T Nation

Repetitive vs Max Chins


I am 160 lbs and can do 8 bodyweight chins, which, according to the strength percentage chart on Critical Bench, gives me a 1 RM of 200. I know I cannot do a chin with 40 lbs extra. However, I can only do two with 15 lbs extra, supposively giving me a 1 RM of 185. Whats up with this?


I think it might be about your muscle fibre make up. If I got it right, a fast twitch can't do a lot of reps but is able to increase the weight a lot, while a slow twitch does rep after rep but if you add some weight he gets stuck. Or something like this. I am 145 and can do 16 bodyweight, ~12with 22 lbs strapped on and 7 with 33lbs, which makes my max ~215. Well, my max is 235, and I'll give 245 a try. (I can already get it for the bottom half).


And you might want to try doing a 4 second negative and/or a short pause at the bottom. I think that is how you are supposed to count reps.The chins are MUCH easier when you do the reps fast. Also, when doing them fast, most people have a tendency to only do three-quarter-or-less ROM reps.


Yes, you need to be doing 8 dead hang chins with no body swing to compare with a 1RM weighted chin.


You also cannot use your entire bodyweight in the calculation. Should your arms count in the calculation? You are not moving your forearms.



First of all 8 reps for bodyweight chins is a great start. However, there is a difference between training for reps and training for pure strength,

How you train (and your natural muscle fiber makeup) is going to determine what you become good at.

You can't train for reps each day, switch to a one rep max and be really good at it. While building your strength by adding weight will somewhat help you gain more body weight reps, it does not work as well in reverse. Training for reps won't help your one rep max nearly as much'

Secondly, I always advise getting your bodyweigt reps up to about 12 before adding extra weight. When you do add weight do it the way you would any other movement. Don't look for the biggest plate in the Gym to strap on. Just use 10lbs. for starters. When you can do 8 reps with an extra ten pounds, add an additional 5lb plate. Now you are Chinning with 15lbs. plus your body weight.

As far as counting your body weight I would deduct about 10lbs. (5lbs each) for your lower arms which you are not actually pulling up. It's a rough way to figure it but it's very close.

So if you weigh 160lbs. minus 10lbs equals 150lbs. add 15lbs. to that and you are able to do Two Chins with a total of 165lbs. of weight.

If I were you here is what I would do:

Train with body weight only until you can get 12 clean dead hang Chins consistently. When this occurs you will find that you can probably do 4 to 6 reps with an added 10lb. plate. Work 3 sets (and don't go to failure). Train these first thing in your session.

After your final set perform one set of negatives. Place a chair under the bar so that you can begin at the top part. Lower yourself slowly. Not too slowly, take about :10. Perform only 3 or 4 of these.

Rest no more than 2:00 between these all sets.

You will gain reps faster than you can imagine!

Good Luck,




Is that final set of negatives performed with added weight?

For improving max bodyweight reps how would you balance that with non weighted sessions? Thanks.


I know that ZEB is probably the most knowledgable person here in regard to chins, but my two cents can't hurt. I weigh 205 with a relatively high body fat percentage (I am a former fat boy, I weighed 285 @15 years old), and I can do 6-8 shoulder width chins in good form. However, my back is very fast twitch. I can do a strict chinup with 50 extra lbs. I can onlydo two with 25 lbs.

I can also do strict sternum chinups where my body is past 45 degress to the floor.

I really stretch out my lats at the bottom, and I touch my chest to the bar on each rep.

In my experience, heavy barbell rows with a narrow pronated grip help with back activation on heavy chinups. My friend has a tendency to start his reps with his arms. If this happens you will have a hard time doing heavy chins.

What really helped me learn to start the movement with my back was what I think are called scapular depressions or retractions. Hang from the bar with a pronated grip, and relax your back. You should drop about an inch or two. Now, while keeping your arms straight, squeeze your lats and your mid-back muscles. If you do it right your body torso will angle back and you should be able to go straight up about an inch or so. Make sure your arms don't bend, squeeze yout triceps if you have to.

This worked great for helping with my max weight on chins because my biceps are also fast twitch and if I start the chin with my arms, I'm fried at the top and can't touch the bar.

Hope this helps.


The negatives are done with body weight only! The degree of difficulty is determined by the speed at which you lower your body.

If I am understanding your question properly you want to know how to train for both body weight and added weight in with Chin-ups.

If that is the case train three times per week. Once per week you can do weighted Chins. Twice per week you can follow my program relative to adding reps.

If I have somehow misconstrued your point please let me know.



There are plenty of naturally fast twitch guys who can chin with poundage, but have problems adding the numbers to body weight only Chins. This has to do with their dominant fast twitch muscle fiber fatiguing too soon. In your case as you stated you have a "relatively high body fat percentage." This too will prevent you from achieving a high number of body weight Chins. As the fat percentage comes down your rep total will rise (if that is your goal).

That is one of the things that is paramount in gaining a higher number of reps in one set. I rarely see anyone with a body fat percentage over 12%-14%
who can total 20 consecutive dead hang Chins (I'm not saying it can't be done, but it's fairly rare) even though many have trained for that specific purpose.

Conversely, I have seen guys with quite a low body fat percentage 6% to 9% who without training Chin-ups specifically perform 15 to 20 repetitions. Body fat is very key in achieving a high number of consecutive dead hang Chins. So key in fact that I dropped my own body weight from 10%-11% to 7.5% (Omron monitor could be off but usually pretty good) in order to achieve 40 dead hang Chins. I was stuck in the mid 30's for a long time at the higher body fat.
Please don't misunderstand me body fat is not the "only" thing.

However, you can compare body fat and Chin-ups with gas to a race car. You can have a powerful engine great tires etc. But, without gasoline the car can't move. With Chin-ups if you have a high degree of Body fat it's harder to move up and down the bar. Once the body fat is reduced the many other things like technique, type of training, strength etc. mean a lot more. By the way, another great technique which got me to 40 straight reps was something that I just employed a few months back and that is the unique use of band training relative to Chin-ups! But...that's another post.

Back on track: The original poster was quite the opposite (compared to you). He stated that he could "do 8 bodyweight Chins" but only "two with 15lbs of extra weight." It is evident that he is more slow twitch. Hence, he will never be able to move any sort of serious poundage beyond body weight, if he first does not begin to build 12 or so reps first. His body weight is indeed challenge enough at this point. Adding weight prior to building body weight reps in his case would be fool hardy and perhaps even injury inducing.

One more comment relative to one more point which you brought up. You stated:

"In my experience heavy barbell rows with a narrow pronated grip help with back activation on heavy chinups."

While I don't recommend doing Barbell Rows to become better at Chins, I think you have touched on one very key component when it comes to Chinning with added weight!

Those who cannot activate their Latissimus Dorsi muscle will have a more difficult time Chinning with added weight. One way that I teach this is to have the trainee hang from the bar, either with or without added weight depending on his abilities. Then explosively pull themselves up, chin over bar.

As they explode upward I urge them to arch their back. The sort of arch you might find in someone who is very good at Bench Pressing (to help with a mental picture).

This arching technique will indeed add many pounds to your total when your goal is Chinning with added weight.


Hey ZEB thanks for explaining why you said to try for twelve reps before adding weight. I kind of started to ramble on about myself and lost sight of the original post:)



Can you start a thread about your band chins routine? I'd really like to hear what you have to say about that. Thanks!



Prior to receiving your reply I did the set of negatives with a little weight attached and thought that it worked out OK. However would you advise against it?

I am interested in maximising bodyweight chins and thought that one session of weighted chins might combine well with 1 or 2 bodyweight sessions rather than just 2 or 3 bw sessions. Or do you think that ths is the wrong approach?



Actually, the best approach is the one that you will stick with! The reason I have said that you need no weight with negatives is because the point of my negative is to manipulate time. I like the idea of spending longer on the bar and you can do that without weight. If you can come down from the bar in :10 for three reps, and it seems easy, then go for three reps of :15. If that's easy then go for :20 per rep. However, adding weight is fine as long as you are not dropping from the bar too quickly.

I like the idea of training Chin-ups three times per week with one time (perhaps the middle) using "some" weight.

My biggest problem with those who want to train with weight all of the time, but are training for one max set of reps is this: You don't know how your body is going to respond at higher reps unless you have been there!

Yes, the stronger the better, no question. However, to perform one high rep set to your maximum takes the proper type of training. A question that I have repeatedly asked (to those who really, really hate my Chin-up routines) on this very subject: How do you know how your body will react to a 20+ rep set (for example) unless you are training higher reps? The answer is, you don't know how it will respond and that is one factor which you don't want to have to deal with when you are going for a personal best.

For example if one 20 rep set of consecutive Chin-ups takes :30 to :40 seconds to perform there are a host of things going on inside your muscles, which are basically different than when you perform say 4 reps with a heavy weight which may take you :12 to perform

When you train in higher rep fashion you get used to training when lactic acid levels are quite high. In fact, some would argue that you actually teach your body how to deal with the lactic acid more efficiently. There might be some truth to this as I have seen guys who can out rep me with 100lbs. but I leave them in the dust when it comes to higher rep sets. It can be argued that I am able to do this because this is what I train for.

In addition to this you are also building your endurance fibers which will carry you to ever increasing numbers if that is your goal.

Don't get me wrong I go off the high rep training relative to Chins and love to train with some serious poundage's throughout the year. However, that is not the bulk of my training with this one particular movement.

I have been involved in many heated debates over this very issue...on this very forum. However, I always say train sport specific! If you are trying to gain higher numbers in Chin-ups don't waste your time doing T-bar rows (a great movement by the way). However, T-Rows won't get you the higher numbers you want relative to Chin-ups. Same goes for training with weight in the Chin-up.

I will end where I began: if you want to perform one of your three Chin-up days with weight no problem. Make sure the weight is not overly cumbersome. For example, if you can perform 10 dead hang body weight Chins keep the weight around 10lb. to 15lbs. This will be plenty of extra stress and will indeed help build plenty of muscle which will help you a great deal.

Just make sure that those other two days you are performing 4 to 5 sets of high rep Chins (a percentage of your one set max as per my original post 1-04).

Good Luck!



That would be a long and involved post.



I came across an earlier post you made on band training when searching for your original article on chin ups but your thinking on the subject may of course have changed.

Talking of which,

  1. You recommend a set of 5 negatives OR one set of 10 half reps in one post while in another one set of 10 half reps AND one set of 10 slow negatives.
    Currently you seem to be saying only 3 or 4 negatives.

  2. In the Zeb on Chin ups thread, you say "work negatives with a little extra weight in your weak area" while elsewhere you advise "if you are trying to crank up the numbers I would not recommend negatives"

The quotes are obviously not in context and make no reference to bodyweight v weighted training and may therefore be misleading but I am just interested to know if your thinking has changed over time.

I agree that for me at least specificity is important. Multiple low rep sets have never done much to improve my max bodyweight totals. The physiology and as you rightly point out the mental aspect of enduring high rep sets is something for which most are ill prepared unless they train for it.


Very good digging peterm!

I don't think my thinking on this has changed dramatically (I was always leery of over doing negatives). However, I have gone through various phases with negatives. I have found that if you do too many of them or do them too often you can get injured, and or burned out. I have been through both on occasion.

The only modification that I would make now (looking back at my Chin Post from 04) is that I would remove the "little extra weight" that I used to recommend-unless you are performing over 20 reps body weight Chins are obviously quite easy for you.

Working negatives in your weakest position is still a great idea. For example, if you have a harder time at the top of the movement than "getting out of the hole" at the bottom, by all means do some partial negatives at the top.

Negatives are a great tool, but just like training to failure (and perhaps more so) they need to be used wisely!

As for band training relative to Chin-ups, I only got very serious about it this past year when, as previously stated, I was stuck in the mid 30's.

The things which helped me break out of the mid 30's rep range and finally achieve 40 dead hang reps were:

  1. Band training

  2. lowering my body fat too under 8%.

  3. Crafting a program (specifically for me) which had me performing three distinctly different sessions per week!



Awesome stuff on pullups. Im looking forward to putting your ideas to practice and finally getting my pullups up to a respectable number. Thanks again!


Partials, negatives, negative partials
and bands!

If anyone figures out how best to integrate the above in an overall plan please post. Zeb may understandably be thinking he deserves a rest.

Thanks to Zeb for the excellent info.


Zeb, please, do I seem fast twitch?