Guaranteed Chin Up Progression

upper body Dec 20, 2022

Today I am going to share with you my favorite way to progress chin ups.

This email will be one of the longest I ever send you, but I had to be thorough because you don't want to miss on this strategy. It's one of the most effective ones I have ever used... ever.

Chin-Ups are the squat of the upper body. They are immensely important.

Here is the issue though... You're lifting 100% of your bodyweight!

So your heavier athletes may have trouble getting in as many reps as you may need.

Your smaller athletes will feel like this...


Your 250lb offensive lineman is lifting 250lbs on every single rep! That can be a lot.

Put 100lbs on your 150lb wideout and see how they do?

Let's look at chin-ups a little differently

Understanding Load Volume

When we look at chin-ups, let's look at the load from a perspective of percentages.

If you can only do 5 bodyweight chin-ups (the right way...) then you are starting with around 85% load when you begin.

That can be tough to get volume without slapping a band on the rack to lessen bodyweight.

So how do we get volume?


Properly Placed Tension

In order to get strong in chin ups, we have to accumulate volume.

But coach, what if they can barely do 2?!

Instead of looking at volume as simply reps completed, we will program TIME instead of reps.

The amount of leverage an athlete has for tension goes in this order from easiest to hardest:

  1. Isometric Holds (Pauses, Hangs, etc)
  2. Eccentrics (Lowering)
  3. Concentric (Actually pulling up)

If an athlete struggles with chin ups, or any athlete needs to accumulate more time, we use this order first!

Add time in holds, then add time in lowering, then pull up if possible!

Example Working Sets

Ideally for adaptation, we want to shoot for 10-25 seconds of tension per set for chin ups.

How we accomplish this depends on the capability of the athlete

Let's walk through some examples of how to accomplish this:

Novice: Pauses and Hangs

The relatively weakest athletes will need to spend time using pauses and hangs. This can be at the top of a chin up, the middle range, or the bottom.

The top and bottom ranges are easiest to hold tension while the middle is the hardest.

I would begin with simple dead hangs first.

It look something like this.

woman hanging on exercise equipment

If an athlete cannot complete a dead hang of 1 minute, then that is where I would start.

Intermediate: Controlled Eccentrics / Combo's

Once an athlete can dead hang for 1 minute, we can begin using combinations of pauses and eccentrics or lowerings.

Notice, we aren't even focusing on the part everyone uses to count reps...

Y'all know that one coach who's got the best cue to complete a rep right? 👇🏻


Yeah we aren't worrying about that right now.

Like I said before, we want to aim for 10-25 seconds of tension per set.

Example Set:

4X1, 4p 3d 3h

"What does that meannnn???"

4 second pause at the top, 3 seconds down, 3 second hang. 10 seconds.

Use a bench or a spotter arm to jump up to the top.

Repeat that for 4 sets.

Every week you can progress time in areas you see are the best fit.

You can even overload areas with extra load since our focus is on the other parts of the rep.

Advanced: Stacking Reps

As your athlete begins to dominate the tempos in their sets, it's time to add in concentrics.

I would begin with the least amount of concentric reps possible (1) and go from there.


4X2 3p 3d

  1. Jump to the top
  2. Pause for 3 seconds
  3. Lower to the bottom taking 3 seconds

Now here's the kicker...

Use the bottom stretch reflex to "bounce" into the concentric!

This is one of the biggest hacks to helping athletes get their first chin up!

Now, if they can't get that concentric portion, we stay there and add time in other areas until they do!

But they should always attempt to pull up... always. One day it will happen and they will lose their minds.


If they do get the rep? Continue on the progression...

  1. Pause for 3 seconds
  2. Lower to the bottom taking 3 seconds
  3. Always end on a dead hang stretch

If the athlete completes that set, they will have spent:

  • 6 seconds pausing
  • 6 seconds lowering
  • 1-2 seconds pulling
  • = 13-14 seconds of tension 

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