The Chin-Up Project

by Chris Shugart

Gain an inch on your biceps while building a rock-solid upper body with simple chin-up progressions.

Chin-Ups for Pure Muscle Growth

There are two problems with most chin-up programs:

  1. They’re usually designed to help you increase the number of chins you can do, not increase muscle mass. While doing a lot of chin-ups looks cool, we’d rather stretch out our T-shirts than turn into that skinny guy at the gym who can do a lot of chins and not much else.
  2. These programs often require that you change your regular training program and cut back on your training volume or loads. With the right strategy, this is unnecessary.

The program presented here has none of those problems. First, it’s designed for hypertrophy: unadulterated muscle growth. Second, you can add this program to what you’re already doing in the gym.

In short, it’s an anabolic add-on.

Old School Training, New School Muscle

Old-school coaches and bodybuilders had it right: first get strong doing chin-ups, then focus on direct arm exercises.

Today people have it backwards. They start with advanced bodybuilding exercises to focus on a certain part of the biceps. They isolate their upper body musculature and forget to build systematic strength in the entire upper body.

The result? They’re trying to build a big house without first building a sturdy foundation. The body just doesn’t grow that way.

The truth is, if you can’t do at least 12 strict chins with bodyweight, your time is best spent there before you ever even try a reverse preacher cable curl with a thick grip and isometric stops. (Also, you could just be too fat, but that’s another program.)

The good news is that if you’ve made this mistake, your “newbie gains” are still on the table. That’s pounds of muscle just waiting to be picked up and slapped onto your body, giving you a powerful, athletic look and, yes, a bigger set of arms. Chin-ups are an effective exercise for the abs as well, especially when you add load. And you will add load.

The chin-up, performed with a neutral or supinated grip, is the foundational mass-building exercise for biceps, lats, and all the supportive upper back musculature.

The Neutral Grip

Palms facing each other, as used when you do chins with a V-bar attachment or parallel chinning bars – will place more emphasis on the brachialis. This underlying muscle “pushes up” the biceps and makes your overall upper arm bigger. If your brachialis has been neglected, and it probably has, bringing it into play will result in rapid size increases, sometimes even up to an inch in upper arm size.

The Supinated Grip

Palms facing you – overloads the elbow flexors and brings more muscles into action compared to the wide-grip pull-up, plus it maximizes cross sectional area of the muscle.

As a bonus, grip strength is correlated with arm size, and this program will give you a death grip if yours is lacking.

Put it all together and you have an inch of new upper-arm muscle mass just waiting to be built. And the plan is simple.

The Program

Phase I

  • Timeframe: Four Weeks
  • Method: Volume

Every day you’re going to do several sets of chin-ups. You’ll never go to failure on any set and you’ll separate each set by an hour or more.

For example, do some chin-ups after breakfast, a set before you train, a few after you train, a set in the afternoon or evening, etc. Use a dedicated bar, a tree limb, a bathroom stall door, or a beam in your garage. Display adaptability.

You’re going to accumulate hundreds of “extra” chin-ups over a 4-week period, probably over 800 in a month. Some days you’ll get 10 or 20; other days you’ll get 40 or 50. Each week you’ll shoot for more total chins than the previous week.

Challenge Day

Once per week, you’ll have a challenge day. Set a timer for 5 minutes and perform as many chin-ups as you can with good form. Add this number to your weekly total and take the next day off.


If you can already do 12 to 15 good chin-ups without kipping or looking like you’re having a seizure, choose 10 as your target number per set. If you can’t do at least 12 chin-ups already, get stronger and lose some body fat, then come back to this program.

Never perform more than 10 chin-ups at a time, even if you can. Again, you’ll never fail except on challenge day, once per week.

Grip Position

  • First Two Weeks: Neutral or semi-supinated grip (palms facing one another)
  • Last Two Weeks: Supinated (palms toward your face)

Off Day

Once per week, the day after Challenge Day, perform zero chin-ups. Don’t even rescue a kitten from a tree.

Other Training

Perform your regular workout as you always would. If you have an “arm day” and need to cut volume back slightly, that’s fine. But most lifters won’t need to if they’re using a solid workout nutrition protocol (Buy at Amazon) and optimizing recovery in their regular workouts.

Sample Lifter

We recommend you get a notepad for your records. You’ll keep this with you at all times to record your daily chin-ups.

Here’s the Phase I training log of one of our test subjects. Yours will look a little different.

Week 1

  • Monday: 10, 10
  • Tuesday: 10, 10, 10
  • Wednesday: 10
  • Thursday: 10, 10, 10
  • Friday: 10, 10, 10
  • Saturday (Challenge Day): 40 in 5 minutes
  • Sunday: Off

  • TOTAL: 160 reps

Week 2

  • Monday: 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Tuesday: 10, 10
  • Wednesday: 10, 10, 10
  • Thursday: 10, 10, 10
  • Friday: 10, 10, 10
  • Saturday (Challenge Day): 45 in 5 minutes
  • Sunday: Off

  • TOTAL: 195

Week 3

  • Monday: 10, 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Tuesday: 10, 10, 10
  • Wednesday: 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Thursday: 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Friday: 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Saturday (Challenge Day): 50 in 5 minutes
  • Sunday: Off

  • TOTAL: 250

Week 4

  • Monday: 10, 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Tuesday: 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Wednesday: 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Thursday: 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Friday: 10, 10, 10, 10, 10
  • Saturday (Challenge Day): 52 in 5 minutes
  • Sunday: Off

  • TOTAL: 282

FINAL TOTAL FOR PHASE I: 887 chin-ups in 4 weeks.

Results: Half an inch in upper arm growth (very rapid for an experienced lifter.) Noticeable increase in upper body size and strength. Stronger abs and grip, decreased body fat.

Tips and Reminders for Phase I

  1. Do NOT kill yourself in the first week. The plan works because of accumulated volume, no need to do 250 chins in the first week. If you do not improve your total reps weekly, you started out too fast.
  2. Do not train to failure except on challenge day.
  3. Do not do this on a very low-carb diet or in a large caloric deficit. You don’t build muscle when you’re half-starved and neglecting vital anabolic macronutrients.

Phase II

  • Timeframe: Four Weeks
  • Method: Heavy Reps

After four weeks, switch to a strength-focused chin-up program. For the next month, perform the following:

  1. Establish your 6 rep max on the weighted chin-up. In other words, add weight with a dip belt, weighted vest, or by holding a dumbbell or plate between your legs.
  2. You’re going to perform 25 total reps per workout, using several sets with that 6 rep max weight. It doesn’t matter how many sets it takes, and it’s fine if you’re down to doing doubles or singles at the end.

Your 25 total reps may look like this:

  • Set 1: 6 reps
  • Set 2: 6 reps
  • Set 3: 5 reps
  • Set 4: 4 reps
  • Set 5: 2 reps
  • Set 6: 2 reps

This is just an example. Everyone will be a little different here. Just get 25 total reps with your 6-rep max, taking as many sets as you need. Rest as needed between sets. This isn’t a race.

When you can easily get more than 6 reps on the first set, add weight.

  1. Perform weighted chin-ups in this manner 3 times per week on nonconsecutive days for the next four weeks: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for example. Vary the grip between neutral and supinated. Grip width can also be varied to prevent any overuse issues. If three times per week is too rough on your elbows, perform twice per week for 6 weeks.
  2. Re-measure your upper arms and note how your T-shirts are stretching out even more up top.

8 Weeks, One Inch of Arm Growth

For the experienced lifter, an inch of upper arm growth in a year would be phenomenal, and visibly shocking. Most people who do both phases of this program will see that kind of growth in eight weeks. How much bigger have your arms and upper body gotten in the last two months?

Start now.