A Full Guide To Progressing With Chin-ups

bodybuilder chin up progression

Chin-ups are a great upper-back exercise. You know it, and I’m not going to waffle on with an unnecessary paragraph explaining why. They’re hard, which is why most gym bros avoid doing them, well, at least with anything approaching good form. Most people stay the hell away from them and stick to the lat-pulldown machine instead. Their loss, don’t make it yours. Here’s what this article covers:

  • A guide to adjusting resistance to optimise the training effect.
  • A full progression guide from rank beginner through to advanced trainee.
  • Chin-ups vs pull-ups – which you should do and when.
  • Common technique mistakes and considerations for long-term joint health.

Adjusting Resistance

The principles with chin-ups are the same as with any other exercise – you need to have the right difficulty level to get the right training effect. With most exercises this means more or less weight on the barbell, but with chin-ups it means adding weight to your body or taking it away. This is a little more involved but can easily be achieved.

Adding Weight

The easiest way to add weight is by using a belt, attaching a strong chain and then threading weight plates through it. If you have a thick link chain then you don’t even need to have a belt. It will be a little uncomfortable at first (like front squats are) but then you just get used to it.

The shorter you make the chain; the better, as it stops the plates swinging around when you are getting into position. Just be careful not to make it so short that it crushes your balls  – this will happen if you start raising your legs in an attempt to make the exercise easier, and you’ll make this mistake only once.

Weighted Chin-ups - Keep the chain short if possible but watch your nuts.

Weighted Chin-ups – Keep the chain short if possible but watch your nuts.

A weighted vest will work equally well, but few gyms have them and they are impractical to carry around. Clamping a dumbbell between your feet is only a temporary solution as the weight will slip as you get stronger and the amount needed gets heavier. When traveling, a fully waterproof daypack backpack can be filled with water and is a great option for those that want to train when they travel for extended periods.

Taking Weight Away

The best way to take weight away is to use resistance bands. They are not available in many gyms and they are more expensive than they look like they should be, however, for $50-100 you can get a good set that will last you a lifetime and will be useful in other areas – the most immediately applicable way being band-resisted pushups for example.

The drawback with bands-assisted chin-ups is that they give us the least help at the toughest part of the chin-up action – the very top position. We have a workaround for that discussed in the progression example below.

Resistance Bands - A Useful Tool Aid Full Chin-ups and Make Push ups Harder

Resistance Bands – A Useful Tool Aid Full Chin-ups and Make Push ups Harder

Here’s a quick showing how to use resistance bands. Note, the video explanation shows them done by looping around the knee. Equally, you can do two knees (which will make it slightly easier as the band stretches more), one straight leg (even easier) and two straight legs (even easier). In this way you can get differing levels of resistance from one band. (My man Tony Gentilcore has an example video showing this here.)

Some gyms will have a machine called a graviton (pictured below) which has a pad that supports your knees and makes the chin-up action easier. This is a good machine and makes it easier to target incremental resistance changes on working your way to bodyweight chin-ups. However, I still prefer the chin-up bar with bands. Why? Because people work a lot harder and progress quicker when faced with a bar – it’s more immediately and obviously rewarding when you can finally get one, plus if you’re in a public gym there is social pressure to perform.

Put people on a graviton and they just tend to stay stuck there using it as a crutch for longer. The same applies to people that use the lat-pulldown machine (with an underhand grip). We’ll take advantage of this psychology in our progression recommendations below.

Gravitron Chins

The Graviton

How To Progress

There is no single set-rep pattern that is best here, but here’s what I recommend:

  • People that can get more than 8 bodyweight reps in a single set – use the Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT) principles. The total number of reps used per set is higher, which is more joint friendly. This is an important consideration as you start adding more and more weight.
  • People that can’t yet get 8 bodyweight reps in a single set, do 5 sets of 5. The lower number of reps to target per set gives a greater sense of achievement.

First, let’s use an example with RPT as that’s going to be more applicable to most readers. If anything doesn’t make sense, have a quick read of the RPT principles (section: ‘How to Progress‘).

RPT Progression Example

Do this if you can get more than 8 bodyweight reps for a single set.

Progression rules: We’ll do three sets. The rep targets are 6-8 reps, 8-10 reps, and 10-12 reps for the three sets respectively. You progress by increasing the number of reps, or the total weight lifted. Let’s say we have three kinds of resistance bands available (light, medium and strong) and a chain with some weight plates. BW denotes bodyweight.

(This is a progression example helping to show and explain how one might apply these rules.)

  • Session 1: 8 x BW6 x BW, 10 x BW + strong band.
Set 1 you got 8 reps – the top of the rep range target. Increase the load slightly for the next session. Set 2 you were well under the 8 rep minimum target. – Use a light band next time. Set 3 you were at the bottom of the rep target range. You’re fine. No need to change.
  • Session 2: 7 x BW+2.5lbs, 9 x BW + light band, 12 x BW + strong band.
Set 1 you are in the middle of the target rep range. No change to the loading next time, see if you can get 8 reps next time. Set 2 you are fine. No change next time. See if you can get 10 reps next time. Set 3 three you hit the top of your target rep range. Well done. Progress to the medium band the next time and see if you can get 10 or more reps.
  • Session 3: 9 x BW+2.5lbs, 10 x BW + light band, 10xBW + medium band.
Set 1 you got 9 reps. That’s more than your target. Excellent. Increase the weight next time. Set 2 you got 10 reps. The top of your rep range target. Try a set with just bodyweight for next time. Set 3 you got 10 reps. No change next time.
  • Session 4: 6 x BW+5lbs, 8 x BW, 12 x BW + medium band.
  • Session 5: 8 x BW+5lbs, 9 x BW, 10 x BW + light band.
  • Session 6: 5 x BW + 10lbs, 8 x BW, 11 x BW + light band
You got greedy and increased the weight too quickly. This also affected your second set. Drop down to 7.5lbs next session.
  • Session 7: 6 x BW + 7.5lbs, 10 x BW, 10 x BW + light band
  • Session 8: 7 x BW + 7.5lbs, 8 x BW + 2.5lbs, 12 x BW + light band
  • Session 9: 5 x BW + 7.5lbs, 4 x BW + 2.5lbs, 6x BW
You spend the weekend partying, slept like shit, ate crap and your vision was blurry going into the gym. Ignore this bad session and carry on as normal next time.
  • Session 10: 8 x BW + 7.5lbs, 9 x BW + 2.5lbs, 10 x BW
Congratulations, you can now do at least 27 bodyweight chin-ups, when previously you could only do 14 before needing assistance. Excellent work.

 But what if I don’t have a belt and chain to add weight?

Buy one. Go to a hardware store and get a thick chain and climbing carabiner. A thicker chain is more expensive but digs into your skin less. Or get a belt too and that solves the problem.

But what if I’m not strong enough to get a single, perfect chin-up?

…yet, but you will be able to though in time. We’re going to do eccentric only chin-ups. Firstly, train using the bands. After you finish that, rest for two minutes and go over to the chin-up bar. Jump up grab hold in the top position and fight gravity for as long as you can on your way down. Do this for a maximum of 30 seconds or 5 reps, whichever is less. These are called eccentric chin-ups. As you get stronger you’ll do less and less reps in those 30 seconds. Keep repeating this and it won’t be long before you become able to do a full chin-up. We’ve got this covered in the 5×5 Progression Example box below.

5×5 Progression Example

Do this if you can’t get more than 8 bodyweight reps for a single set.

Progression rules: We will do 5 sets of 5 reps. The first set will start with as many bodyweight reps as we can, we’ll then use a band to assist to finish the set. We will finish with one set of eccentric chin-ups to train the top of the action.

We do no more than the number of reps required for the set, even if we can do more. Three kinds of resistance bands available (light, medium and strong). BW denotes bodyweight.

(This is a progression example helping to show and explain how one might apply these rules.)

In this example you can currently perform no full range chin-ups, but you can get half a rep. That is about to change.
  • Session 1: 0xBW, 5 x medium band, 5 x medium, 5 x medium, 5 x strong, 5 x strong. Eccentric chin-up set.
  • Session 2: 0xBW, 5 x light, 5 x medium, 5 x medium, 5 x medium, 5 x strong. Eccentric chin-up set.
  • Session 3: 1xBW 4 x light, 5 x medium, 5 x medium, 5 x medium, 5 x medium. Eccentric chin-up set.
  • Session 4: 2xBW 3 x light, 5 x light, 5 x light, 5 x medium, 5 x medium. Eccentric chin-up set.
  • Session 5: 3xBW 2 x light, 5 x light, 5 x light, 5 x light, 5 x medium. Eccentric chin-up set.
  • Session 6: 5xBW, 5 x light, 5 x light, 5 x light, 5 x medium.
^ Once you can get 5 bodyweight chins the eccentric chin-up set is probably no longer necessary and can be dropped.
  • Session 9: 5xBW, 3xBW 2 x light, 5 x light, 5 x light, 5 x light.
  • Session 10: 5xBW, 5xBW, 5 x light, 5 x light, 5 x light.
  • ….
  • Session 13: 5xBW, 5xBW, 2xBW 3x light, 5 x light, 5 x light.
You’re now capable of doing 12 bodyweight reps and are probably able to perform 8 consecutive reps in a single set. Test yourself at the next session. Get 12? Congratulations. This is something that most of the population can’t do.Time to move onto the RPT progression method and start adding weight. Woo!


1. Don’t forget to account for the changes in your body weight. Weigh yourself before doing chins if possible. This saves you from worrying about a lost rep or two because of a bodyweight fluctuation.

2. Chin-ups are harder to recover from between sets than other movements. This means your performance on subsequent sets goes down a lot more than on other exercises. (e.g. 1st set: 10 reps, 2nd set: 6 reps, 3rd set: 3 reps) So, if you’ve been doing RPT for your chin-ups and wondering why this happened and whether you are normal – now you know. Always adjust sets independently of each other.

3. Push-pull strength balance is good when your Bench 1RM and Chin-up 1RM are around the same level. This is something I’ve seen coaches Martin Berkhan and Naoki Kawamori conclude independently of each other. Certainly makes sense as a general rule of thumb to me.

I can’t say I’ve ever heard of people having shoulder issues because of an exceptionally strong back, but if your chest is a lot stronger then you need to work to correct it. One look around most gyms and you’ll see that for many people, every day is chest and arm day. That’s a mistake. Get on a balanced training routine (recommendations) and start taking the back work seriously (deadlifts, chin-ups, rows, etc., when included in your routine). This means putting as much focus and effort into those sets as you do your chest work, if not more. Put your phone down, Facebook can come later.

But what if I don’t have any resistance bands and don’t want to buy them?

Option 1: Lat pulldown use. After that first bodyweight attempt, move to the lat-pull down machine and do 3 sets of 8-10 with your plams facing you like with a chin-up. (Or use the Graviton if you have one).Option 2: Use Bodyweight only. See the grey box.

Bodyweight Only Progression Example

My Idea

Target a rep total for a session, then do as many sets as it takes to do that. If your target total is 15 reps then that might be 5,4,2,2,1,1 for example the first session, then 5,5,3,2 the next session, then 7,5,3 the following. When you can get your target number of reps all within… let’s say 3 sets, you can look to increase the total reps targeted (to say 17) and then work until you can get all the reps within three sets. From there you increase the total targeted number of reps again (to 19 perhaps).

Naoki’s Variation

  1. Check how many reps you can do in your 1st set. Let’s say you get 7.
  2. Start with 2 reps less in your 1st set. (This takes into consideration point 2 in the notes and stops people’s technique from going to complete shit on subsequent sets.)
If you’re doing 5 sets the progression will look like this:
  • Week 1 – 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
  • Week 2 – 5, 4, 3, 2, 2
  • Week 3 – 5, 4, 3, 3, 2
  • Week 4 – 5, 4, 4, 3, 2
  • Week 5 – 5, 5, 4, 3, 2
  • Week 6 – 6, 5, 4, 3, 2
  • Week 7 – 6, 5, 4, 3, 3
  • Week 8 – 6, 5, 4, 4, 3
  • Week 9 – 6, 5, 5, 4, 3
  • Week 10 – 6, 6, 5, 4, 3
  • Week 11 – 7, 6, 5, 4, 3
  • Week 12 – 7, 6, 5, 4, 4

The only issue with bodyweight only progressions is that we don’t take into account fluctuations / changes in bodyweight. Might be worth jumping on the scale before you do them if possible.


Chin-up Technique

Good chin-up technique is going to look like this:

Key Points On Good Technique:

  1. Perform smooth reps. (No kipping. Kipping = cheating. – Did you get stronger or just better at swinging yourself up and looking like a plonker in the process? Bonus: Add weight to your kipping chin-ups to fast track your way to needing shoulder surgery.)
  2. The arms should be straight at the start of each rep but not a dead hang. Keep your shoulders in their sockets. To illustrate what I mean, put your arms straight above your head right now. Ok, shrug up as high as you can.  Now shrug down. We don’t want our shoulders loose in that shrugged up position, especially when you have a lot of weight swinging from your crotch later on. It’s the ‘down’ position with the shoulders ‘packed’ that we want to keep throughout the set. When people say “dead hang”, what they actually mean is arms straight, not an actual dead hang.
  3. Use a shoulder-width grip or slightly narrower.
  4. The finish position is where your chin goes over the bar, elbows brought down to touch your side but not past it. Your chest may touch the bar depending on limb proportions, but that is not a defining factor of a full rep. More on this in Eric Cressey’s video below.
  5. Keep your glutes and abs tight. Tuck your neck, and do not cheat by craning your neck upwards as the reps get harder. You’re probably going to do it without realising it, don’t.
  6. No half reps. When you can no longer get a full rep, the set is over.

Tips for Shoulder Health:

  • Vary your grip style to keep the joints healthy Consider rotating between grip variations every couple of months. Narrow-grip chin-ups  > shoulder-width chin-ups > neutral grip shoulder width > shoulder width pull-ups > wide grip pull-ups > ring chin-ups.  (Order of increasing difficulty.) Needless to say, if one particular grip style feels uncomfortable, don’t do it.
  • Avoid extreme grips positions (super-narrow or super-wide) – you’ll only knacker your joints. (And yes, you might not feel any pain at the time, that will come down the road.) – One hand space inside of a shoulder width grip for each hand is what I’d consider narrow (suitable only for chin-ups), one hand space outside of shoulder width grip for each hand is what I’d consider wide (suitable only for pull-ups). Greater than this and you don’t really get extra benefit, but you do put your joints at risk. The reason you see very wide-grip pull-ups in magazines is because it displays the lat spread better and looks cooler.


Chin-ups or Pull-ups – which are better?

Chin-ups are where the palms are facing you. Pull-ups are where the palms face away from you.

Chin-ups work the biceps slightly harder, pull-ups work the lats slightly harder. But people get themselves into a pickle when they start worrying about the difference and miss the bigger picture.

Total muscle activation is similar for both chin-ups and pull-ups, when performed properly. That means a full range of motion as discussed above. However, most people can’t perform pull-ups for reps with anything approaching a proper range of motion – they’re harder and this leads to half reps.

Full-range, smooth rep chin-ups will develop your lats far better than partial-rep, shitty pull-ups. Cheat on your form and you only cheat yourself.

Beginners should stick with chin-ups. Intermediates are free to choose, however, you’re probably best to rotate your grip style over 2-3 month blocks for elbow health. This means periods where you’ll do chin-up variations and periods where you’ll do pull-up variations.

Where can I buy those resistance bands?

I bought mine here (medium) because that’s where Eric Cressey recommended I get them when asked, and I trust him. There may be slightly cheaper places but beware of anything way cheaper – rubber isn’t cheap and that probably signals an inferior product.


Thanks for reading. Questions welcomed in the comments as always. – Andy.

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About the Author

Andy Morgan

I am the founder of RippedBody.com, this is my sincere effort to build the best nutrition and training guides on the internet. Some readers hire me to coach them, which I've been doing online, via email, for the last six years. If you're interested in individualized, one-on-one nutrition and training coaching to help you crush your physique goals, let's start the conversation.

94 Comments on “A Full Guide To Progressing With Chin-ups”

  1. Anubis Lockward says:

    Hmm…I try to hit 60 reps total and I do as many sets as I need to accomplish that, the goal is to try to do the 60 reps in less sets each session, until I can do 3 sets of 20 reps with Body Weight. (someday, hopefully)…is that too much? I do that for the chin-ups and pull-ups. I do that to gain enough strength doing them to start adding weight, I don’t want to start adding weight if I can’t do the exercise properly since I feel that’d be counter productive. I can do say, 1st set 10 reps, 2nd set 9 reps, 3rd 8 or 7 reps and so on, but I still can’t do 15 reps on my first set.

    Also, I do pull-ups on mondays, after my deadlifts, and I do chin-ups on fridays after my squats, is that ok? because I see that you suggest alternating exercises every two or three months.

    1. “…is that too much?”
      – If you are progressing then it’s not too much. However, if you’re asking me whether that is the optimal way of going your progression, then I’d say no, you’ll likely get a better result sticking to lower rep range sets like I have above. The rep ranges used don’t need to be different for chins than any other exercise.

  2. […] range, choose a lat pulldown or machine pulldown instead. If you don’t have access to either, a band-assisted pull up can work as […]

  3. […] range, choose a lat pulldown or machine pulldown instead. If you don’t have access to either, a band-assisted pull up can work as […]

  4. maestro says:

    so no need fancy periodization schemes? also whata bout grease the groove method?

    1. Hi Maestro, thanks for the question. – Be fancy when you need to be fancy to progress, never before.

      When you need fanciness though, I got you covered here.

  5. Christian says:

    Andy, thanks for the outstanding information on your site. I’ve been progressing with my chin-ups and today, for the first time in my life, I got 5×5, all reps, no assistance….moving on to the RPT chin up progression now. Thanks for the knowledge and motivation! I owe you a beer in Japan.

    1. Good job, Christian! Bring your wallet, it’s ~$15 a pint here for the good stuff. 😉

  6. Matthew says:

    Hi Andy, congratulations for your articles, little to say they are a great inspiration for me. I’ve been following the Stronglifts 5×5 program for a couple of months and I’d like to add pullups/chinups starting with resistance bands until I’m strong enough to do body weight reps only. Although pull/chin aren’t in the SL5x5 core program they can be added as optional assistance exercise at the end of day B. The SL author says to do 3×10 with bands until I can do 25 reps total and then switch to BW only and then eventually to weighted reps. What do you think of this 3×10 approach compared to say, a 5×5 kind of progression as you described in this great article, considering it’s to be viewed as “assistance exercise”. Thank you very much. Keep up the great work.

    1. Matthew, thank you. Glad to read you’re finding them useful. The total volume is similar (5×5=25 vs 3×10=30), so it won’t make much of a difference which you go with.

  7. Lydia Thompson says:


    Thanks for this. I have been looking for a way to progress chin-ups for a beginner…I can currently do 2-3 chi-ups but it is hard to find program that target someone at my level. My question is. How many times per week should you do chin-ups. I have heard everything from do chins every day to only do them every 4-5 days. I should note that I am a 55 yr. old woman so not exactly your core audience! Thanks!

    1. Hi Lydia, the same principles still apply. Just use the lat pulldown machine, assisted machine, or bands to assist you as mentioned above.

  8. Kai says:

    Hey it’s Kai,

    asked in May for advice on progressing with chin ups from obese to shreds. Started at 238, now I’m at 194. Chin ups are progressing well, but couldn’t obtain full 44 lbs. Just 27,5.

    Looking forward to add the remaining 14 lbs in til end of cut. Realistic though? The overall trend is positive: I’m progressing faster now. Whysoever..

    Just wanted to share my experience on progression from obese to shreds.

    1. Kai, good to hear about your progress. Impossible to say, I hope you get there of course so let me know.

  9. raine says:

    Hi Andy, I haven’t seen you talk about micro loading (did a quick search with google).

    Generally speaking, and as an example, is it better to jump from 15kg to 16.25kg and climb from 8 to 10 reps (assuming reps drop 2 when increasing) over a few weeks of time, or increase the load in even smaller increments and try to stick to 10 reps as closely as possible? I’d guess micro loading in this way would also make reaching failure less likely.

    Curious to hear your opinion on this. Cheers!

    1. Hi Raine, thank you for the question.

      The purpose of using rep ranges (8-10 for example) instead of just a fixed rep target (10 for example) is to help bridge the difficulty gap when weights are increased. The minimum increase to weight that we can make without micro plates is 2.5kg (~5lbs), which for the experienced trainee is a large jump. If you have micro plates and can load in smaller increments (1/2 ~ 1/4) then the rep ranges become less important/redundant and you can just load linearly.

  10. raine says:

    For what purpose in RPT you increase the reps as well, instead of simply lowering the weight and aim for say, 8/8/8?

    In some programs I’ve also seen people recommend, they do 8/7/6 but decrease the weight.

    1. Hi Raine, good question. More volume.
      Based on your last sentence I think you’ll find this video series by Eric Helms exceptionally helpful:
      Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid Level 2 Volume, Intensity, Frequency

  11. George says:

    Hi Andy

    I suppose I’m at the “advanced” level with regards pullups.

    Every month I perform a “Max Rep Set” session of weighted pullups where I attach 40, 30, 20 & 10 kg (my weight is 65kg) with a 10 minute recovery between sets

    I seem to have plateaued at 4,7,13 & 18 reps for the respective weights.

    Do you think I’ve reached my limit, or have you any suggestions for increasing these reps?


    1. Hi George. Very nice work indeed there with your chin-ups. Have you considered taking a break from them completely? 4 weeks off might be just the trick. Here’s the science behind that, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the article:
      Grow Like a New Lifter Again? – Strengtheory.com

  12. EricB says:

    When you say, in the 5×5 progression example: “You’re now capable of doing 12 bodyweight reps and are probably able to perform 8 consecutive reps in a single set.” Are there any formula or rules of thumb to this? There are one rep max calculators and discussions around aplenty, but nothing about how any basic set x rep scheme equates to a single all-out set.

    Only somewhat related to chinups specifically, but its something I’ve been pondering and now found any sources discussing it. Changing up from a RPT to a straight-across sets workout has me struggling to equate the two…


    1. I don’t. That’s just my rule of thumb I go by for chins.
      Try not to rely on rules, seek to understand the principles and you’ll set yourself free. For example in this case, it’s simply not necessary to know, just try it and see how you go. Even if there were an answer, it’d only be an average, and there’ll always be outliers.

  13. Kai says:

    Hello Andy,

    this is the response on your last comment answering my questions…
    You said “[…] stronger by then.” Stronger than now, would mean to me that I’m able to do more than the mentioned
    extra weight, or do you mean that im relatively stronger, relatively to my bodyweight? Nevertheless I rely on your recommendation and will try to get to 8 reps. Maybe I can save some force gained until now..

    Thanks in advance, hope you’ll have a great weekend.

    1. Relatively stronger, sorry for the lack of clarity Kai. You too!

  14. Kai says:

    Hello Andy,

    thank you for your recommendations, I can only agree to the others: good job, well done, Andy!
    I’m very overweight. 108 Kilos on 180cm. I can do 5 Chin-ups with Body weight and full range of motion.
    I think that’s okay if you take into account that my bodyfat percentage lies above 30%…
    Now my questions: Should I shoot for getting to 8 reps in RPT style and then add weight, or 5×5 with bodyweight and then going on?
    Another concern is that I’m cutting now and how should I action not to loose the strength gains I already made? For every 5lbs lost, adding 5lbs extra to my chin-up (imagined that… would end up in an finished cut and a chin up with ~50-60 lbs added to the chin up, not realistic though)?

    Thanks for your help and taking time!

    1. Hi Kai, thanks for the questions.
      1. The former is my first recommendation, the latter is an alternative. Doesn’t really matter which in honesty. Just go with the style you’re comfortable with.
      2. That’s right. Though technically, with the fat loss the range of the chin-up stroke will lengthen, so you can expect to do slightly less than that, all things being equal. That said, you should be stronger by then.

  15. EricB says:

    Hello again,

    I am concerned that my chinups are too bicep dependent and I am not getting the lat development I seek. I am able to do roughly 7-8 chinups in a row, if I start fresh. Yet I am only able to do maybe 2 or 3 pullups, and those are with crappy form and the connection between my lats and shoulders feels quite… weak. Is this discrepancy common? Does it warrant trying to focus on pullups specifically for a while?


    1. “I am concerned that my chinups are too bicep dependent and I am not getting the lat development I seek.”
      This is in your head Eric, it’s not reality. Think about it, how much can you curl with good form for the same number of reps? 30kg? Your back is doing most of the work.

      Here are the EMG figures for bicep and back activation in various exercises.

  16. Justin says:

    Hi Andy,

    Thanks for such an informative post. Do you have a recommendation for the amount of resting time in between sets of 5×5? Thanks

    1. Hi Justin, glad you found it helpful. 2 minutes.

  17. Glad you posted this, I’ve been doing convict conditioning for the past few months (all body weight), because I tried to go overboard at the end of my last bulk, and switched from a few sets of chinups (maybe 12 at most), a couple times per week…. to 50-60 pull-ups every day.
    Needless to say my tendons were NOT just aching, they were injured lol.
    Lesson 1. Reminded me how much of this is mental, and gradually understanding your own body more.
    Lesson 2. Pull-ups are less natural for body posture, so even though they’re fine when progressing sensibly, to switch from doing standard chin-ups (with a bar) to intense volumes of pull ups (with olympic rings) works the tendons in a way that the chin-ups have not prepared you for
    Lesson 3. Doing an insane amount of pull ups in a row for several weeks did NOT help me achieve a muscle up lol (Fail).
    I’ll post an update on my testimonial soon

    1. Hi Self. Take a good break from them. See how your grip feels with other exercises. Consider using straps as you work your way back.
      The lesson here – avoid extremes.

  18. Orinn says:

    Andy, long time and hope your well. Need your advice. At 42 years old and heavy lifting for at least 20 of those I have recently had an umbilical and parabilical hernia which was repaired a month ago and Abdominal Separation (Diastasis Recti). The advice of the surgeon is no more heavy lifting (Reverse Pyramid for me) due to the weakness in the membrane holding the abs together which would result in a major op to fix and even after that no heavy lifting. Even though I am not a bodybuilder a lot of them do get this. What is your advice for me to carry on training. The surgeon also states no dead lifts : (
    Cheers and thanks in advance ,

    1. Orinn, appreciate the comment but this is something you need to talk with a doctor about, a sports specialist.

  19. David says:

    Thanks Andy, one more time it’s very helpful 🙂

  20. Nyl says:

    1. Check how many reps you can do in your 1st set. Let’s say you get 7.
    2. Start with 2 reps less in your 1st set. (This takes into consideration point 2 in the notes and stops people’s technique from going to complete shit on subsequent sets.)

    If you’re doing 5 sets the progression will look like this:

    Week 1 – 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
    Week 2 – 5, 4, 3, 2, 2
    Week 3 – 5, 4, 3, 3, 2
    Week 4 – 5, 4, 4, 3, 2
    Week 5 – 5, 5, 4, 3, 2
    Week 6 – 6, 5, 4, 3, 2
    Week 7 – 6, 5, 4, 3, 3
    Week 8 – 6, 5, 4, 4, 3
    Week 9 – 6, 5, 5, 4, 3
    Week 10 – 6, 6, 5, 4, 3
    Week 11 – 7, 6, 5, 4, 3
    Week 12 – 7, 6, 5, 4, 4

    Is the type of progression above can also be used for other compound exercises like Deadlift and One-arm Dumbbell Row ?

    Also, how do you compute the number of reps for the 1st set ? Is it ~70% of your actual max reps. In your example, max reps is 7 and you recommend starting with 5 reps only. So, if my max reps is 10, then my 1st working set is 7 reps and the second set is 6 reps ?

    Thank you, Mr. Andy

    1. Hi Nyl.
      That progression example is for when you have only bodyweight chin-ups as an option – no way to adjust the resistance.

      It could be used if you have a fixed weight that you cannot change, but this is inferior to simply increasing the weight that you lift. So if for example you are on a desert island and you have made yourself a barbell with bamboo, and two car wheels that washed up on the beach on either end, you might use that method because you can’t change the weight.

      In all other circumstance you want to be increasing the weight lifted as that’s the simplest way to achieve progressive overload in the long-run, in a range where you will get strength and hypertrophy increases.

  21. Filip says:

    Hi Andy.

    I started doing chin-ups a month ago and I don’t see much progress. I did six sets of chin-ups (with just BW and without the resistance bands) three times a week and the reps were usually like this: 10, 8, 6, 5, 4, 4. I probably could do 12 on the first set, but I didn’t want to tire myself more, seeing that I can’t do another ten on the second set. The rest between sets is around 90 seconds.

    So I got myself a dip belt and tried the weighted chin-ups with RPT. Yesterday’s training looked like this: 5x BW+10kg, 6x BW+7,5kg, 5x BW+5kg, 4x BW+5kg, 4x BW+5kg, 3x BW+5kg. I feel I can add more weight on my first set, since the 5 reps were easy (the following sets were harder).

    Am I doing this right?

    1. Hi Filip. Not necessarily incorrect – progressive overload is progressive overload after all, but if you read the guide above you’ll see that my guidelines differ.

  22. […] Nas barras fixas, sempre faça a amplitude total do movimento, execute-o devagar e com calma. Esse exercício pode ser bem difícil no começo, não tem problema. Fazê-lo com a ajuda de elásticos pode ser uma boa opção até que você desenvolva a força para fazer as repetições completas, ou ainda pular e segurar a barra na posição mais alta e permanecer assim o tempo que você conseguir. – Assim você irá treinar as duas pontas da faixa de repetições. Com o tempo você vai precisar adicionar pesos. Veja o Guia Completo de Como Progredir na Barra Fixa. […]

  23. Jared says:

    WOW Great post Andy! Thanks for taking the time to put all of this together!

  24. Will says:

    Andy, I am just starting back lifting after taking several years off. Fractured L4 and L5 about 12 years ago. Also, I have had elbow surgery on each elbow in the past 5 years. I am cutting and doing the big 3 5×5 routine 3 days a week with day of rest in between. I started with low weight and so far have increased on all three each time. I wanted to start incorporating a chin up routine into those three days so I am going with the 5×5 routine you mentioned above. Right now I can do 3 BW chin ups. I have some old bands that I am using and I am not sure how much the difference is b/t the light, medium, and strong band, but my question is on day three, I struggled to complete my last two sets with medium bands. Does that mean I should go back to the day to routine until I feel like I can complete day 3 or do I just keep doing day 3 until I can complete or do I move on to day 4? Thanks!

    1. Hi Will. The above progression guides are just examples of how one might adjust things, to help show and explain the rules for adjusting. They are not there to be followed verbatim. So, if you didn’t get stronger, you don’t make it harder for yourself next time yet.

      Thanks for asking this, I’ll make it clearer in the guide.

  25. Rob says:

    Great article Andy!

    A couple of questions, I’m a bigger guy and can only do 2 chins currently. I’ve tried to build these up in the past without much success.

    I’m on a cut right now on a upper/lower split 3x a week so I hit upper body every 5 days. I’m doing chins in one of those sessions and rows in the other. I want to keep volume low because I’m on a cut and I feel a row is important to have in my routine also.

    Would I see better progress on chins by replacing the row with the chin in both upper body seesions using your progression model?


    1. Hi Rob.
      Would I see better progress on chins by replacing the row with the chin in both upper body seesions using your progression model?
      Yes. The more you practice something the better you get, and at the level of frequency you’re talking about I can’t imagine it would lead to overtraining by any means. Consider adding the rows after – cable rows or dumbbell rows perhaps, to remove the lower back from the equation and leave it to recover.

  26. Patrik says:

    Hi Andy.

    Quick question regarding this matter.

    I’m doing the A/B split now and during the chin-ups I go for the RPT with 3 sets.

    However when I’m doing the last set with BW only I’m not able to hit the 10-12 rep in one flow. I manage to do a nice solid 7 rep and after that I need to take a micro break and do the last 3 reps to hit the 10 rep mark.

    Is this just a stupid approach instead of buying resistance band to help with the last 3-5 reps to hit the marker?

    // Patrik

    1. Nah, that will work fine Patrik.

  27. Koch Training Weekly Reader 3/8 | Koch Training says:

    […]  A Full Guide to Progressing Your Chin Up – By Andy […]

  28. […] A Full Guide to Progressing Your Chin-Ups via Andy Morgan […]

  29. Adam Trainor says:

    Thanks Andy, and congratulations on making the PTDC Top Fitness Articles List. Great read and some good tips. Seems a lot of people, men and women, have been trying to break through this wall lately. That’s great. Pulling your own self up feels like one of those moves everyone should be able to do. How else will you escape death when hanging from a cliff?

    Bands have been probably the most effective tool I’ve used to get people over the hump. The variable resistance, if they can break through, actually provides the right development at the right time for most people. It’s never the bottom of the chin-up or pull-up, where people fail, but the last few inches. The band gives them the chance to learn the motor skills, and the momentum to complete the pull. Most importantly, it gives people the confidence to break through. You’re right about the weight assisted machines. It’s a place to get stuck.

    1. Hi Adam.
      “It’s never the bottom of the chin-up or pull-up, where people fail, but the last few inches.”
      Right, but the bands will give the least help at that point, which is the purpose of the eccentric chin-up work for those that can’t do any with bodyweight yet.

      “How else will you escape death when hanging from a cliff?”
      A wing suit, obviously. 😉

      1. Finally. I won’t be the only guy at the gym wearing my wing suit…

        1. It’s an important piece of kit. You never know what might happen.

  30. Chirs says:

    Great content. I’ve been doing a RPT with my chin-ups for a while with great success, but have hit a wall in the last 3-4 weeks. Prior to reading this article, I switched to a higher volume/lower weight per Greg’s article. I’ve been on a slow bulk and will continue for another month or two. Any problem with this switch for chin-ups?



      1. chirs says:

        Thanks for your prompt reply as usual!


  31. […] A Full Guide To Progressing Your Chin-ups — Andy Morgan […]

  32. Phil says:

    Perfect Andy, I started following your system 3 weeks ago and chin ups is the one exercise I’ve been messing around with. I bought a weight belt which I could use for the first set but then would struggle progressing using only BW to hit the reps for set 2 and 3… Your guide above gives me the correct blueprint to get back on track!

    Thank you Andy, couldn’t have asked for better timing!

    1. Perfect, glad to hear Phil. 🙂

  33. Any advice on getting the strength and making the progression to one arm chin ups. I’ve pulled up with 90lbs around my waist for a double, but the one arm seems far away.

    1. Hi Michal. This is about three things: overall strength, leanness, and technique. The first – stronger and more developed in two arms will make you more capable with one. The second – getting shredded lean is covered in the diet sections thoroughly. The third – this is something I don’t have specific knowledge of, other than what is probably considered common sense.

      It may look very cool, but it comes in the category of having an unnecessary risk to reward ratio for me in terms of potential for joint injury. If you do go for it, work your way into it slowly so that your connective tissues can adapt. I can see bands being of use here.

  34. Filipe Croäro says:

    Nice post, I want to focus my weekend workout routine on chin ups, inverted rows, dips and pushups, but don’t you advise getting 12~15 “non-shaking”, “smooth”, “bar touching chest” reps before adding resistance bands or weighted belts? I can do 6 good reps BW(176lb) + 55lb, but It’s hell on earth trying 12 reps BW only!!! I’m on a cut, is caloric deficit the one to blame?

    1. Filipe, thanks for the question. You could shoot for a higher rep range than 8 first before shifting to adding weight if you wish. A calorie deficit will always hamper the adaptations we get to training – the more experience we have, the less scope we have to make improvements. (More on this in the next article coming up.)

      Please note, I said that the finish position is where the elbows come to the side of the body, not bar touching the chest – that will depend on the individual and their bone lengths. See Eric Cressey’s video for more.

  35. anonymous coward says:

    If you don’t have belt with the chain, I have found that my Karate white belt was a very close approximation.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion. At some dojos you might get beaten around the head for even attempting that though – disrespecting your belt. I wouldn’t have gotten away with it back in my karate days.

      Use your name from now on please. I don’t like the comment section to have comments without names – feels weird responding and looks weird reading through.

  36. Ark says:

    Thanks for the article, Andy.

  37. Cristian says:

    What would be a useful maximum total number of body weight only, chins or pulls, per session? Right now, I’m shooting for 50 total reps, for each one. It takes me about 5-8 sets. I was thinking, when I nail 5 x 10, I should add weight. Your thoughts?

    1. Hi Christian, my thought are above. With 5×10 (double), you have more focus on endurance – which is obviously fine if that is more towards your goal than hypertrophy-strength. Same as with any exercise.

  38. Danny says:

    Hi Andy,

    Thank you for the great article!

    I feel like I’ve read in Berkhan’s writing that he likes the heavy set to be in the 4-6 rep range for chin-ups. I know the 6-8,8-10,10-12 seems to be your preferred range, I was just curious as to the reasoning for the difference.

    1. Hi Danny. Higher rep ranges are more joint friendly, and setting the target slightly higher like this keeps people honest about their form. (You can kid yourself that you can get nearly 4 reps – when actually your form is truly shit, when you can’t when the target is 6.) The counter-argument to that is people shouldn’t be cheating on their form anyway, and also, it let’s you lift more weight, which feels cool.

      This is a very minor difference, spitting hairs, so I wouldn’t worry about it.

  39. Asai says:

    Hey Andy what is a good 1MR for a pull up/Chin up if you weight 170. I am 5’11” btw.

    1. Clearly that depends on how you define good. 25% of your weight hanging from you for a set of 8 is an achievable target for most with consistent dedication (and obviously, a reasonably low body fat percentage).

  40. Andy i’ve stagnated at 3 x 8 with BW + 17.5kg – do you suggest upping weight and doing 5 x 5 to see if i can overcome this?

    1. Hi James. No I wouldn’t. From above:

      People that can get more than 8 bodyweight reps in a single set – use the Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT) principles. The total number of reps used per set is higher, which is more joint friendly. This is an important consideration as you start adding more and more weight.

      What you probably need is just patience, or more calories. But if you’re in a calorie deficit then clearly that’s going limit how well you can progress.

  41. Roman D says:

    Andy, thank you for great article.
    I have some push\pull imbalance – my bench 1RM ±90kg my chin-up 1RM ±125kg – should i do something with this issue?

    1. That sounds good to me Roman. As mentioned, a relatively stronger back is hardly ever something you hear people having issues with. And I know a lot of people with numbers similar to you. Then again, I’m no expert on these things so you might want to ask Eric Cressey or Tony Gentilcore.

  42. Josh Remi says:

    Really excellent stuff Andy. It’s like you know exactly what issues I’m having and boom! a new article to answer my questions and put my fears at ease. I can just about do 8, but with shitty form, I’ll now move to 5×5 until decent enough to progress. Thanks a lot mate, keep up the amazing work.

    1. Glad to hear it was helpful Josh.

  43. Dim says:

    Thanks Andy , great guide . As far as reps and load is concerned , do you think weighted Chin-ups/Pull-ups using the 5×5 format with a 2.5kg increase per session would benefit more or less than the RPT?

    1. Hi Dim. My preference is for the RPT. It’ll allow for higher rep ranges and less weight to be use which is going to be kinder to the joints when things get heavy. – I think I mentioned this in the article, but I may have thought of it and forgotten to write it.

  44. When using the Gravitron machine, do you have any recommendations in weight assistance vs the resistance bands? ie: Light Resistance Band = 70% Bodyweight Assistance on Gravitron

    1. Justin, good question. I get where you’re going but it’s not actually possible to equate like that. Two reasons:

      1. The bands aid us most at the bottom of the movement, the graviton gives a consistent assist.
      2. How much the bands will assist depends on how tall the person is, as well as the way they use it (knee, vs 2 knees, vs 1 straight leg vs 2 straight legs).

      I’d also assume that it’ll differ from manufacturer to manufacturer.

  45. Steve says:

    Thanks Andy! May i know how many session per week? Can we do each session every alternative days?

    1. Hi Steve. This is a guide on how to progress with chin-ups, not intended an instruction that everyone should immediately put chin-ups into their routine.
      The first related guide linked to at the end of the post – Which Routine Is For Me? will help tell you which routine might be suitable to you right now, and if chins are in there, then this is your progression guide.

  46. Grant says:

    Great guide! I just realized I’m guilty of raising my chin to force it over the bar when the tough gets going, so thanks for pointing that out.

    What is your opinion on gloves and wraps? The biggest issue I have is my hands getting sweaty as I progress into my sets, and my hand still feel oily even after wiping them down as best I can with a towel. I don’t want to use gloves/wraps as a crutch, but I also don’t want my slippery hands to be the limiting factor either. (And chalk is a big no-no at my gym)

  47. Jonathan says:

    Would you recommend this is something I try out Andy? My pull down is progressing, albeit slowly (96kg-103kg in 7 weeks). I did manage a couple of single reps the other day on chin ups, but collapsed pretty much after. But then I am pretty heavy!

  48. tuna says:

    Thanks Andy! I’ve been waiting for this article ever since you mentioned it. I am almost at 60lbs on 145lbs.

    This is the one point I’ve been wanting to know forever:
    “The finish position is where your chin goes over the bar, elbows bought down to touch your side but not past it. Your chest may touch the bar depending on limb proportions, but that is not a defining factor of a full rep. More on this in Eric Cressey’s video below.”

    People should also try the Brute Belt. It has been the best belt I ever used. I had trouble with other belts because the pain was intolerable over 50lbs on my small frame.

    Question: I hang on the bottom of each rep to get my big breathe in. Basically a tight body dead-hang while I get a deep breathe in. Should I just breathe on the way down instead to keep a continuous flow?

    1. Eric, glad this helped.

      “I had trouble with other belts because the pain was intolerable over 50lbs on my small frame.”
      In honesty, I think you either had a really crap belt. I know plenty of people that do way more weight just with a semi-thick chain and no padding at all.

      “Should I just breathe on the way down instead to keep a continuous flow?”
      I could argue this either way. Just make sure you stay tight.

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