Master the Chin-up

Master the Chin-up

Master the Chin-up!

Want to get a strong, sexy back, chiseled shoulders and sculpted arms? The chin-up is the way to go!  If you want to master the chin-up, here is an exercise progression that will have you knocking out reps in no time flat!


This program is designed to be done over the course of 8 weeks. It can help develop the back, shoulder, arm and grip strength required to perform bodyweight chin-ups.  The key to achieving any fitness goal is to make each workout just a little more challenging than the previous one; therefore the program will get a little harder each week.


Besides the strength and confidence to knock off a few fullbody chin-ups with ease this program will develop great looking shoulders, arms, butt and upper back so you can rock your favorite spring outfits when the weather starts getting warmer.


For the first two weeks of the program, do this workout twice a week; at the third week add a third day.  Rest approximately 1 minute between each exercise; to increase the work-rate (caloric burn) do 2-4 exercises-in-a-row in a circuit without stopping before resting for 60-to-90 seconds; do all sets (or circuits) of one exercise (or series of exercises) in a row before moving to the next one.


Push-up with rotations; weeks 1-4

Helps chin-ups by: improving shoulder, upper-back, triceps and core strength.




Right and left = 1 repetition; start with 2 sets of as many reps as possible with good form; at the 3rd week add another set until the fifth week, when you will start doing the next exercise: push-ups with rows.


Progress to push-ups w/rows (using kettlebells or dumbbells); weeks 5-8



Helps chin-ups by: integrating chest, shoulder, back, core, grip and upper arm strength. This challenging move requires a strong grip, upper arm and core all of which are components of a successful pull-up. Right and left = 1 repetition; start with 3 sets of 4-6 reps; add reps as you get stronger.


Romanian deadlift w/kettlebells; weeks 1-4

Helps chin-ups by: improving lower back, core and butt strength.



To improve strength use a weight heavy enough to cause momentary fatigue (and minor soreness) by the tenth repetition; improving strength requires performing 6-to-10 reps without experiencing fatigue until the last 2 reps.


Doing more than 10 reps trains muscular endurance, not strength; to improve strength (and definition) use a heavy enough weight that makes the tenth rep challenging to extremely difficult. For all exercises using external resistance as soon as you can do 10 reps – ADD WEIGHT!


Start with 2 sets, at the third week add a third set until the fifth week when it will be time to progress to kettlebell swings

Progress to kettlebell swings; weeks 5-8

Helps chin-ups by: improving the strength endurance of the muscles responsible for core stability while simultaneously increasing the explosive strength of the hip and back muscles.

The swing is an explosive version of the RDL, when doing the exercise push the hips back while keeping a straight lumbar spine, when the weight is behind your legs push your feet into the floor and explosively drive your hips forward to move the kettlebell to shoulder height. Perform 8-10 reps, as soon as 10 reps become easy, ADD WEIGHT.




For weeks 5-6 do 3 sets of double-handed kettlebells swings; for weeks 7-8, switch to single-arm swings and do 3 sets of 5-8 reps with each arm.

Modified chin-ups

TRX (or other suspension-style trainer) – change body angle for increasing resistance

Option: Smith machine bar-adjustable height

TRX Bodyweight Row


TRX Bodyweight Row - Finish

Helps chin-ups by: using the bodyweight to improve specific-strength related to the pull-up exercise.  The advantage of using a suspension system like the TRX is that it allows the user to train with his or her own bodyweight; the intensity of the resistance can be increased or decreased by changing the angle of the body relative to the ground.


Lean back as far as possible, the closer the body is to horizontal, the more challenging it will be; perform as many reps as possible with good form. Once you start fatiguing, move your feet back to bring your body closer to vertical and continue until fatigue. Approx 8-10 reps close to horizontal, another 5-8 reps when the body is more vertical. Start with 2 sets, add 1 set each week until the fifth week when it will be time to progress to resistance band assisted chin-ups.

Progress to Resistance band supported chin-ups

Helps chin-ups by: training the range-of-motion (ROM) of a chin-up. The band supports part of the bodyweight allowing you to perform a chin-up without the full weight of the body. Learning the ROM of the movement will help you to be more successful as your strength improves to the point where you are able to do a full bodyweight chin-up.

Assisted pull-up - start

Assist pull-up - finish

Do as many as possible until fatigue; start with 3 sets, add one set a week for each of the next four weeks.


TRX T/Y/I shoulder exercise (optional)

Helps chin-ups by: strengthening muscles in shoulders and upper-back. Increasing three dimensional shoulder strength will improve the ability of the shoulder to remain stable and support the bodyweight from a hanging position.

T pulls

Y pull

I pull

The more horizontal your body, the greater the intensity (resistance); start in a close to vertical position, as you become stronger start from a more horizontal position. Do 5-8 reps (the T, Y and I together in sequence = 1 rep) for 2 sets; add 1 set/week until the fifth week, then do 10-12 reps per set to increase strength.


Bent-over rows – neutral grip w/kettlebells (or dumbbells)

Helps chin-ups by: increasing back, core and arm strength. The neutral grip helps to improve the strength (and definition) of the arm and back muscles responsible for most the work in the chin-up.

Bent-over Row - start


Bent over row - finish

Start with 2 sets of 8-10 reps (if you can do more than 10 reps, use a heavier weight – the focus of this exercise is to improve strength); at the 3rd week progress to 3 sets, at the 6th week progress to 4 sets, stay in the 8-10 rep range, but adding weight to make the last 1-2 reps challenging-to-difficult.


Farmer’s walk – grip strength

Helps chin-ups by: Improving grip and forearm strength; while the back and shoulder muscles are responsible for the movement a critical component to a bodyweight exercises like the chin-up is having the necessary hand/arm strength to grip and firmly on to the bar.

Farmer's walk

Grab two heavy kettlebells (or dumbbells) grip the handles tightly – trying to squeeze the handle as much as possible; walk approximately 8-10 yards, turn around and return to start. Start with 2 sets, at 3 weeks another a 3rd set, at 6 weeks add a 4th set.


Supinating biceps curls  (optional)

Supinating biceps curls

Helps chin-ups by: improving grip and upper-arm strength.


Do 8-10 reps using a weight that will make the last 1-2 reps challenging-to-difficult; start with 3 sets at the 5th week add a 4th set (if 10 reps becomes easier, use heavier weight).


High (Yoga) Plank

Helps chin-ups by: improving core, shoulder and triceps strength. Having a strong core, especially deep stabilizer muscles like the transverse abdominus (tva), is important for helping develop the strength to lift the body. A side benefit is a stronger can create a flatter stomach.

High plank

Hold for 20-30 seconds for 3 sets; increase the duration 5-10 sec. each week; at the 5th week progress to Plank-ups

Progress to Plank-ups


Plank-ups mid-range

Helps chin-ups by: increasing core, tricep and shoulder strength. Start in a high plank position, drop the right arm to the right elbow followed immediately by the left arm dropping to the left elbow; then push back up to the right hand followed immediately by the left hand (squeeze the abs, glutes and thighs to help increase core stability). Start with 3 sets of 4-6 reps (right arm down/left arm down à right arm up/left arm up = 1 rep; repeat cycle 4-6 times); add 2 reps each week.


Side planks

Helps chin-ups by: improving core and shoulder strength. The position of the side plank will help improve the strength of the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizer muscles which are important for supporting the motion of the arm and shoulder during a chin-up.


Start on the elbow (make sure the elbow is directly under the shoulder and squeeze the abs, glutes and thighs to help increase core stability), hold for 15-20 sec on each side for 3 sets; at the 5th week progress to using a fully extended arm to increase the level of difficulty – continue to hold 20-30 sec on each side for 3 sets.


 Bodyweight hangs

Helps chin-ups by: improving grip strength specific to the pull-up exercise. Grab the bar as tightly as possible, lift feet off of ground, and hold until grip fatigues. For the first 3 weeks use an over-under grip for 2 sets; at the 4th week change to a palms-up grip for 2 sets; at the 6th week add a 3rd set.

Bodyweight hangs

To burn more calories do a circuit 2-4 exercises in a row without stopping, rest 60-90 seconds after each circuit. Do all sets (or circuits) of an exercise before moving to the next.


Pull-ups are normally done with a palms-down grip; chin-ups are done with a palms-up grip – the palms up position reduces stress on the forearm and elbows while improving grip strength and increasing the strength of the shoulders in an externally rotated position – important for people who spend most of their day working at a computer where the shoulders are in an internally rotated position.