Over the past few years, I’ve gotten a ton of questions from people asking how they can increase their max number of Chinups/Pullups. I’m a good guy to ask – I’ve done 55 consecutive repetitions, as well as coached numerous males who have done 40+ pull-ups/chinups, and several females who have made it into the 20-repetition range. As a(n admittedly self-proclaimed) master of the exercise, I’m going to let you in on some training tips that will get your chin over the bar as many times as possible.
Why am I focusing on people who can already do a decent amount of chins? Because if you put a little effort into it, you’ll be hitting those numbers within a few short months – and that’s where it starts getting difficult to add each rep.
For the bodybuilders out there, that’s going to translate to a much bigger back, and for the athletes reading this, bodyweight work is an indespensible part of any good training program. So yeah, this is an advanced training routine...
My advice pertains to those who I've earmarked as being pretty good at chins. This set of athletes can be defined as a (a fully rested) female who could bang out 10 clean repetitions (must start from a dead hang, keep chin above the bar at the top, and extend arms completely straight at the bottom of each rep) and a (fully rested) male athlete who could do 20 or more repetitions. If you're not quite hitting these numbers, don't worry, bodyweight exercises are among the easiest to get better at. Throw in some chins a few times a week and you'll be ready to read the rest of this article in no time.
The training program that pushed my chins over the half-century mark is what I call “Descending Sets”. Descending most simply stated means “moving down” – so both the number of repetitions and rest between sets will move down (descend) in a linear fashion during this program.
First: know EXACTLY how many repetitions you can do in a non-fatigued state. This is essential because it will allow you to determine how the program is working. This should be tested first thing in a workout, preferably a day after complete rest or at least on a day where your grip, abs and back muscles aren’t fatigued from the previous days workout. Once you have determined your max number of pull-ups/chinups you are ready to start the program.
When this workout is complete, you will have completed just over double your max amount of reps (albeit in multiple sets). You get five sets to hit this number. To determine the starting reps for the first set, take your current max and multiply it by .80 (therefore set #1 = 80% of your max reps). For example, if your max is 30 repetitions, you will take 30 x .80 = 24, or 24 Chinups for set number one. The following four sets should be performed at 60 %, 40%, 20%, and 10% of your max. calculated again by multiplying your max reps by.60, .40, .20, and .10. The chart below will save you some time, unless your max does not end in a “0”. If that is the case then the calculations are up to you.
Look, I know you’ve got a calculator app on your cell phone…I can’t do everything for you!
Max Number 50 40 30 20 10
Set #1 40 32 24 16 8
Set #2 30 24 18 12 6
Set #3 20 16 12 8 4
Set #4 10 12 6 4 2
Set#5 5 4 3 2 1
Next you need to determine your rest time between sets. If your max number was 20 or less you will be resting 3 minutes after the 1st set, 2 minutes after the 2nd, 1 minute after the 3rd, and 30 seconds after the 4th set. If your max number was greater than 20 you will be resting 4 minutes after the 1st set, 3 minutes after the 2nd, 2 minutes after the 3rd and 1 minute after the 4th set.
If you’re unable to hit these numbers for your sets, you will attempt the same workout the following week and each week thereafter as needed. Once you are able to complete the workout with the prescribed number of repetitions, we’ll add some volume. If your first set was under 20 you will be adding 1 rep to each of the 5 sets. If your max was 20 or more, you will be adding 2 reps. per set. Once you have added reps for each set twice, go back and test your max number.
If your max number of consecutive Chinups/Pullups has increased (which it should've), you should now go back, re-do your calculations, and start the cycle once again.
- I realize I have used Chinups and Pullups interchangeably and I understand for most people Pullups are a bit more difficult. I have given you the choice. Whichever movement you decide to test your max number with is the one you will use for the program.
- I would suggest you repeat the workouts under the same conditions as the week prior. For example, if you did it after Deadlifting on Week #1, I would suggest doing it after your Deadlifting on Week #2. This will rule out any other variables that may have the potential to have a negative effect on your performance (i.e. accumulated fatigue).
- I have had success with some athletes performing this program with the assistance of Jump Stretch Bands. Specifically, those unable to meet the aforementioned prerequisite criteria.