Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Training the Chin-Up

by Niki Sims | March 02, 2017


The chin-up.

The chin-up is one of the first accessory movements implemented into The Program. This is tricky for some as not everyone starts off with the ability to perform a single rep, “fahve” (5) reps being out of the question. So how do we progress the chin-up starting from zero?

Phase I: from 0 reps to 1 rep

If you are not yet able to perform a single full range-of-motion unassisted chin-up, we can implement consistency and drive progress in the program with other variations, including band assistance, negatives, and a lat pulldown. These variations are used because they provide a consistent full range of motion when correctly executed.

The chin-up begins and improves a bit differently than the barbell lifts because the lifter and the weight being moved are the same. The lifter is not exerting force against an external object to move it – rather, the external object is immovable and the lifter must overcome his own bodyweight to displace himself upward until the chin is over the bar. With short and long-term fluctuations in bodyweight considered, you are not starting each workout at a consistent weight, like a barbell that is progressively loaded.

Keep this in mind if your bodyweight is changing as you train. If you are gaining weight, your rate of progress in terms of reps or assistance level may look like maintenance or a slow rate of change. For example, if you’ve added 8lbs of bodyweight over 5 weeks, are using the same band from week to week and adding a rep every other week, this may appear to be slow going, but not only have the reps increased, the resistance has also increased by 8lbs. Your ability to produce force across a standard range of motion has improved even though the rep gain is only 2-3. You are stronger!

For this reason and others, including training interruptions and genetics, it’s not possible to say exactly how long it will take to go from zero reps to one. Anecdotally speaking, I can safely say it took me more than a year to go from a very band-assisted chin-up to an unassisted chin-up, and I can say with equal certainty that it took me longer than it needed to because I didn’t actually train them. Nor was I deadlifting consistently at the time. Coaches like to prevent their clients from making the same mistakes, and thus a program is born and added to the internet gene pool.

Before I get into the program, let’s start with the exercises to be trained. In each of these we stay specific to a chin-up, meaning each variation will be done with a supinated grip (palm facing toward your face), we begin with arms fully extended at a dead hang (no kipping starts), and end with the chin over the bar (or chest to bar or rings for the inverted row variation).


BAND ASSISTED CHIN-UP: Start by standing on a box or a bench close enough to the chin-up bar that you don’t have to jump to it. Loop the band into itself around the chin-up bar. Place the band under the arch of one of your feet. Grab the chin-up bar with one hand on either side of the band and hang off the bar with straight arms. Straighten both legs and cross your other leg over the banded leg to keep the band in place. Beware the crotch-slap band-wedgie that can occur if the band slips off your foot. Pull yourself over the bar.

​Band-assisted chins

Band-assisted chins

Bands can be purchased ranging in width from 0.25” to 4” wide. The wider bands will give you more help and the skinnier bands will give you less, and bands can be combined for the precise amount of assistance. Use enough band that you can do a full range of motion chin-up. Don’t get too caught up in how many pounds of assistance the band gives you, what matters is that you are consistent from workout to workout.

NEGATIVES: These are used train and develop any eccentric strength that is already present. Stand on a box or bench if necessary. Begin with straight arms. Use your legs to jump up and get your chin over the bar, then try slowly lowering yourself down.

If you can’t yet lower yourself slowly down and your “negative” is more of a holding-on-for-dear-life yank-your-arms-out drop, work up to a bent arm hang: jump up to the bar and hold your chin over the bar for at least 2 counts. When you’re strong enough to do that, start lowering yourself down as slowly as you can, counting aloud to measure the rep: “ONE One Thousand, TWO One Thousand” or “ONE That’s Not Heavy, TWO That’s Not Heavy.”

LAT PULLDOWNS (The leg press of chin-ups): Use your chin-up grip. The rest is pretty self-explanatory and hard to fuck up – the beauty and the curse of machines.

If you do not have access to a lat pulldown machine, do Inverted Rows with rings or a barbell in a squat rack. Difficulty is increased by transitioning from bent knees to straight knees, moving the rings or bar closer to the floor, or walking the feet out to become more horizontal, and by adding reps.

inverted rows

Inverted rows


The program assumes that you are also regularly pulling off the floor in the forms of a Deadlift, Power Clean or Barbell Row. The chin-ups should be done at the end of the workout or on a Rest Day.  Days 1 & 2, as detailed below, will probably advance in stages at different rates. This is fine – “just fahne.”

DAY 1: “Bandage” day. Band assisted for 3 sets of max-effort reps. Use a band that allows you to get 5-7 repetitions per set. When you’ve progressed up to 10 reps for your first set, decrease the assistance of the band to get back down towards 5-7 repetitions.

If you cannot do these yet, or do not have adequate bands, use do a lat pulldown for 4 sets of 6 and gradually increase weight each week, every other week, or every 3 weeks but get onto a band as soon as you can.

DAY 2: Negatives + lat pulldown. Begin with 6 sets of 1 at a 1-count. Increase by 1 rep each week to 10 sets of 1. Or, once you are able to lower yourself down for 2 “That’s Not Heavy” counts,” do 6 sets of 2.  Rest ~30 seconds between reps. You may increase the rest up to 60 seconds if necessary to maintain the count. Once your negative count for 6 sets of 2 is 3 “That’s Not Heavies” long, switch to 5 sets of 3.

Once your 5 sets of 3 are all 3 counts long, you probably just like negatives too much –  test your BW chin-up.

After you complete all your Negatives, finish off with 2 sets of 8 lat pulldowns. Increase weight each week, every other week, or every 3 weeks depending on the minimum increment of weight you have at your disposal to make increases. Once you’ve reached the skinny band (~1/2”) thick and can do 5-7 reps here, test an unassisted BW chin-up every week. Remember to start from a dead hang, and resist the urge to go full-flail and kip yourself over the bar.

Once you get a bodyweight chin-up, you’ll receive a personalized handcrafted iron feather, lovingly forged by the callused, yet inexplicably silky, metacarpi of the nearly extinct Gewdfooryu tribe. And at this point either it’s time to either gain some more weight or move on to Phase II to train for multiple reps and sets and then weighted reps.  

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