Thursday, October 27, 2011

Improving Chins

Chins are what I'd call that second tier of movements.

Squat, bench, dead, overhead.........chins, rows, dips, etc.

Chins develop the lats, upper back, grip, forearms, and biceps.  Solid all around upperbody pulling movement.

At 265 pounds I've done 85 pounds for 5 reps and 100 pounds for 3 reps.  I've done 75 x 5 for multiple sets of 5 at 240 pounds and 20 reps on tons of occasions at 240+.  These were full range chins, not that half range shit you see a lot of guys doing where their head is 6 inches from getting to the bar.

I personally prefer doing v-bar chins.  They are easier on my shoulders, and I feel like I get more mid-back into the mix.  Chins CAN be hard on the shoulders, so use a grip that causes you the least amount of pain in that regard.  Let me repeat this, USE THE CHIN GRIP THAT IS MOST PAIN FREE FOR YOU.

If you want to use a lot of different grips, widths, and all that jazz, that's cool too.

Some high level overview points about chins to really improve chin strength -

  • Chins seem to respond a lot like big lifts, in that if you improve your lower rep strength on them, then ability to rep bodyweight gets easier.  
  • There is nothing wrong with doing a ton of sets of 5 with bodyweight only.  I used this tactic a LOT, then would have a heavy chin day every third week or so with great results.  
  • Throwing in lat pulldowns every so often and giving the chins a break helped as well.
  • Using a 5x5 periodization scheme was good for me too.  I hit my best (100x3) that way.  I just used a calculator and spreadsheet and worked in the numbers over the course of 8 weeks or so and hit a nice PR.  And that was at 265 and I gained weight over the course of that period.  So the whole "I gained weight and couldn't chin" thing is kinda out.  Just keep chinning.  
  • I never got more out of chinning multiple times a week than once a week.  Your mileage may vary but that's how it was for me.  I have chinned 3-5 X a week before, and I never noticed anything better from that than chinning once a week.  
  • On the flip side, my wife improved her chins like crazy by hitting em everyday for months.  So again, there is always the other side of the coin.
  • My take on the two above scenarios is this.  The stronger you are, the more recover you need.  Tiff could only do three chins and then worked her way up to doing 10.  Obviously I could do more than 3.  
  • Don't be afraid to use that anti-gravity machine to get reps in.  
  • No, I don't have that spreadsheet anymore for when I did the 5x5 calculations.  
Anyway, improve your chin strength.  Why?  Because it's fucking manly that's why.  


  1. Whats up Paul this is my first comment on here. Ive been reading your blog for a couple months now and I just wanted to let you know I think your doing some good work here. Your writings are partly what helped me overcome my carb phobia, which in hindsight was just plain silly.

    Anyways, im definately going to incorporate some weighted chins into my programming as I always seem to get stuck around 6 reps for some reason. Im thinking maybe i will fluxuate the reps/intensity along with my program (im using 531 4x week). So for the 5s week i will pyramid up to the highest rep set I can do. For 3s week, add a few pounds and bang out some doubles and triples. Then work my way up to a heavy single or two on the final week.


  2. Thanks for the props Drew.

    Good luck on the chins and let me know how that works out.

  3. "I never noticed anything better from that than chinning once a week"

    Ha that goes for damn near every other lift for me, the most I can ever add to any lift is never more than 2.5 or 5kg usually for short bursts that always bust, even less when talking truly long term and real PR gains, whether training once a week or six times.

    Difference is soon after doing higher frequency, performance and therefore my will to lift start to tank and everything goes to shit and I'm beat to shit till I pull my head out of my ass and do what it takes to get stronger, even if that means getting out of the fucken gym sometimes.

    Every now and then though the weights keep calling to me, get me thinking maybe I can do and get more, I keep coming back thinking this time we can make it work! I am the battered wife of a barbell.

    Your writing has really helped me keep my focus and improve all my training so thanks Paul!

    Oh yeah chinning rules too, by far the best upper back and bis movement if you ask me.


  4. paul - where would you put chins in the LRB 2xwk template? or would that depend if you were doing BW or weighted (light/heavy)? thanks, geoff

  5. when i was in my 20's i loved them cause i was light but i got to my 40's and not having worked out for 10yrs or so i found they were like death to me.could barely get 1-2 real chins,upper chest to the bar ones.then i just picked a random number,25 i think it was.i would do 2-3 reps,rest a few seconds,hit 1-2 reps and so on till i got that 25.once i was able to get solid sets of 5's in i tried to up the reps and keep the set count the same.

    now at 205-210 i can bang out 5 sets ot 10 with a 25-30lb db.i've been using them as warm ups for back days but since i'm starting my 5/3/1 next week i will incorporate them into the program.chins,dips and push ups have gotten me in stronger shape when i was in a,shall we say free wght unfriendly atmosphere,than if i were to just have a few db's.

    so glad i found this blog.gonna be here a while.