more on chins

Hey T-Nation,

there always seems to be some debate whether or not certain movements like pulldowns on a high pulley or bicep work will translate into improving the number of chins anyone can do. in ZEB’s previous guide to chins, i recall that he stated that the only way to improve on chins is to do the chins, and every other movement had little translation (other than weight loss). so, i pose a question for all you out there: do you think doing assisted chins using an elastic rope (and NOT an anti-grav machine) helps greatly to improve your chins? this is where you take an elastic rope, attach one end to the chin bar, loop the other end and put your knees or feet through it (depending on length), and do the chinup motion as you would without the rope.

Assistance my ASS!

If your body fat is below 30% and you can’t do one chin, hit the lat pull until you can. If you can chin at least one time, pick a number. Then get up there as many times as you have to in order to reach that number. For example, we’ll use 50. If you can only do 10 chin-ups, then get up there do your ten, rest, and repeat. Add reps consecutively with each set until you hit your number. NO MATTER how many times you have to get up there. When you hit your number, increase it by 10, or strap on some weight. Your gains will come quick!

I’m with ZEB on this one…it’s not that other exercies won’t improve your strength in the relevant muscle groups for chins, but basically…chins for reps is an endurance and strength exercise, and you need to improve your ability to gut it through the burning and fatigue. Pull downs might help some, but why bother when you can just do what bobzan advises and just force yourself to do the reps.

Weight loss/gain also have a dramatic effect on the number of reps. I used to do about 25 for my first set, but I’ve gained some muscle and fat from 2 bulk phases, and my numbers shot down big-time, even though I’m much stronger on the other lifts.

I’d say do it natural until complete failure, take a rest, then do some more until you feel like your lats will split off from your torso. Keep that up until you pound out at least 50 total reps (no matter how many sets it takes), then go hit the barbell rows and revisit it again in a few days. If all you care about is chinups, then do them 3 times a week and watch your numbers grow like crazy! Getting some assistance at the end of a set may help increase your adaptive response to the fatigue, but if you’re serious about it, then just keep pounding them out until your happy with your numbers.

The only way to improve your chins is to do chins? right, and i guess the only way to improve your bench is to bench, and the only way to improve your squat is to squat. Somebody call Westside and tell Louie they’ve got it all wrong with the assistance and supplemental movement work.

Actually, KBC…you’re post got me wondering about this: what if we used bands/chains to ADD resistance to the chinup at the top of the ROM? That may hold some promise…kinda like an ME day for chins.

On the same note, maybe using a band to decrease resistance at the bottom of the ROM may help the body adapt to fatigue, which is the big killer in chins. Hmm…like the DE day for chins…

But, I’m totally against pull-downs as a complimentary exercise that can add to your total number of chins. The two guys I work out with prefer lat pull downs to chins, but have never shown any real improvement from their obsession with pull-downs. They still are stuck at the same number of chins. That speaks volumes, especially for the guy who has lost a few pounds! Bottom line: no translation from pull-downs to chinups.

As far as the rest of your post, KB…remeber that Westside goals and chinup goals are not the same. Most guys who use Westside (seriously) are either powerlifters or athletes who want more functional strength. Chinups are about improving endurance-type strength (solely), which is not what most Westside folks are looking for.

Training for chinups…a la ZEB and the pursuit of 40+…is not comparable to Westside training, IMHO. Although, I’m really interested to see how bands may help in chinup training!

Still, you gave me a good idea…thanks!

Hmm… Klogg think chin ups goooood. Klogg think pull downs bad… In fact Klogg not like people who do pull downs…

Seriously though, a major issue with pull-ups is that they are an open chain excersise, and therefore the athlete is forced to use more muslces to stabilise the prime movers and the load (your ass). Often, what happens is that the trainee actually reaches stabiliser failure before the prime movers are adequately fatigued. This could be at any point in the chain - even forearms.

Pull-Downs are a closed chain excersise. That said, the stabilisers are not used in the same way, or as extensively as they are on a pull-up. Secondly, one often notes a cheat-technique being employed on the pull-down machine. While this might have it’s place (with certain trainees at certain levels), it certainly does not improve perfomance in the pull-up.

My suggestion is to read poliquin’s article on this site about pull-ups. That’s a good start. Of course, Poliquin works with elite athletes… we are not all elite athlets.

If a person lacks lat development, or is untrained it would be foolhardy to get a fat guy to hang from the bar and say “Pull your fat ass up, or else!” Then it is very necessary to use the lat pull-down machine. I would ideally combine this with varying grips and techniques to provide balanced devlopment, as well as, perhaps, supplemental work with face-pulls to taget the posterior deltoid. Behind-the-neck pulls are a recipe for rotator cuff trauma.

However for those who can do pull-ups Poliquin’s article is a veritable encyclopedia. I would also add that if a trainee is after hypertropy, and is unable to induce a pump on the pull-up bar, it may be productive to employ a broken-set scheme, for example, one of my friends is doing

6reps (failure for him)
rest 10-20sec
3reps (again failure)

At the beginning of the month he was only doing 4 reps, and 5 with a spot.

I would like to add my personal experience with chins, please. As many of you know, chin-ups(or pull-ups) are a part of the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test, and I am a former Marine. 20 chins is considered a perfect score, so 20 was my goal(actually 25 was my goal since I thought if 25 was my max, I would never fail to get 20).

When I started to really make chins a priority, I was stuck around 15. If I hit 16 or 17, it was a really good day for me. So my initial strategy was to do weighted chins at sets of eight to ten. I started with 10 lbs and when I could still hit 8 reps on my 3rd set I would add weight.

I would add about 5 lbs every 2-3 weeks and I could feel myself getting stronger. I go on the internet and check a bunch of weight/rep charts and I see I should be able to get 21 or 22 bodyweight chins. So when it comes to test myself I fully expect to get 20. Result: I struggle to get 18, and it took all I had to get the 18th.

Now it was possible that those charts are wrong(and they probably are since the accuracy is lost after 10 reps or so), but I still think I should have added more than 3 reps after almost 2 months. Something was wrong. Sure I gained some minimal weight, but my new strength should have offset it. I was really confused. I started to think that I just wasn’t built for chins.

I got to talking to a buddy of mine and we discussed what I was doing. What we decided is that to be good at chins for reps, you have to occasionally do chins for reps. This was completely true for me. My body never got used to repping in the high teens, and I couldn’t handle it. I started doing bodyweight chins for reps everyother week, and in about 3 weeks I hit 21. It was very exciting to me.

The moral of the story: I’m not exactly sure. I think that to increase chin reps into the 20’s and beyond you need to use a variety of chin-related exercises: various grip, weighted, high-rep, negatives, static hold(with or without weight), and, although I have never seen it done, I like what someone earlier said about accomidating resistance throughout the ROM with chains and bands. I also believe pull downs and rows do help, especially for those that can only do 3 or fewer reps, but I don’t think they translate directly and you really need to get on the bar.

It seems Zeb is one of the experts on chins around here, so he probably has some good advice to offer here(just don’t ask for bench press advice or his insane political views). And I would like in Zeb’s words, “This is just my opinion.” Experiment and find what works for you.

Maloneted you nut-Haha

“my insane political views?”

  1. I support our troops! 2. Bush was not my first choice for President, but I preferred him over Gore. Someone lock me up…I must be crazy…Hah

My Bench Press advice is for those who would like to train past the age of 35 without running to an ART specialist or a surgeon with rotator cuff problems at some point in their life!

Onto Chin-ups:

If I am not mistaken “Big D” is having problems doing one Chin-up. If that is the case, and I have read his post correctly, I would first ask how much he weighs, and how much of that is body fat?

If you have body fat in the area of 30% I think it is going to be very difficult to raise your Chin-up totals. The first thing you need to do is to find one of Berardis programs and lose some body fat.

If, or when, body fat is not a problem then you need to work Chins in at least two different ways:

  1. The first is to use the Smith Machine! Lower the bar to a point where your feet are touching a chair (or the floor). Then grip the bar and begin pulling. This will give you a more realistic feel relative to Chins than either the Lat Pull-down machine, or the Gravatron. Remember that there is an element of skill to every movement. Do Three sets of as many as you can get using this method. Try not to go to failure. That is not needed at this point. As you get stronger you can adjust the bar so that you are pulling more of your weight up, and less drag with your feet on the floor, or a bench.

Next, go over to a regular Chin-up bar and hoist yourself up to the top using a chair, or whatever you can climb on. Now do one good negative! If you come down fast don’t worry about it. Your body is still learning, and you are getting stronger from this. Try to do three negatives if possible. If you can only do one or two safely, that’s fine.

Needless to say, once you can perform one clean dead hang Chin-up it’s time to cut back on the Smith Bar Chins and add regular sets of Chins. Even if it is only one! Perform two sets of Smith Chins and Two sets of regular Chins. Keep up the negative work.

I have trained many who thought that they would never be able to perform even one Chin-up. In four to six weeks I have them doing three to five!

I am not fond of bands to assist someone in doing a Chin-up. I have tried it and it has not worked as well as the Smith Chins. It always seems to be just off- To much help, or not enough. I gues if you could gauge it as exact as the Smith Chins, it might work-never has for me.

As to working with the bands as a form of resistance, I like it. I always thought my weakest point in a Chin-up was the top part. I can blast out of the hole like a cannon ball being shot out of a cannon. The problem was I used to get a bit sloppy at the top after several reps. I have used the “purple” band, one end secured under a heavy dumbbell the other end looped around my weight lifting belt.

I then perform “half reps” at the top where all the tension is. I perform reps to a point where I am two or so from failure. I wait only :30 to :60 and then perform another set (remember we want to tax the endurance fibers with this movement). Three sets of these at the end of my Chin workout is plenty!

You guys who are trying to get higher numbers with Chins, ask yourself this: Where is my weak point? If you have a problem coming out of the hole then I suggest putting on a weight vest and performing half reps from the bottom. This one little technique will do wonders for your Chin-up, and it will do so quickly! Just don’t over do it. two or three sets is plenty. Just be consistent. If you are trying to improve your Chins train them three times per week for six weeks! Then back off for a week or two. Get some variety and then start another six week routine.

Also, many guys make the mistake of trying to do full reps with a weight vest in order to get numbers. This will not work in the long run! Your body needs to be able to deal with the lactic acid that over flows when you are performing high reps. Granted a stronger man can lift a lighter weight with more ease than a weaker man. However at this level you need strength endurance! How can you gain this if you perform 8-10 reps with a weight vest on? That’s only :15 to :20 (or so) worth of work!

There are a number of ways that you can increase your reps once you are in the teens and your body has adapted a bit more to the movement, but I will save that for another thread sometime.

By the way I am up to 37 continuous dead hang Chin-ups I have also performed 210 Pull-ups in 30 minutes. Not to bad for an old guy…Haha

Bid D- Good luck,


ZEB, you old dog, lol. First politics, the bench press, now you advocate the use of the smith machine?!? Haha, I’m kidding, I was only making light of points where we disagree(as a side note, me being a former serviceman, I will always support the troops; maybe not the war or the cause, but always the troops).

Actually the smith machine idea is a really good one. And I hesitate to say, but I pretty much agree with Zeb here. The key to strenghening anything is identifying the weak point.

I guess I didn’t read the inital post very well. I just wanted to add my own personal chinning experience.

I really wanna go try some chins with chains or bands now. In theory, it makes total sense. At least as far as adding weight goes(which is my goal). I am also curious to see the reactions from others in he gym when I do chins with a couple chains hanging from my legs.

I guess it would be easier to just attach them to a dip belt, which is what I use to add weight anyway. Anyway, I am excited to try something new. WOO-HOO.

I’ve found that a program like Chad Waterbury’s VOS will improve your Chin-up max.

I attack chins like any other body part. Figure out my 1 RM and work at a given % of max.

For instance I can only do ten chins max at a body weight of 225. I could
still only do ten at a body weight of 195 last year. I’m just not a high rep guy.

At the same time I can do a single rep with a hundred pound plate hanging from my waist. So for me I find doing sets of five or less weigthed chins at 80% to max increases my 1 RM max.

To me this translates into size and strength so I’m not concerned with how many reps I can crank out at a fixed weight. (My body weight is only 70% of my 1 RM) and I just don’t grow working at that intensity.