking and given me some ideas on how to add some extra challenge to an exercise I previously loved so thanks for that. I will be doing some experimentation over the next few weeks as a result.
I can never seem to keep a dumbbell in the proper position when doing those exercises. I’d have to say that the weight belt is by far my favorite. Easy to use, and there are always plenty of plates lying around!
I’ve always wanted to try out a vest. Would make a bodyweight circuit just killer!
I like the idea of the weighted backpack. This seems like it would really help you to get stronger. I have used the weighted belt before, but mostly for dips. Adding weight to my pullups or chins has never really been a need for me! I have enough trouble banging out more than 12 or so on pullups with just my bodyweight!
This is an awesome post! I just have got to the point that I need weight for these things, but really dips Ive got up to 15/20 dips on body weight so I really have been wanting to add weight so this post sums everything up great.
Great stuff Yavor. If you live near a beach you could fill that backpack up with sand and run on the beach. Do some pull ups at each lifeguard stand you pass.
Whenever I want to improve my pull up numbers one of things that always helps is doing a week or two of weight pull ups. They feel effortless after that.
resistance band used in this way are quite a neat twist. Will def try it if there is a chance.
give those a try. They will realy take your physique to the next level.
back then I could do 5 pullups so I started with the following ladder:
1 pullup, 1 min rest, 2 pullups, 2 mins, 3 pullups 3 mins rest;
Then I would start over from one. The workout would be over when I started feeling fatigued. Then every workout (5x per week) I’d add one more set – meaning on workout 1 I might do 123-123. The on workout 2 I’d do 123-123-1.
When 123 got easier (it was very soon), I’d start with 1234-1234 and so on.
They key is volume and fresh reps.
No problem man. Which method I you talking about – the one hand underhand one hand over hand grip?
if you cross your feet, you cannot possibly drop the weight. That said it seems you intuitively found a great way to train them!
Thanks man! Trust me, with hard training and 2-3 months 20% of your bodyweight is nothing.
the thing is – even if pull-ups area challenge now, if you try weighted ones, when you get back to bodyweight they will be a breeze.
Yeah I too chose a belt when doing maximum effort tests. You are right- circuit with a vest on – now that’s the stuff commando workouts are made of!
I started adding weight exactly at 12 reps. Trust me, it increases your strength and endurance real fast.
yeah – now is the time to add weight. You will see you’ll quickly reach ~30 dips once you start adding weight.
I wish I lived near the beach like you man. Your suggestion is awesome. And you are right about weighted pull-ups – a really killer exercise.
Great comments guys!
Excellent advise. Was getting bored with 10 – 12 reps of chin ups using the various standard grip orientations. The belt design looks the go and can’t wait to try it out to enhance my workout. Will also incorporate it for dips.
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