Chin-ups and pull-ups for me are the most intense upper body exercises. Ever since I was a kid, I have been fascinated by them and had always wanted to master them. This wouldn’t happen until my early twenties and here I will share my approach of getting really good at chin-ups and pull-ups with you. But first let me tell you what happened today.
No picture of a dude struggling on the pull up bar? Lets have a totally random gorgeous woman instead! By the way, most guys are totally clueless when it comes to what women like about a man’s physique. Here is the deal: hot girls dig the V-shape of the torso (the waist to shoulders ratio). Gunz or bi’s or however you call ’em serve mainly to intimidate other guys.
I Was Chilling After A Nice Walk In The Saturday Sun
…when I felt like I was in the mood for some mindless fun. So I popped a DVD with some flick called Mindhunters. It starred LL Cool J, Christian Slater, Val Kilmer and two hot girls whose names I couldn’t remember. The movie was pure brainless b-movie/slasher fun, and I enjoyed every second of it, though I’m sure the director wouldn’t like me calling his masterpiece a B-movie. Anyway, you maybe asking yourself what this movie could have to do with getting insanely good at chin-ups and pull-ups. Well…
LL Cool J Was A Ripped Bad Ass In The Movie
In one of the scenes one guy was hanging off some bar (falling was not an option because the floor was flooded and the killer had rigged the water with electricity). LL came to the rescue, swinging, climbing and pulling himself up various ledges, bars and walls. And the first dude was waiting for him and hanging for dear life. Naturally, I thought to myself – if only this guy had gotten his pullups in check BEFORE getting himself in a life and death pullup bar situation. Now LL Cool J, on the other hand, was having a breeze because he always keep in shape.
Here is the tutorial this poor guy probably wished he HAD read lol:
The Perfect Pull-up and Chin-up
- Watch your grip. Make sure to grip the bar towards your fingers. Basically, it should rest on the soft part just below your fingers. Avoid pinching your skin there. Pull-ups will cause callouses but they will actually make the exercise easier. Pinching the skin, on the other hand, will cause you unnecessary pain.
- Pack your shoulders. Always start the chin-up from a dead hang position. From there the first thing to do is, with straight arms, to pull your shoulders down toward the body and pack them into your torso.
- Use your back. The pull-up or chin-up is primarily an exercise for your back muscles. Those are the lats – the muscles of your armpits. You will fail to get good if you can’t feel and use your lats. It’s just that the biceps is too small and too week, no matter how well developed, to allow you chin-up mastery. Here is quick drill to feel those muscles. Extend your arms forward and ask a buddy to exert upward pressure on your arm. Now, try to lower it in spite of his efforts. Feel those muscles working? Good – use them in the pull-ups.
- Cross your legs. The phenomenon called irradiation allows neighboring muscles to make each othe stronger when contracting harder. So by crossing and flexing your legs against each other, you become stronger.
- Bend the bar. By attempting to twist the pull-up bar downward (your left hand will twist counter-clockwise and your right hand will twist clockwise) you will achieve a greater contraction in your upper body.
- Squeeze your butt. Same as crossing your legs and gripping hard, squeezing the glutes will give you an instant strength boost.
[From left to right: a) sternum chinups, b) sternum pullups, c) wide grip pullups.]
Mix Up Your Pull-up and Chin-up Training
- Regular chin-ups – these are done with an underhand grip. Pull yourself up until your chin clears the bar. They are excellent for biceps development and for overloading the exercise using additional weight.
- Regular pull-ups – same as chin-ups, except done with your palms in an overhand grip. They are also excellent for overloading with additional weight using a belt, a backpack or a dumbbell between the legs. They target the biceps less and the upper back as well as the brachialis (muscle below the biceps) and brachioradialis (muscle on top of the forearm) more.
- Wide grip pull-ups – these target the arms less and the upper back more. They are useful for learning to use the back muscles for chin-ups and pull-ups.
- Sternum chin-ups/pull-ups – these are the same as the regular chin-ups and pull-ups, except that they are done until the bar touches the chest bone (sternum). Sternum chin-ups and pull-ups are harder, but they work the mid-back and rear deltoids more.
How To Get Better At Pull-ups and Chin-ups
The way to get better is to practice often (3 or more times per week), do a relatively high volume of training (25-36 repetitions per workout is a great goal), use progressive overload, and focus on strength training repetition ranges (doing 3 reps with a weight with which you could do a total of 5 repetitions is good rule of thumb).
[Lat activation, or simply put using your back, and NOT your arms, is the key to pull-up greatness. Note how the shoulders go down and are packed into the body. Not using the lats – the armpit muscles properly, is the number one mistake people make on chin-ups.]
Mistakes Sabotage Your Pull-ups and Chin-ups
- You are not using your back. If you don’t learn to use the back muscles to initiate the movement and do most of the work on chin-ups and pull-ups, you are never going to get good at them. The upper arms are simply a small muscle and cannot compete with the big and powerful muscles of the upper back.
- You are training to failure. When doing complex movements like this, always stop 1 or 2 repetitions short of failure. This means to do 8 reps when you are capable of doing 9 or 10. Training to failure is a viable tool when it comes to breaking down a muscle so it can recover and grow bigger and stronger. Pull-up and chin-up performance, however, comes down to learning to use your back and getting more efficient at it.
- You aren’t using full range of motion. If you don’t go all the way down on chin-ups and pull-ups, you won’t be able to powerfully activate the back muscles.
Weaknesses in Your Chin-up Performance
You are as strong as the weakest muscle that takes part in the exercise:
- Train your grip. You won’t be good at pull-ups if you can’t stay on the bar long enough. You need a strong grip. Train by hanging off the bar for time with two arms (eventually try hanging off one arm). Barbell holds with heavy weights for time also will help.
- Develop your forearms. Training your forearms with wrist curls, reverse wrist curls, reverse bar curls and pinch gripping (holding two weight plates together and lifting them off with one hand) will also improve your grip, thus your chin-up performance.
- Strengthen the mid-back muscles. The mid back muscles are responsible for the hardest part of the movement – the finish. Strengthen them with dumbbell, barbell or cable rows.
- Strengthen your upper arms muscles. Your upper arm muscles – biceps and brachialis, are also responsible for the finishing part of the movement. Improve them with barbell and dumbbell curls and reverse curls (like the regular curls but with your hands on top of the bar).
[Here’s me doing 16 pull-ups. Notice the grip and the full extension at the bottom.]
Use proper form, activate the back, train often, use low reps and progress in weight (either with a weight belt, a backpack with weight plates or a dumbbell between your feet) as soon as it gets easier and you will be on your way to chin-up mastery.
One Arm Pull-ups or Chin-ups and Beyond
This is a pull-up progression that I got from the book Convict Conditioning. After mastering the regular pull-up as described in this article, you can still progress in your training.
The following is a list of incrementally harder pull-up variations. The way to train is to go through each stage for the designated exercise – Beginner, Intermediate and Ready to Progress. Once you fulfill the requirements for the Ready to Progress stage, you go on to the next exercise.
Note: I’m not including the progressions up to a full pull-up from the book in order to keep the article within reasonable length and because we’ve already discussed these strategies above.
- Full Pull-ups – these are your basic shoulder width grip pull-ups (hands on top).
- Beginner – 1 set of 5
- Intermediate – 2 sets of 8
- Ready to Progress – 2 sets of 10
- Close Pull-ups – here the hands are on top and the distance between the two wrists is 4 inches maximum.
- Beginner – 1 set of 5
- Intermediate – 2 sets of 8
- Ready to Progress – 2 sets of 10
- Uneven Pull-ups – here you grab the bar with one hand and then grab your wrist with the other hand. The repetitions below are to be done for both sides.
- Beginner – 1 set of 5
- Intermediate – 2 sets of 7
- Ready to Progress – 2 sets of 9
- 1/2 One Arm Pull-ups – here you perform a half one arm pull-up by getting yourself in a position where your pull-up arm is at 90 degrees and pulling yourself up. The repetitions below are to be done for both sides.
- Beginner – 1 set of 4
- Intermediate – 2 sets of 6
- Ready to Progress – 2 sets of 8
- Assisted One Arm Pull-ups – here you perform a one arm pull-up but you also drape a towel over the bar and grab the towel with your other arm as low as possible. The repetitions below are to be done for both sides. Note how with the increasing difficulty of the exercise the reps get lower.
- Beginner – 1 set of 3
- Intermediate – 2 sets of 5
- Ready to Progress – 2 sets of 7
- One Arm Pull-ups – these are the real deal – no assistance here. The repetitions below are to be done for both sides. Note how with the increasing difficulty of the exercise the reps get lower.
- Beginner – 1 set of 1
- Intermediate – 2 sets of 3
- Ready to Progress – 2 sets of 6
I’ve found another course that is even more detailed. It is called the Pullup Solution and it is by far the most comprehensive manual on pullups. Check it out here.
Babe by Vincent
126 thoughts on “How To Get Insanely Good At Chin-ups And Pull-ups”
Great article! I think there is a mistake that has escaped you: a chin up is an underhand grip, not an overhand grip.
haha, thanks for pointing that out buddy! I will fix that.
Nice article, Yavor. Pullups are one of the weakest exerices for me. I’ll have to incorporate some of your suggestions as always.
BTW, regarding your movie reference – have you seen a picture of Val Kilmer lately. He looks like a train wreck. Almost as bad as Nick Nolte’s arrest photo.
Haven’t seen the photos buddy. We all age – so I get Val is no exception. This is one more reason to try living each day right.
Great tips, Yavor! Packing your shoulders is an important note that most trainers miss.
Great article Yavor – like where you’ve been going with these articles – I think it’s becoming clear to everyone that for badass strength, you don’t need traditional gym equipment – as Arnie is aging, it looks like that phase of our culture may finally be over – and you’re one of the guys getting the word out – keep it up buddy!
A favor– can you specify what you mean by ‘packing the shoulders’? I was conscious of lat activation yesterday when I did pull ups. I wasn’t feeling it in the lats, but the tension in the arms and forearms was clear. Should the elbows flare out when pulling? Does that make a difference?
Yeah buddy most people are not aware of packing the shoulders and using the lats (and consequently they (1. suck at pull-ups, 2. don’t have developed lats) – this is what I’m trying to teach here. Luckily there are guys like you, Adam Steer and me that look not only through the perspective of packing muscle, but also improving the function and performance of the body.
thanks buddy – nothing wrong with bodybuilding if perceived as a challenge and a goal. But most people miss the point that bodybuilders get past a beginner strength training level first – then worry about details.
But I’m all for alternating and using ALL TOOLS available – train for looks and for performance. Btw you are being modest here because i know you’ve accomplished both of those goals.
[Here is Kaiser accomplishing one of his goals of competing as a bodybuilder.]
[And here he is ripped and kicking ass as a kick-boxer.]
Packing the shoulders means to start the movement by ensuring that your shoulders are compressed in their sockets as tight as possible. Try this – extend your arms toward the ceiling and reach up as much as possible (your shoulders will obviously be shrugged). Now – without flexing your elbows, try to bring down your shoulders. Your arms will still point toward the ceiling but your shoulders will be ‘down’ and ‘packed’ into your torso. In all strength disciplines (gymnastics, powerlifting, martial arts, etc) the power comes from the core or center of your body. By keeping your limbs as close and as tight to your body you amplify your strength. This is why there are cork screw techniques in karate punches. Powerlifters use these tricks on bench pressing movements (shoulders and lats packed) and squats (lats packed and squeezed). Gymnast use all of those tricks too – packing shoulders, tightening the lats as well as using the hollow and arch core positions.
Don’t flare the elbows unless you are doing wide grip pull-ups. The tension in the arms and forearms is normal. But the movement is mainly for your lats – the armpit muscles. Once you learn to use them you will dominate at pull-ups. You can try wide grip thumbless grip pull-ups in order to really start feeling those lats (shoulder width grip pull-ups are best though – but come back to them once you feel the lats)
Great comments guys,
Thanks for a great explanation, Yavor! You are a very responsive blogger, I must say!!
Ha – nice – I’m going to send people here to check out the cool profile I have in the comments section!
No problem man! Keep training hard!
Haha! That’s PR for you LOL!
Good stuff guys! Cheers,
Incidentally, Yavor, I have taken this article very seriously (having read it several times), and am now following the Russian 5 RM pull up program by Pavel. I am getting the numbers up, bud! You a Russian, too?! 🙂
I’m Bulgarian, man. Pavel definitely knows what he’s talking about. Do you have a link to that specific program? Or which book it’s in? I’ve been following his stuff for 7 years now, after a friend of mine introduced me to his principles…
For pull-ups the basics are: train often (5 times per week is best), avoid failure and fatigue (train with clean perfect form), train with lots of volume (upper body lifts need volume because of the neural efficiency we have in out arms – as opposed to legs).
Here it is: http://www.dellanave.com/files/the_fighter_pullup.pdf
Thanks for sharing it with me and the readers of the site. It is a perfect companion to this article.
I’m a new reader. I’d love to help your readership with a specific chin up (palms facing toward) volumization technique that helped me tremendously.
For those unable to complete 10 bodyweight chins: Monday perform 5 sets of ~60% of your maximum reps.
For example, if you can manage to knock out only 3 chins with proper form, on Monday you will perform 5 sets of 2 chins with 2 mins rest between each set–2/2/2/2/2.
Wednesday you will increase the total number of reps by 1 (and do this in the first set)–3/2/2/2/2.
Friday, your “test day,” max out on 2 sets of close-grip chins and 2 sets of a lat pulldown using the same grip you would use on the chin bar.
The next Monday, add another rep so you’re at 3/3/2/2/2.
Repeat this cycle as necessary. By the time you reach 6/6/6/6/6 or 7/7/7/7/7 you should be able to knock out 10 full, proper bodyweight chins on your next test day and you can/should then begin adding weight using a weight belt. You’ll then be on your way to being insanely good at chin-ups.
Thanks for the motivation and invaluable info.
thanks for sharing this routine – it is definitely a good one. The key is to do lots of fresh (as in without fatigue) repetitions. Using this you can come up with lots of successful pullup routines.
For example – back in the day when I started I used a similar routine. It was however even simpler – I was doing 1/2/3 repetitions and just adding one more set each workout.
Great tips. I’m on tight time line to improve my pull-ups and this is one of the better resources I’ve found thus far.
Frequent practice with perfect form and fresh repetitions, along with volume will do wonders for your pullups. Keep hustling!
Hey Yavor great post! I have been really struggling with pull-ups for a long time. For the past few years I have only ever been able get a measily 10 reps with my own Bodyweight. I’m going take some of your advice like not training to failure and use the back more.
Best Pull-up post I’ve read so far!
here is a good resource. This describes what’s out there and the perfect form
I am 17 years old and just recently got into working out. Will Lat Pulldowns be enough to work the back? Or should i replace them with wide-grip pullups?
Thanks for sharing this resource.
For complete back development you need 4 exercises.
1. deadliifts will work your lower back.
2. Rows will work the muscles around your spine – the middle of your back
3. Shrugs will work your traps
4. Pullups will work your lats – giving you the wide back V-shape look.
Lat pull downs suck compaterd to pullups. For widce back you dont need wide grip pullups.Shoulder width grip works fin, because aq wider grip actually has LESS range of motion. So do regular grip pullups. And just get good at them (reach 15+ and you are good)
I love pull-ups, one of the best exercises for upper back strengthening.
In the video you are doing some worm-like movements. 🙂
Just joking. Good work. Keep it up. 😉
worm like movements – you are killing me man! I def shouldn’t have attempted that last rep. But – I needed to because I was trying for a PR lol!
p.s. – your site looks great! I like that you train at an awesome place out in the woods. Incidentally your last name means green wood or something so it’s very fitting.
Excellent post Yavor,
It looks easy to reach the 15 reps but in real it’s very hard hahaha 🙂 I just can do 6 reps correctly.
I have a question though about the video title: Why Doing pull ups “While Fasting”?
If you are a normal bodyweight, it is actually relatively easy to reach 15 reps in a few months. Going from 0 to 5 will take maybe 2-3 months and going from 5 to 12 another 2 and finally from 12 to 15-17, yet another two.
Going from 15-17 to 20 and beyond will take some more (and harder) training. This is actually the hard part.
The video is called doing pullups while fasting, because I fast 1-2 times per week almost every week, so I control my bodyweight. You can read about the fasting program here ==> http://relativestrengthadvantage.com/eat-stop-eat-how-to-lose-fat-and-preserve-your-muscles-without-traditional-dieting/
It happened that on the day I had a buddy of mine shoot me do pullups I was fasting. So I had not eating the whole day (from the night before actually). This wasn’t a problem however and I had enough energy for the pullups and for a workout too because the food from the day before was still in my muscles.
Thank you for this post. It’s helped me tremendously. Question for you. Do you think that doing negative pull ups and the flexed arm hang help with getting better at pull ups? Or should I just replace my negatives/flexed arm hang with more pull ups instead?
For example, my routine is like this
Regular grip pull up
Chin up with regular grip
Chin up with parallel grip
Negative regular grip
Flex hang Wide-grip
Flex hang Narrow grip.
4-5 reps on each.
they help, but they are not an efficient use of your time. I’d stick with regular pullups and once they are easy (12+ reps) I’d add additional weight.
I am okay at chinups, but not so good at pullups. I can feel my lats engage, so my form should be good. Can you give me a workout or ideas to do so I can get stronger. My goal is to be able to 20 in a row so I can show up my cousin when he comes over!(serious about the 20, not about showing up my cousin!His 20 is with one arm,not two)
Excellent. This is the best ‘how to’ pull up article I’ve seen on the net, both in terms of the body mechanics required and the training ideas. I’ve been training chin ups for a couple of months, just low reps 3-5 and concentrating on form and high tension and last week I tried pull ups (I couldn’t manage one even with a lot of kipping and kicking beforehand) and was amazed that I could do 2 with relative ease! I’ve also found that strong visualistations (I imagine myself flying over the bar up to waist height – basically a muscle up) helped me enormously in getting the full range. Anyway – great stuff!
here are a few more tips:
– keep your bodyweight low
– train with as high volume as possible
– avoid ‘forced’ or ‘ugly’ reps. Only clean form helps, struggling reps only fatigue you
Keep kicking a**!
thanks for the tips Yavor. Check on 2 and 3, I practice Pavel’s ‘gtg’ system (multiple low rep sets throughout the day concentrating on strict form). You’ve got me on the bodyweight though. I a good 2 stone overweight and I think this holds up my progress somewhat. However, it is interesting to note that despite my weight I have still managed some success in pullups and pistols (I can now do 2 good reps on each leg) by using techniques like the ones you describe here. I don’t of course advocate being overweight – guess I need to add some conditioning work!
It is not so much conditioning that is needed. Simply cut back on the food for a a few weeks.
You can maybe burn 300-500 cals in a tough workout. But can you do this every day? No.
But, if you decrease the food by 500+ cals, you will start losing weight fast.
Good luck and thanks for stopping by – your comments are appreciated 🙂
Losing weight definitely helped me to do more pullups! I was only able to do 9 or 10 my first set and I can now do 11. The gains are slow though. I have always been strong on the three powerlifting moves, especially the deadlift. I did 610 in the 181 lb. class years ago, but pullups still humble me everytime!
I like your article very much,extremely helpful. But i have one problem. During pull ups (palms facing away) i can get my top lip up to the bar but not my chin. Can you please help me?
Keep up the good work.
seems like you lack strength for your bodyweight. The solution:
1. lose weight if you have excess bodyfat
2. you need more strength – do many sets of chinups (palms in), but stay away from failure. If you can do 5 reps, do many sets of 3 etc.
3. do lat pulldowns with the same grip you do pullups with. Get stronger there and get back to pullups.
4. I wrote a short report about pullups a few years ago – I plan to update it – but the information iteslf there is SOLID. You can get it here until I update it:
Thank you Yavor, i have read the article, it was very helpful. What do you suggest as the most effective way to do pull ups because i have been with many programs? Could you also explain the ladder method you have outlined in your article a little more please.
the idea is to do LOTS of total reps. But the reps need to be relatively fresh (so the last 1-2 reps that are very hard n each set are to be avoided)
So lets say you can do 6 pullups. You take this number and divide it by half.
Next you start doing pullups – 1 rep. The rest some. 2 reps, rest, 3 reps, bigger rest. Then you start over 1-2-3…
Lets say on the first workout you do 1-2-3-1-2-3 and you feel somewhat tired.
The next workout you do one more step ==> 1-2-3-1-2-3-1
Each workout (train at least 3x per week!) add one more step.
Soon 1-2-3 will become too easy. Start with 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4-etc…
Make sure to rest for a week once every 3-4 weeks.
Also check out this post by Charles Malina:
Hope this helps until I wrote a bigger post about it!
AMAZING post, Yavor!
Pullups have always been a weak point for me and I look forward to implementing some of your pointers. Keep up the good work.
my pleasure! Now go kick some ass on the pullup bars!
Great post. my pull up is one of my weak points, I recently bought a bar for my door and do a couple of pull ups here and there through the day and have found that once I’m in the gym im definitely stronger. I like the idea of trying to bend the bar, thats a good one.
You got a new reader in me. keep it up!
I want to thank Yavor as well as everybody else who has contributed to this fantastic page.
I have always been terribly weak at pull-ups, but since stumbling across this page only four or five days ago I’ve already seen significant progress. Instead of struggling to get my chin over the bar…I can now pull myself up to chest level. It really is amazing what a different perspective can do. What really pulled it together for me was Yavor’s description of trying to twist the bar as you pull yourself up.
bending the bar is just a trick that makes you engage the super powerful lat muscles. Hood luck!
no problem! Keep us posted!
Excellent article Yavor
I’m trying to build on my pull up skills just now
can barely manage 2 but I’m going to get there
keep up the good work mate!
2 pull-ups is a start after all 🙂 I’d suggest doing singles, increasing the number of singles every day, as well as doing 3 sets of 5 on the lat pull down at least 3 times per week and slowly increasing the working weight. Also try to lose weight if you need to (a very light dinner is a good start).
Hey very interesting stuff you have posted. Currently I am working on my pullups. My current goal is to able to do weighted pullups. Now you mention packing your shoulders to your torso at the dead hang position and following that you emphasize using the back muscles. By packing my shoulders aren’t I using my back muscles already. Also I am having a hard time visualizing how to bend the bar to get more contraction.
Oh yeah I forgot did you get the girl
1. using the back muscles means pulling with your armpit muscles, and not with your biceps.
2. as for bending the bar – imagine pressing a door handle – this the movement. It gives you a slightly harder contraction and thus more strength. Focus the presure on the outside of the palm.
Good stuff mate, I am 47 years old and still chinning regularly I like to start at 10 overhand and work down to 1. 20 press ups in between sets usually does the trick, whilst in the British Army I did a 24 hour heaveathon managed 1225 long arm heaves in 24 hours. Though very painful it was a good buzz.
sounds like you def know what you are doing! The reverse pyramid you described is actually a great way to train: start with 10 and work down to 1.
But you got me confused: what is a heave?
Sorry about the delay, a heave is a under grasp chin up it’s just a army term. Generally a chin is over grasp and heave under grasp both are as painful as each other.
After the 24 hour heave session I find heaves mentally difficult pain association I guess.
Thank you Yavor!
I’m at the beginning stages of learning how to do pull-ups to improve my parkour, so I’m not quite there yet, but I’m on my way. The information here just validates what I was feeling when one day, I accidentally used my back and not my arms. I was able to do much more this way. I’m going to try squeezing my butt too and see what happens!
Rhonda, my pleasure. Parkour seems like a very fun way to stay in shape 🙂
so a chinup (supinated, underhand grip) is called a “heave”
and a pullup (pronated, overhand grip) is called a chin.
Weird but cool 🙂
Thanks for stopping by,
im a 16 year old boy,i weigh 90 kgs,i want to play rugby at school,i cant do a single chin or pull up, pleasehelp me with any tips that you can helpme to improve with
Hi Yavor –
Your article and correspondence with readers is superb: thoughtful, creative, open-minded, and polite (you and your readers). I have three questions:
Do you believe that it’s useful for people like me, who have been training for decades (I’m 52) and are stuck on a plateau, to identify weak links and use assistance exercises to overcome those weak links? If so, do you have tips on identifying weak links and/or assistance exercises to target them?
What are reasonable goals (can the average man who trains hard expect to do 20 pull-ups, for example)?
You talk in your progression section about two sets of six one-arm pull-ups. Isn’t the ability to do that extraordinarily rare? (I’ve never seen anyone do six good ones.)
Thanks very much,
depending on your height, you might need to lose weight (to do this eat slightly less). Also check out the lat pull down article.
Yes identifying weak links is a very smart approach to it. With pull-ups done properly (using the lats!), the weak links are the upper arms and grips strength. You can train those either ona pullup bar (holds for time for grip and top half pullups for arms) or with barbell and dumbbells (all kinds of curls, reverse curls, grip work doing heavy barbell holds for time (take a barbbell n a squat rack and hold)
I consider myself average in genetic athleticism and I peaked at 21 pullups this summer. So yes – it si a reasonable goal but:
1. You can”t expect to be in this shape all the time – so train (peak at 20+) then rest (numbers drop to 12-15) for some time then train again etc.
2. you need to be lean/light (so on the BMI chart definitely cannot be in overweight category)
Re: the one armed pullups – this is from the combat conditioning book. I’m far from there (recently resumed pullup training after injury). Most I’ve witnessed is 1-2 – from my neighborhood friends who just train heavy medium-wide grip pullups.
Thanks a lot. I suspect that in my case the weak link is my biceps, so I suppose curls, which I never do, are in order.
BTW, I’ve always thought that the reason for my weak biceps is that they’re really short (i.e., a high tendon:muscle ratio in the span between shoulder and elbow. I don’t hear people talk about this much, but I’ve always wondered how much it might limit strength in movements involving the biceps. I have dead lifted 3X my bodyweight, but obviously biceps are only minimally involved in that movement.
Yes the biceps might be a limitation, but have in mind that 20+ pullups is not THAT big of a challenge. (3x BW deadlift is much harder).
So even if you lose some strength from the ratio of tendons to muscle length, you should be able to ace those numbers.
Thanks, and last question for now, I promise:
You say that chins/pulls should be practiced at least 3X a week. At one point, especially if you’re doing weighted chins, would that mean inadequate recovery time? I’ve noticed that a lot of people seem to recommend a higher training frequency for chins than for most other strength exercises, but I’ve never understood why. I’ve been doing chins 2x/week, thinking that my strength would deteriorate if I trained more frequently. (When I dead lifted, I trained once every 11 days, and not because I was lazy!)
The deadlift is a completely different beast – it is loading the spine.
With chins you can hurt only tendons around the elbow or maybe overload the biceps. Chins can be trained a lot! I’ve done 7x per week (that was too much and caused elbow pain).
For you I’d suggest trying increasing training frequency and seeing how you handle it.
Obviously you cannot do a max effort day more than 1-2 per week (max effort — high load, low volume – works great with chins, but be careful of injury because the biceps is so much weaker than the lats).
But you can do heavy chins 3x per week (but the sets are not taken to failure). So here the training effect comes from your adaptation to a high volume of training with a heavy load.
For example doing 15-35 total reps with a 5RM.Obviously the volume increases over time
I’m back with another two questions. Do you recommend training pulls and chins on the same or different days? And second, if I’m training for pure strength with weighted pulls and chins, do you have a recommendation for weight and rep plans? (I’m training three sets of four reps at 50lbs (when I could do five or six reps.)
1. I’d do them on separate days.
2. for strength – work up to 25-36 total reps per workout. Do this by adding more sets.
Once there, up the weight (your 6RM will be higher) and start over from 12 reps (3 sets of 4).
This will work for 2-3 months, then you need to switch the rep range (medium or high reps) for 4-8 weeks and then go back to strength.
thanks for the awesome tips Yavor. im frm india and i started pullups frm 4 weeks back. im 5’8 and 80 kg :(. intll i cut do1rep but now i can do 7. to increse my rep i it neccessary fore o redce weight ? awesome tip on lats 😀 cheers
i jus went out and tried using my back and it hurt like SHIT. 😛 looks like i was entirely using my arms .
Harsh, yes losing a few kilos will definitely help in getting better at pullups. When you learn to use the alts, pullups and chinups will become MUCH easier. And, you will develop a nice v-shaped back.
i am able to do only 3 proper using my back. also for me its actually more painfull using my back. i eat like a hog. watwud be an ideal diet for me . im 17
also i want to develop a GREAT upper body without actually gaining weight as i want to stay lean and fast as well.wat are the best exercises for core endurance and strenght ?
ps- this article is awesome and ty for the reply. cheers 😀
Harsh, just keep training using the lats. Once you get used to i, they will grow and it will be easier than using the arms. The back is much bigger and stronger than the biceps.
To lose weight, focus on eating slightly smaller portions and eating less calorie dense foods – for example vegetables. You just have to eat less to weigh less.
To be fast and lean – you need to get stronger while keeping the body weight down. this is done by using the basic barbell exercises:
thanks for the advice Yavor. i am chking out vids on how to use my lats. also i dnt have time to go to a gym so i have to entirely rely on bodyweight, running etc. As most of my fat is around my torso what is the best exercise i can get ? plz elaborate more on the diet part 🙂 -harsh
Harsh, the best exercise is the one you will end up doing (instead of skipping). Any activity that makes you sweat and breathe heavily is good.
I like running, boxing, basketball, bodyweight circuits => http://relativestrengthadvantage.com/body-weight-workout/
Diet: take a notebook and note all the food you eat in a week. Next week make sure to eat LESS than that and also note the quantities.
You should start losing the fat around the torso. If you don’t, decrease the food a little more, etc.
nailed my first ever set of 15 ! !!!!!
many thanks yavor. i got to read convict conditioning and i lie on stage 5,6 most exercises. also im experiencing a sharp pain behind my shoulders. wats the remedy ?? (got carried away while performing dips 🙁 )
wat exactly do u mean by bending the bar while chinning
Harsh, first off congrats. 15 chins is pretty sweet.
Bending the bar means just this – you TRY to bend the by by trying to rotate the wrists inward, toward the body. So the left wrist tries to rotate counter clockwise, and the right wrist tries to rotates clockwise.
The bar of course will not bend, but your lats will contract harder.
As for the pain between the shoulder blades – be very careful. I suggest resting from the exercise that caused it.
Seriously, even if you lose many weeks from resting now, you will gain many more months of progress in the long run.
Aside from rest, the other remedy (but don’t skip the rest!) is to get stronger mid back (rhomboids) and rear delts.
For rhomboids do machine or barbell rows with a wide grip (elbows completely wide to the side) with a very controlled tempo. Squeeze the shoulder blades.
For rear delts – rear delt flies face down on a swiss ball or bench with the lightest dumbbell you find. Very controlled movement, 3 sets of 20 reps with 20-30 secs of rest.
Hi Yavor –
After reaching a peak of 2 chin-up reps with 95lb at a bodyweight of 160, I concluded that I was much stronger at the bottom of the lift than the top (I could see this even with much lighter weights). So I decided to concentrate on doing higher rep/lighter weight sets with an emphasis on range of motion, getting my chin high above the bar. But doing this really hurt the inside of my left elbow. I’ve laid off for over three months now, and it’s better but I wouldn’t dare try a chin up yet. I know elbow injuries are common, but could you elaborate a little on this subject. Is it common for these injuries to take months to heal? How can I avoid this in the future?
Thanks as always. -Dan
Hi Dan, the injury you describe (of course it’s difficult to give advice over the internet) sound like muscle imbalance to me. I had the same problem – pain on the inside…
The cause of the pain is an imbalance between the wrist and elbow flexors and supinators on one side and the pronators and wrist extensors on the other.
Lots of weighted chins make your elbow and wrist flexors and supinators very strong, while the extensors remain the same. So the stonger muscles pull on the tendon and you get pain.
2. strengthen wrist extensors
3. strenghten forearm pronators
p.s. I reached a chinup (shoulder width underhand grip) with 105lbs at 185-190 bodyweight a few years ago and injured (light strain that lasted a few weeks) my biceps from the strain.. I have friends here in my neighborhood that go well beyond that by doing weighted pullups with a neutral grip around or slightly wider than shoulder width. They train the move 1-2 times per week for multiple sets of low reps (1-3) and use other trainees (yup – younger kids weighing anywhere from 80-180lbs hanging off their waists) for additional weight.
No injuries and ridiculous strength gains. So this grip (neutral) is definitely the way to go with such high additional weight.
looks like i HAVE to rest 🙁
i have been going At it for two weeks.
gonna stop working out on weekends now . never knew rest was soo important. its just that im afraid ill loose all my strength if i dont do all exercises everyday 🙁
Harsh, training everyday is good for practice. But fatigue in the muscles (and more importantly tendons and ligaments) increases the more days you go in a row without rest. So it’s a matter of balance.
it pains 2 sec after i lift anything sideways with my arm fully stretched or just after finishin 🙁 i raise my hands like i wud if i were doing jumping jacks and it kills.
ALSO i can perform a l-sit but can manage the ‘L’ 😛 my legs dont go out straight . fix it ?? 🙂 😀 cheers harsh
u on facebook or google + ? :P. will make conversing easier 😛
Harsh, I have a facebook: http://www.facebook.com/relativestrengthadvantage
Hope you “like” it (hint hint 🙂
Regarding the pain – you didn’t say where it hurts. Regarding the L-sit – just sit with your legs stretched in front of you and stretch.
dude i meant a facebook account 🙂
it hurts behind my shoulders. near that bone in my back
Sweet Blog man, love the info and the effort you put into it:
I’m sure a ton of folks will benefit hugely from your expert advice!
This is a blog where you can truly learn about how to train!
Thanks for the Good Work man,
chk ur facebook messages
One thing is for sure: if you want to improve your chins, you’ve come to the right place here on Yavor’s site, and NO mistake! 😉
I can’t thank you enough for writing this article. I’m training to go into the military and chin ups are a huge downfall for me. No one has ever taught me how to do them properly. I’ve been using my biceps to try and pull up on the bar and getting absolutely no where. I now know why thanks to you. I’m surely going to take your advice and go try some chin ups now. Hopefully by the Spring, I’ll be well above their recommendations and I’ll pass the fit test no problem! Thanks again!!
Jessica, it will happen, as long as you put in the work. I have helped many girls go from 0 to 10+ pullups. Good luck!
STUCK ON 10 tell me what to do ???? !!!
Do this: http://relativestrengthadvantage.com/the-best-pushup-workout-routine/ except with pulllups instead of pushups
also i know i mite be bugging u by now but i NEVER get sore lats no matter how many pullups i do. is something wrong with me 🙁 . im 69.5 kg now with 15 % bf 😛
wait ill show a video asap . mmaybe then u can tell me
m gonna come back with a video
Yavor, this is a really great piece of work. I am targeting some keywords on pull ups and the information here is top notch. Definitely using some of your ideas, when i release a post on my blog, I will be sure to cite you and send some visitors over and also use your youtube video to increase your views. By the way it has been since october since you last posted, been checking your blog every month, come out of hiding lol. Hope you had a good xmas and have a good new year.
-Michael @ Somebodylied.com
So I am watching that movie that you introduced this post with and i am literally pissing myself laughing. The way the paraplegic is just hanging for dear life was so hilarious. To be honest that was a very good effort, dunno if I would be able to hold on for that long in training but maybe in life or death I would
Mike, it was a good “bad movie” right 🙂
Hello, this is a great article but I’m wondering if you could help, I can do absolutely zero pull-ups/chin-ups, and I was wondering if you could help learn to do them. Is there any particular muscles i can work to get stronger. I don’t have a partner to work out with, so having them help n the “up part” isn’t an option. Thanks for your help
Sam, if you have access to a gym, then check out the http://relativestrengthadvantage.com/lat-pull-down-machine/
If you have access to a pullup bar, use a small bench or a chair/stool to help you get in the top position, then try to slowly lower under control. Try to do it slower each workout – for example, 2 seconds, 3 seconds, 10 seconds etc.
Once that’s easy try holding different positions – half way down ,3/4 down etc.
Happy new year!
hello yavor. my exams are almost over.i got a pr on chinups at 15 PERFECT chins.however when i tried pullups i still struggle to get to 10. what do u reccomend i do ? as a result of consistent bridges and bar work i am spending a lot of time in front of the mirror and my nexk hurts as i constantly try to take a look at my back lol. also being in good shape is the greatest thing EVER. nothing comes close. cheers
im trying to run a mile in under 5 recently 🙂
Harsh, good job with the exams. I agree health and fitness rule! As for the pullups, i recommend dropping chinups and focusing on wide grip pullups (wide grip is your hands are a about a fist out from your shoulders ==> take a look at pic C:
Really enjoyed reading this blog. I am 16 and have just started to do workouts. I play football 2-3 times per week and I currently do 8/5/4 chin ups. I can complete 50 sit ups and 30 press ups. As a beginner could you give me some advice on how to improve.
Jack, train often – 3-4 times per week. Don’t do reps to failure. Do 1-2 reps away from failure. Do many reps per workout and increase them each week – 20, 30, 50 etc…
I have been following your “One Arm Pull-ups or Chin-ups and Beyond”-program and I found it very hard to progress from uneven pullups to 1/2 one arm pullup. So I tried to do assisted one arm pullup instead, and it looked more likely to start on that bit before 1/2 OaP-ups.
Do you have any thoughts about this?
John, sounds like a good idea. I can’t test this right now because of 2 injuries…
I hope you get a fast recovery=)
Thank you so much for posting this article. This is all amazing information. I’ve been scouring google trying to find information / hints and/or tips about Lat usage during a pull up. And your tips will really help.
Side note: Your video of pull ups (16) are some of the cleanest, most controlled pull ups I’ve seen in a video, yet. Good work! I hope to reach that goal some day soon.
I’m still wondering how best to ‘activate’ my lats during a pull up (or close grip chin ups, as I’m doing now). I’ve tried the ‘have a friend press down on your arm’ technique. So now I know where they are, specifically. It’s just using them during a pull up that’s kind of got me wondering. Anyway, thanks again for all the information you posted here. Great stuff.
Nathan, the 16 pullups are reachable within a few months. Btw, in the lat activation technique your friend is pressing up while you press down with your upper arm or elbow.
Thank you for the reply. Ahh. That makes sense. Seems I had it backwards. I did 3 sets of 5 negatives today and I really feel some tension/tightness (in a good way) in the muscles near my shoulder blades, close to the shoulders. I’ll keep up with it and update if I make some good strides. Thanks!
Nate, this tightness is ok, but the lats are really felt in the armpit. Try holding a book in your armpit and squeeze it so it won’t fall off. The muscle that fires is the lat.
I don’t mean to keep blowing up your site/post with constant replies, but just wanted to show gratitude for all the hints and help. I’ll try this book technique, along with your other tips. Thanks a hundred times over (again).
i hv just started chin ups…really telling u its tough my wt is 81 kg nd my hieght is 6’1″ feet cn u tell me hw to increase pull ups as i cn nt even do 1.
Hey dude I can do 30 wide grip pull ups, I want to progress to one armed but I can barely hold myself with one arm I weigh 230 pound.
Any advice i would be gratefull thanks
Dean, at 230 you are quite strong to do 30 pullups. That said, you are too heavy for one arm chins man.Unless you are really tall, the fastest way to improve is to lose excess body fat (this is done by eating less). After that, just do regular (shoulder width) chinups pr pullups with extra weight attached. You willl want to get stronger on these. This is the simplest way to ensure one arm chins. So to recap 1.lose fat 2. get stronger.
I ain’t tall at all 6ft exactly but I’m built big I haven’t got much body fat on me. I do alot of strength trainin kettlebells pull ups at the gym I do 5×5 reps with as much weight as possible. I do eat like pig though I don’t have diet or a six pack so I’ll try and eat less and see what happens. Im buying a weighted vest this week I’ll see what I can do rep wise in that
Thanks for the advice I’ll let you know if I can manage any one armed
Hey Yovon, I’m fifteen years old and am currently 6-2″ and weigh 85 kgs I play Rugby Unioun and I am currently in a elite development program where I have to do a certain amount of chin ups push ups etc. I have to be able to do 8 reps of chin ups and this for me is very difficult. I have been doing chin ups daily and can only seem to rep out about three in a set. From my point of view the hardest part I struggle with is the initially lift from the hangin position. When I arrive at the 90 degree angle at the elbow joint tree is no problem. Would you be able to tell me my weak spot and how I can train to rep out 8 reps a set. Is there any special ways to build that weak spot for example doing bench dips for my triceps.
Daniel, do not train week spots. Instead, do many sets of 1-2 reps until you hit 30-50 total reps per workout.
Do not do sets with your max number of reps (3 in this case). Instead do 50-70% of the max you can do.
Train 3x per week. Every two weeks test your max reps. They will be improving.
Hi Yavor –
This is an exceptional site. Thank You.
What is the recommended interval between sets when I’m doing a strength routine (10 sets of 3 reps)? Should the three reps be easy enough that I can do 10 sets with the same weight with only a minute or so between, or should I stress it more with longer rests between sets?
Second, I hurt my inner elbow pretty badly a couple of years ago doing weighted chins. Now I’m doing neutral grip chins, and my elbow seems to be fine, but my question is whether regular chins and regular pull-ups are equally dangerous for my elbows, or are the chins particularly risky?
1. do 10 sets of 3 with longer rest (2-3 minutes).
2. If you are referring to an inflammation of the forearm tendons (golfer’s elbow) – it is caused by training too much/too intensely and not allowing for sufficient rest.
For this injury any type of chinup is potentially risky. You have to recover properly. If you feel soreness/pain in the tendons, rest until it subsides.
Hello Yavor. I can’t really do chin-ups and pull-ups. I can flex the lats when i’m just sitting or standing, but when i’m on the bar my forearms or biceps take over. Is there anyway to make flexing your lats more of a natural motion?
So if we should try to “bend” the bar “(your left hand will twist counter-clockwise and your right hand will twist clockwise) you will achieve a greater contraction in your upper body.”, how do we do the same thing when performing chin up? Where should the right and left hands twist, so to speak? Is it the opposite? Right-anti clockwise and Left-clockwise?
Theoretically they should twist so that your pinkie fingers come closer to your face and your thumbs away. However, in the chin up position this might not be comfortable for many people.
I am 77. I did 27 pullups for my first set yesterday and finished up with various reps ending with a total of 100. try to google age 74 pullups 31.
Irv, hats off to you, sir! Impressive and inspiring!
Excellent article, gives me lots of ideas to improve.
I just did 4 years inside and some dudes were doing 10 reps of 20 pull ups behind the back, they were huge, no protein, no steroids.
Hope to get half way there one day with your tips.
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