I was in the ol’ home gym the other day when all this popped into mind and I shot this video. I’ll embed it below. But first. Let’s talk about the benefits of this great exercise.

And while I’m talking about the chin up, the benefits with pull up are very similar…the hand strength, the lat strength, so read on and figure out how to own this exercise.

Benefit 1: Develop strong lats

This is the big benefit of the chin up, especially if you add weight. Which you probably should. The lats are an awesome muscle that can make you a lot stronger and make your lifts more safe.

When trainees start out, sometimes they don’t even know how to flex these muscles voluntarily, which is a shame. The chin up can develop the awareness (assuming you can even do them) and it will develop your lats so that you can pull down shoulders—pack your shoulders—into a super safe and strong position.

That’s what it is all about.

The lats also will help you transfer force that’s been generated from your legs and passed through your stomach. They’ll transfer that force into your arms where you can punch harder, throw harder, and in general be more powerful.

Think Bruce Lee.

Benefit 2: Strong grip and forearms

Again, as you add weight to your chin up, you’ll be holding onto that bar with body weight plus whatever you got strapped to your weight belt (buy this one).

That holding and pulling is going to develop a strong grip and forearms. Especially as the volume creeps up.

Now the strong grip is important. See, the grip and the abs are basically like strength generators. The stronger they are, the stronger you’ll be. I’m not saying you’ll be able to maul a bear, but a person? Look, most people don’t like when someone can grab them and squeeze the living poop out of them.

Of course there are practical measures too. You know, opening jars, unloosening that tight screw, holding a heavy shovel of snow…

How to progress: Reps and Sets

The baseline is 3 sets of 10. Work up to this. Then add weight using that aforementioned weight belt.

Once you got that in the bag I’ll tell you my favorite way of adding weight to the chin up.

It’s the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 program. You start at a weight, say 10 pounds. Then do 5 reps. Then 4. Then 3. Then 2 then 1. It’s descending sets. Next time out Maybe you do 5, 4, 3, 2, 2. Or more. When you get all 5s (5, 5, 5, 5, 5) then you add weight and go back to 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 with the new weight.

Now, this gets boring after a time. So it’s fun to shake it up with my other favorite pattern:

  • Set 1: 10 reps (this might be no weight added
  • Set 2: 6-8 reps (here you would add some weight, probably the same weight you just finished 5, 5, 5, 5, 5 with)
  • Set 3: 4-6 reps (here you would add a heavier weight than you’ve done before and really focus on getting the reps

Eventually, that set 3 weight will become your starting weight for 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Got it?

The video

Here’s a video talking through and showing some of this.