Chin-Ups: Power Meets Aesthetics (Part I)

“The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

It’s time to evangelize.

In this post I am going to introduce you to my current favorite training movement, show you a little bit of the potential impact it can have on your physique, and give you some actionable advice on how to implement it (intelligently) into your training.

In the last two months my physique has taken an extreme turn for the better. And ~80% of the progress has come from one main core movement.

The (weighted) chin-up.

While many of you know that I love my muscle ups and outdoor street workouts, I decided to finally purchase a gym membership and start focusing a lot on building my shoulders, chest, and arms in order to maximize my ratios on a new training protocol that my buddy Greg O’Gallagher and I are coining “The Hollywood Physique Program” (we’re currently writing it as a new book for Road To Ripped podcast listeners btw, keep an eye out for it in the coming months. And if you want personal help building your program around these principles, I coach clients one-on-one).

Here’s a quick snapshot of me sitting here in my boxers as I write this article…

My arms have grown considerably and shoulders are a bit broader (and you can’t see it in this image, but my back is very tight and well-developed right now).

Obviously part of this progress comes from smart, balanced nutrition, but much of the muscle gain I’ve seen has been from an intense focus on increasing weight on my chin-ups. I firmly believe that all men who are serious about building their physique in a similar manner should have the weighted chin-up at the core of their training program. I set all of my male clients up on protocols centered around progressively building strength and power with the chin-up… that’s how important I believe it is.

There’s also a very specific reason why it’s at the core of the training in my Testosterone IO Program.

The Chin-Up As A Male Physique Staple

Let’s talk about what the chin-up can do for your physique. First, a proper chin-up hits your biceps considerably more effectively than a standard pull-up. You also engage your back and core quite a bit, along with more minor (but not insignificant) engagement of other important areas like your shoulders, lower back, and lats.

Most men are looking for a strong, chiseled back and core with broad shoulders and powerful arms. That’s why I recommend the chin-up so highly. It builds all of these (more specifically and effectively when you add weight, and I’ll get to that in a minute).

The Most Important Thing To Realize

The most important thing to realize, and something that most people just completely don’t get, is that when it comes to using a movement like chin-ups for physique enhancement, pure volume (in terms of reps) does not matter. Here’s what I mean. Most guys think it’s incredible if somebody can do 40 chins or pull-ups.

While it can be an impressive feat of strength and muscular endurance, it does little to nothing for your physique. Plenty of light, skinny guys can work their way up to high reps with pull-ups.

Sadly, most guys think that getting stronger and improving their physique is correlative with doing more reps. They waste all their time trying to build up to some number, like 30 or 40 or 50, and usually see barely any actual improvement in the way they look.

Here’s What To Do Instead…

Get a weight belt and throw on some plates.

Few things are more impressive in the gym than seeing a guy hang from the pull-up bar with over 100lbs around his waist, banging out reps.

That’s power.

You won’t see skinny guys doing it.

You won’t see fat guys doing it.

Dudes who have spent the time building up their raw power to be able to hammer out heavy weighted chins usually naturally develop a very masculine, proportionate physique. They’re usually not too heavy and not too light as the body tends to find a natural balance when gravity-based training is involved (like hanging movements).

Here’s my recommendation:

1. If you can currently do more than 8-10 reps of chin-ups with good form, stop wasting your time trying to do more reps and add weight. Grab a weight belt and start with a 25lb plate, then work your way up in small increments every week (by adding 5-10lbs). The set x rep scheme that is working very well for myself and my clients in terms of building foundational pulling strength is 3×5.

2. If you cannot do 8-10 reps of chins or pullups, here’s what you need to do:

  • > Begin by building up your reps to that point. You do this by pure neuromuscular conditioning. Put a pullup bar in your doorway and do pullups as often as possible throughout the day, even as much as 3-4 times. Since you cannot do very many to begin with, your sessions won’t take longer than a couple minutes anyways. The constant exposure to the movement forces your muscles under the same stress over and over, and they will quickly adapt.
  • > I used this principle to get my first muscle up in only two weeks. I also used this tactic to build up from around 7 pullups to 40 over the course of 4 weeks when I first began strength training, then I realized that doing 40 pullups is pretty much pointless.
  • > Once you’re ready, drop your reps down to 5 (3 sets) and progressively add weight every week or two. (Funny enough, you’ll naturally be able to do more reps at this point anyways).

In Part II of this article series I lay out my “No BS Guide To 100 lb Weighted Chin-ups” where I’ll show you what you need to do to build that foundational strength and I also outline my recommendations for weighted chin-up standards to aim for (good, great, elite) in terms of %s of bodyweight.