ZEB On Chin-Ups

(Discalaimer-all advice given by me in this thread works very well for me! These techniques have also been tested on many others and shown to work well. You may not think that my theorys are valid, so you do not have to follow my advice. There are many ways to train the body-and finding out which ones work for you is the key).

This is a long post, but hopefully it will be worth it to you by adding another 5, 10, or more, chins to your one set max.

Many of you have expressed an interest in learning my Chin/Pull routine. I have gotten many PM’s and a few messages on a previous thread. So, sit back and allow me to give you "Zebs 12 rules for Chin-up greatness (Hey, I needed a name and that one is as good as any).

First I will begin by giving you my stats. “Big D” stated that I might have “monster pipes with an itty-little body attatched to them.” Not true! I am 5’ 10" and 188lbs. with a current body fat of 8.5%. My arms are 17 1/2". My neck is just barely 17". My chest is 48". Legs 26 1/2", calves 16 1/2".

I can dumbbell bench press two 105 pounders for 6 clean reps. I can also squat 365lbs. Nothing extraordinary, but certainly not all Pulling power and no push or legs. Oh, and for those of you who have not read this before on the “Age Please” thread, I am 48 years old, and been training for just about 35 years. (I know I am older than your Dad).

I like to think that I am pretty balanced relative to strength and symmetry. There is nothing that really stands out about my physique, other than the fact that I have obviously low body fat, compared to the average.

Now onto the Chin routines:

There are different ways to train Chins/Pulls all based upon your own particular goals. If you are after large lats I suggest that you focus on doing lower reps, but not as low as other body parts. I have have found that the Lat muscle grows best when it is stretched. This muscle needs to be sort of gently “pulled” away from the rib cage. I have done Chins with a 100lb plate before and never really saw the growth take place that happens when I am training in the 8 to 12 rep range.

Training For Size:

If you want to focus on making your Lats larger I suggest training Pull-ups first when you hit the gym. Train four sets. Keep the reps in the 8 to 12 area as already suggested, and rest no more than :60 between sets. This may be a bit difficult at first. But try to work your way to that :60 rest period. Begin with :90 and shave off a few seconds each time.

When training for size train between 32 and 50 reps two to three times per week. I have had the most success expanding my lat size shifting back and forth between two and three times per week. With a week off after three or four weeks, depending on how you feel.

When training for size make sure that you do the reps fairly slowly with a slight pause at the top of the bar and also a slight pause at the bottom. A set of 10 reps should take you at least :30. Longer is fine, shorter is no good! After each set stretch the Lats by putting your arm over your head from the side and leaning in the opposite direction of the arm that is over your head. If you are putting your right arm over your head to stretch your right lat, lean to the left. Hold the stretch for :15 to :20 seconds. Then do the other side.

For Those Who Are Unable To Do Even One Chin:

The biggest fallacy that I have seen regarding Chinning is that you can get better at it by doing Lat pulldowns. That is like saying that you will get better at public speaking by chewing your food! They both move the jaw bone but thats about as much as they have in common. The Lat machine will not help you become better at Chin-ups.

If you are unable to do one Chin I suggest the following: Find a Smith Machine and place the bar about eye level. Then get a bench and place it in front of the bar a few feet. Grab the bar in Chin-up or Pull-up position while placing your feet on the bench. This position should be easy enough for you to knock off 6 reps or so. If you are unable to do this, then lower the bar in the Smith Machine a few more inches and try again. You will eventually find just the right height.

I have instructed others to use a Smith Machine as one was available in their gym. However, the same thing can be accomplished with any bar that is at a lower level. This can even be done under a regulation Chin-up bar if you have something to place your feet on. You may have to get creative, but the idea is the same. You want to mimic that motion as best you can.

In addition to this I also suggest climbing up to a regulation Chin-up bar and holding yourself in the “up” position for a few seconds, and then doing a negative. Begin the first week by doing one set of three negatives, no more! Try to take at least :5 to :10 seconds to do the negative, if possible.

A third alternative, depending upon how far along that you are, is to have someone assist you from behind. As you grab the Chin-up bar and begin to pull, have your partner grab you from behind (Get your mind out of the gutter wideguy), by placing his/her hands on your lower waist. Then have him/her help lift depending on how much assistance that you need. Whatever you do, do not use the Lat Pulldown machine thinking that this will help you with Chins/Pulls. It may build the Lat (not as good as Pullups) but it will not actually help you do Chins-ups or Pull-ups!

Training Children:

old dogg, nice of you to remember that I have a son who is now 11 years old. He knows that I am writing this to you guys and told me to let you all know that he is able to perform 15 perfect dead hang chin-ups. He weighs 105lbs. His goal is 20 for this summer.

I think the worst thing that any father can do is push to hard when it comes to having your child train with you. Most of us know that. What I did was expose my child to training at an early age. But, I never “made” him train. I just had him around while I was training (home gym). I always felt that Chins, Push-ups and free Squats where great for kids at any age. So, my son was doing these things as early as 4 years of age. (at 4 he just hung from the bar). No real program, just whenever he wanted to.

Kids like to do what is fun, so I tried to make it fun for him. I would first ask him how long he thought he could hang on a bar. “Just like that guy that was hanging from a tree over a cliff in the movie last night.”

When your child is comfortable hanging on the bar for :30 to :60 it’s time to do some assisted chins with you as his helper. Always being ready to stop when you see that it is not fun for him anymore. After he gets a little older, say 9 and up, he is ready to do a couple of sets. And I rarely push my son to failure. I might say something like “hey can you do four sets of five reps of chins?” And if I get the response that I like then we go for it. If he is involved (mentally) in something else I don’t push it. But, I think low reps and more sets is the way to go with kids.

I also surround the activity that I want repeated with something that I know he loves. When he finishes the chins I might make him a special shake in the blender. Anything that he likes and that is good for him always helps.

(Okay get up and go to the bathroom, take a drink and then come back as you are only half way through at this point. There is more to cover!)

ZEBS Championship Chinning Routine: (I know…I know… I am pushing it :slight_smile:

When you are trying to add reps to the total you want to make sure that you are training Chins three times per week! I agree with Pavel who stated that greater “synaptic facilitation” (greasing the groove)occurs when you are doing them more frequently. I do not agree that you should train them everyday, as Pavel suggests. I think this leads to burnout, and I have been there as well.

I begin what I call “intensive training” about four weeks away from a Chin contest. This means that I cut back on most of my other exercises and focus primarily on Chins and Pulls. Keep in mind that I always add 3 or 4 sets of overhead presses as I feel that you need to balance a “verticle pull” with a “verticle Push.” Most of the other exercises that I normally do such as squats, deads etc are dropped from my schedule four weeks out.

This also has a strange effect on the body. Since your body wants to stay at a certain weight it tends to sort of shift the weight from say your legs to your lats and biceps. This does not occur to a large extent, but it does happen and it helps a great deal.

We are doing 12 training sessions. That is 3 workouts per week for four weeks. We are really going to go for the reps now!

I am going to perform 5 sets. 3 sets of Pull-ups and 2 sets of Chin-ups. All reps should be performed in perfect form, with maximum speed! You may wonder why I am recommending Pull-ups, since it is easier to perform more reps with Chin-ups. I do this for two reasons: First, The Lat muscle is worked harder with a Pull-up than a Chin-up. When we turn the hand around (palms facing you) you are doing a Chin-up and you are also allowing the bicep muscle to do more work. This is great, you want strong biceps, but the lions share of the work needs to be done by the Lats!

The Lats are a larger muscle and therefore need to be trained to do more of the work. The lats will get more work with Pull-ups (palms facing away from you) than with Chin-ups. So, I like to train mostly with Pull-ups in order to get more Chin-ups in the contest.

The second reason that I train more Pull-ups than Chin-ups is that I have noticed through the years that people tend to injure their forearm tendon doing to many Chin-ups. You may have experienced this. It can become so sore that you can’t even make a closed fist. When performing a Pull-up this does not occur.

I begin workout one by doing reps in the 33% range of what I want my one set total to be in the contest. For example, last summer I was shooting for 30 reps (I got 31). So, I trained with 10 reps in that first workout (four weeks away). I did 3 sets of 10 Pull-ups with a 2:00 rest in between each set. I then waited 3:00 and did an additional two sets of 10 in Chin-up style. Rest periods can climb as the reps do. I like to add about :10 to :30 of rest each week (starting with a base of 2:00) between each set. If you are unable to get your required reps don’t force it out. Drop from the bar count to :10 (or more if need be) grab the bar and complete the set.

When training for reps forget about short rest periods between big sets. You need to rest and recoup in order to put up the big numbers. sort of like how a powerlifter trains. You do not see a powerlifter resting two or three minutes between sets. They rest a long enough to recoup. We won’t rest as long as a typical powerlifter, but we will rest longer as the reps go up.

I then gradually take the numbers up. the 2nd and 3rd workouts, of the first week, I do 40% and 43% of the one set goal! Again three sets of Pull-ups and two sets of Chin-ups.

The second week I am doing 50%-53% and 60%. Third week:60%-63%-67%. On the fourth and final week I switch to all Chin-ups in order to nail that specific groove. I also lower the sets and try to raise the number of reps. When I do this I also raise the amount of rest time between each set from 2:00-3:00 to 4:00 to 5:00 and sometimes a bit longer.

For the final week I am at 75%-80% and 85%. I am now only doing no more than three total sets each workout. On the final two weeks I also do two sets of negatives, no more than 10 reps per set, with a 10lb wt. belt on. I perform negatives in the top half position as this is my weakest point. If you have a hard time getting out of the hole then do negatives in the bottom half only.

Summary Of ZEBS Chin-up Methods:

  1. Focus on Pull-ups during training to build the Lat muscle and prevent injury to the forearm.

  2. Never Chin/Pull with a wide grip as it will cause injury to the shoulder. Close grip actually builds the Lat muscle better anyway. When in the four week “intensive training” use the same grip that you will use in competition. Prior to this phase you can vary your grip to make it more fun and cut the boredom.

  3. During the final 4 weeks before a contest drop most other exercises from your regime, except a good vertical push movement for balance. I also do a little cardio to keep the body fat at bay! Make sure that you do not gain body fat during this period!

  4. Do all Reps with maximum speed as this will develope a cadence, and you will also be on the bar for less time. The 31 Chins that I did in a contest last summer took me exactly :60 to complete. That is just less than two seconds per rep!

  5. For beginners, never try to work with the Lat pull down machine in order to be able to do a Chin-up. Use the three methods that I have outlined.

  6. Make sure a childs training is fun and never work them to failure, unless they want to on occasion.

  7. Work negatives with a little extra added weight, in your weak area. Don’t over do the negatives two sets are plenty.

  8. Never wear gloves-feel the bar! (I have never seen thick bar chin training help your “pull”. It does however help your grip.

  9. The less body fat that you have the more chins you will do! If you are 12% body fat at two-hundred pounds, that means that you are carrying 24lbs of fat up and down that bar. If you are only 10% body fat (and kept the 200lb weight) you have shed 4lbs of fat! If you don’t think that makes a difference try adding a couple of small plates next time you Chin. You will do at least one to three less reps!

When I am competing I do so without my shoes. Who wants to pull them up and down that bar?. I attribute the extra rep that I got in the finals to the fact that I kicked my shoes off before I began!

  1. Just as you are grabbing the Chin-up bar, “over grab it” squeeze and roll your clenched fists back toward you. This will lock your grip in tightly and you will feel like you are part of the bar. That sounds a little nutty, but it works so well.

  2. Keep your knees bent and feet back a bit. Try to arch your back, almost the way you do when you are benching, but not as tight. This will give you the best leverage.

  3. Pick a spot to gaze at as you are cranking out the reps. Focus on that spot and block out everything else.

  4. Do your reps in groups to mentally break them down. If you are trying to do 20, just think about nailing the first 10 as you are doing them. When you get 10 think I can do 5 more. Then when you get to 15 get excited as there are only 5 more to do to get to your goal!

  5. When training for size keep the reps in the 8 to 12 area. Make sure you stretch the lat between sets. And remember to keep the reps a little slower, about :3 per rep, with a slight pause at the top and bottom.

In my humble opinion Chin-ups (Pull-ups), are the upper body squat! Matters not if you are going for high reps or lower reps, while pulling some weight, just do them! I rarely do any other upper back work. When I do barbell rows or T-bar rows I am able to keep up with those who are my weight, and even bigger, and do those movements all the time. I attribute this to Chins!

They work your Lats, Biceps, forearms (and grip), abs, traps and even the chest and triceps a little, as they are supporting muscles.

Well that about does it gang. Thanks for staying with me. I am sure that I left some things out, but I will be darned if I can think of them right now.

If there is ever anything that I can do to assist anyone in their training you may either post a question or PM me.

Best Of Luck,


puff puff puff… i had a workout by jus reading your thread.

Good advice Zeb, i will certainly use it!! thanks

I can’t read that. How long did it take you to write that?

Actually Thunder I can type about 60 words a minute, and Chin-up information is sort of second nature to me by now. Over all, it took about 40 min to put it together.

Sorry, if it was to long for you.

Thanks Zeb

Good shit

Nope, ZEB, I think he was impressed!!! I know I am.

That’s a darn article that should have been published, not a post, man!!! (…she said as she quickly did a cut & paste and saved it to her secret file of really important schtuff.)


I appreciate those words. That is a very kind thing for you to send. Especially in light of the fact that you have helped more people on this forum than any of us!

By the way how many Chins can you do? (You are not getting away without telling me your chinning history…haha).

That was an awesome post! I agree with TT, and I think T-mag should add some pics and put it up as an article.

You solved some chinning mysteries for me there. Now I love CT’s stuff but some of it can be real tough. I tried to follow his ‘keep your chin up’ program but ended up with strained forearm tendons from the 5 sets of 10-12 negative chins!! The two things that you said could cause problems.

I can do about 15 reps for chins and pull-ups so I will be aiming for that 20 reps now with fresh enthusiasm.

ZEB, well, I had almost worked up to 5x5 chin-ups. I was failing on the last set. And I don’t think I was doing them from a dead hang. It was more like “just short of a dead hang.”

Unfortunately, I have a case of lateral epicondylitis that I’m trying to rehab. Right now it’s acute. It’s a wrist and finger flexor/extensor thing. I gave up DLing just recently because gripping heavy weight aggravates the darn thing. And doing pull-ups a couple of days ago had the same affect. I’m not a happy camper right now.

Competent ART, unfortunately, is over 8 hours away (16 hours round trip), but I’m going to do it anyway in the next month or so.

I’m going to have to save your program for later, but save it I have!

Thanks for the “article”, I know a lot of folks on this forum appreciate your contribution. Like Tampa-Terry, I’ll be saving this one.

I share your thoughts on “pushing” kids too early, as I think it usually pushes them away. My oldest son (9) has been hanging out with me during my weekend workouts, and he was asking me about chins (Can I try those?). Since you are the chinning maven, I was curious what your were doing with your son. Usually, we do a coach davies style gpp workout together (burpes, jumping jacks, etc) but he showed an interest in the “new” thing. I coulndn’t agree more with your thoughts. Thanks for the advice.

I’ll be incorporating your advice into my program, and look forward to reporting my progress at a later date. You have my early nomination as T-Soldier of the week. Thanks again and here’s to 40+ for you and 20 for ZEB jr.
old dogg

Yo Zeb, my dad is older than you!

This should at least be placed at the top for a week, as this was a good article and I dig the section on training with kids. Also liked the comment about GTG, as I have been using that technique and felt drained at times.

The pull down/chin up and the chew/speak paragraph also gave me a decent argument to use against people telling me to use the lat pulldown instead of doing 4 dead-hang reps.

Then again, T-mag could start up a forum for articles written by readers. It would be nice to read more articles like this while I have to wait a week for the next T-mag issue.


Don’t be to hard on yourself! 5x5 for chins is really good!

Creed, you will have 20 in the bag man! By the way, I have been to many Pull-up contests, and for men I feel that 20 Chins separates the guys who take chinning seriously, from the ones who have not yet focused on this great exercise.

old dogg,

How long can your son hang from a bar? This will tell us if his grip is ready? You don’t want him falling off the bar because he cannot hang on. That would be a negative experience (not to mention potential for injury), that we want to avoid.

If he can hold on to the bar for at least :30 he is ready to try an assisted chin. Since hanging from a bar is easier than actually moving up and down on the bar I like to make sure that the child can hang at least :30.

One more thing;
You identified a legitamate training use for a Smith Machine. (smile)
old dogg


Where do you go for a chin-up contest? When i was 14 I did 23 chins and set my middle school’s fitness record, but i havent really trained for them since. Ive lately been concentrating on heavy weighted chins, pulling sets of 6 with a 65 lb dumbell. I would be interested in checking this out, since i was always kind of “blessed” with decent chinning ability, but never really saw the need to train for higher reps. If i can comptete, however, i may change my mind…

btw thanks for the great article


Great article! One more trick I have for engaging the lats is to use a thumbless grip on the pull-up. When you switch back to a regular grip, you feel a lot more solid.



We have a very active Marine recruiting station in our area. They sponsor one of these “fitness contests” per year.

They usually revolve around how many Chins, or Push-ups you can do. They are naturally trying to raise awareness for the Marines and also recruit.

I have also been to a few YMCA sponsored events where Chin-ups are either the single event, or usually part of a circut that you perform for reps.

The third source is the local college Football team which sponsors a Bench press contest yearly as a fund raiser. As “side events” they have Chin-ups, Push-ups and Free Squats (squats without weight). I did 767 Free Squats in a row to win it last year. I lost the Push-ups.

It is actually quite easy to sponsor one of these events since the only piece of equipment that you need is a Chin-up bar. I thought about sponsoring one myself, but then I couldn’t very well enter it if I am putting it on.

Tyler Hass,

I am glad you mentioned that! I have trained with a thumbless grip before for breif periods. When I switched back to using my thumbs it felt so much better.

Do you think that has more to do with some sort of “Neural response” as opposed to actually building the Lat during the thumbless phase? I am clueless as to why that particular technique works, but it does.

Great Comment!

Yeah, yeah, yeah, but how many times can you curl pink 2 pounders in the squat rack and maintain good form Zeb? :slight_smile:

Good advice by the way!