Can't Perform a Single Chin-up? Watch this.

Progressive Chin-up Program
(for those who can’t yet perform a single rep)

Program Terminology:

  • BACU = Band-assisted chin-up

  • JCU w/ CD = Jumping chin-up with controlled descent

  • JCU w/ H & CD = Jumping chin-up with a hold at the top & a controlled descent

  • Row variation options/examples (pick 2 to use for the program):

    • dumbbell row

    • barbell row

    • cable row (double arm)

    • cable row (single arm)

    • t-bar row

    • hammer strength row

    • resistance machine row

  • The format = [sets]x[reps]

Week 1/Session 1:

  • BACU - 3x1 w/ heaviest tension band

  • JCU w/ CD - 5x3 (1 sec controlled descent)

  • Row variation A - 3x12 (start with very light weight, you should have enough in the tank to be able to do ~10 extra reps on the last set)

  • Plank - 5x5 sec

Week 1/Session 2:

  • BACU - 3x1 w/ heaviest tension band

  • JCU w/ H & CD - 5x2 (1 sec hold at top, 1 sec controlled descent)

  • Row variation B - 3x12 (start with very light weight, you should have enough in the tank to be able to do ~10 extra reps on the last set)

  • Plank - 5x5 sec

Week 2/Session 1:

  • BACU - 3x2 with heaviest tension band

  • JCU w/ CD - 5x3 (2 sec controlled descent)

  • Row variation A - 3x12 (smallest possible increment increase from last week)

  • Plank - 5x10 sec

Week 2/Session 2:

  • BACU - 3x2 w/ heaviest tension band

  • JCU w/ H & CD - 5x2 (1 sec hold at top, 2 sec controlled descent)

  • Row variation B - 3x12 (smallest possible increment increase from last week)

  • Plank - 5x10 sec

Week 3/Session 1:

  • BACU - 3x3 w/ heaviest tension band

  • JCU w/ CD - 5x3 (3 sec controlled descent)

  • Row variation A - 3x12 (smallest possible increment increase from last week)

  • Plank - 5x15 sec

Week 3/Session 2:

  • BACU - 3x3 w/ heaviest tension band

  • JCU w/ H & CD - 5x2 (2 sec hold at top, 1 sec controlled descent)

  • Row variation B - 3x12 (smallest possible increment increase from last week)

  • Plank - 5x15

Week 4/Session 1:

  • BACU - 3x1 w/ medium tension band

  • JCU w/ CD - 5x2 (4 sec controlled descent)

  • Row variation A - 3x10 (smallest possible increment increase from last week)

  • Plank - 3x20 sec

Week 4/Session 2:

  • BACU - 3x1 w/ medium tension band

  • JCU w/ H & CD - 5x2 (2 sec hold at top, 2 sec controlled descent)

  • Row variation B - 3x10 (smallest possible increment increase from last week)

  • Plank - 3x20 sec

Week 5/Session 1:

  • BACU - 3x2 w/ medium tension band

  • JCU w/ CD - 5x1 (5 sec controlled descent)

  • Row variation A - 3x10 (smallest possible increment increase from last week)

  • Plank - 3x25 sec

Week 5/Session 2:

  • BACU - 3x2 w/ medium tension band

  • JCU w/ H & CD - 5x1 (3 sec hold at top, 3 sec controlled descent)

  • Row variation B - 3x10 (smallest possible increment increase from last week)

  • Plank - 3x25 sec

Week 6/Session 1:

  • BACU - 3x3 w/ medium tension band

  • JCU w/ CD - 3x2 (5 sec controlled descent)

  • Row variation A - 3x10 (smallest possible increment increase from last week)

  • Plank - 3x30 sec

Week 6/Session 2:

  • BACU - 3x3 w/ medium tension band

  • JCU w/ H & CD - 3x2 (3 sec hold at top, 3 sec descent)

  • Row variation B - 3x10 (smallest possible increment increase from last week)

  • Plank - 3x30 sec

—After Week 6 is completed → TEST TO SEE IF YOU CAN DO A REGULAR CHIN-UP, if not, proceed to weeks 7-9—

Week 7/Session 1:

  • BACU - 3x1 w/ lightest tension band

  • JCU w/ CD - 5x5 (1 sec controlled descent)

  • Row variation A - 3x8 (smallest possible increment increase from last week)

  • Plank - 5x5 sec

Week 7/Session 2:

  • BACU - 3x1 w/ lightest tension band

  • JCU w/ H & CD - 5x3 (1 sec hold at top, 1 sec controlled descent)

  • Row variation B - 3x8 (smallest possible increment increase from last week)

  • Plank - 5x5 sec

Week 8/Session 1:

  • BACU - 3x2 with lightest tension band

  • JCU w/ CD - 5x5 (2 sec controlled descent)

  • Row variation A - 3x8 (smallest possible increment increase from last week)

  • Plank - 5x10 sec

Week 8/Session 2:

  • BACU - 3x2 w/ lightest tension band

  • JCU w/ H & CD - 5x3 (1 sec hold at top, 2 sec controlled descent)

  • Row variation B - 3x8 (smallest possible increment increase from last week)

  • Plank - 5x10 sec

Week 9/Session 1:

  • BACU - 3x3 w/ lightest tension band

  • JCU w/ CD - 5x5 (3 sec controlled descent)

  • Row variation A - 3x8 (smallest possible increment increase from last week)

  • Plank - 5x15 sec

Week 9/Session 2:

  • BACU - 3x3 w/ lightest tension band

  • JCU w/ H & CD - 5x3 (2 sec hold at top, 1 sec controlled descent)

  • Row variation B - 3x8 (smallest possible increment increase from last week)

  • Plank - 5x15

—TEST AGAIN TO SEE IF YOU CAN DO A REGULAR CHIN-UP—

For the program WITHOUT bands (if you don’t have them available), use same program above, but:

  • Remove the band-assisted chin-ups

  • Add 1 extra set per each jumping chin-up modification

    • JCU w/ CD = Jumping chin-up with controlled descent

    • JCU w/ H & CD = Jumping chin-up with a hold at the top & a controlled descent

  • Add 2 extra sets to each row variation

    • Row variation A

    • Row variation B

For example, instead of Week 1/Session 1 looking like this:

Week 1/Session 1 (ORIGINAL PROGRAM):

  • BACU - 3x1 w/ heaviest tension band

  • JCU w/ CD - 5x3 (1 sec controlled descent)

  • Row variation A - 3x12 (very light weight, at least 10 reps left in the tank after last set)

  • Plank - 5x5 sec

…it would look like this:

Week 1/Session 1 (NO BANDS AVAILABLE PROGRAM):

  • JCU w/ CD - 6x3 (1 sec controlled descent)

  • Row variation A - 5x12 (very light weight, at least 10 reps left in the tank after last set)

  • Plank - 5x5 sec

A Few Notes About Bands:

  • When doing the band-assisted chin-up, the band provides more assistance at the bottom of the rep (when the band is fully stretched) and gradually less resistance as you pull yourself up (when the band becomes less stretched). The more tension in the band, the more assistance you get. Therefore, the upper end of the chin-up will likely feel more difficult than the bottom, as you get less band-assistance in the upper part of the movement.

  • There is not a lot of standardization with bands, so it’s difficult to know exactly how much assistance they provide. Bands that appear similar may actually have significantly different tensions & elastic qualities, and this will affect how much assistance they provide.

  • If you feel like a band doesn’t give you enough assistance when pulled down under your shin, you can pull the band under the soles of your feet. When you stretch the band further (as you’d do when you pull it under your feet), you put more tension on the band, and therefore you get more assistance.

    • This is also a method of progression if you only have 1 or 2 bands available.

      • Band under feet (more assistance)

      • Band under shin (less assistance)

  • Putting the band under the feet may be necessary for individuals who are shorter and/or lighter, as these individuals won’t be able to put as much stretch on the band, and therefore will receive less assistance.

Program Guidelines:

  • This program assumes you have 3 different tension bands to use (i.e. heavy, medium, and light).

  • You can use the program in addition to any current training you do, but it’s recommended to do the exercises in the program FIRST to prioritize the development of chin-up strength.

  • This program involves 2 training sessions per week (session 1 and session 2).

  • The 2 weekly workouts should be at least 2 days apart to ensure proper recovery.

  • Rest ~2-3 min (depending on difficulty) between all sets except plank sets. Rest ~30-60 sec (depending on difficulty) between sets of planks.

  • Test to see if you can do a regular chin-up after week 6, if not, continue to week 9, and test again.

  • A full chin-up rep is defined by:

    • An underhand (supinated) grip on the bar

    • Starting with your arms completely extended vertically

    • Pulling your body up until your chin is over the level of the bar

    • Lowering your body until your arms are fully extended again

  • All sets and reps in the program refer to FULL chin-up reps.

  • When using the chin-up modifications to progress to a regular chin-up, it’s better to perform a few full reps than to perform many partial reps.

Considerations:

Consistency → For this program to work, you must follow the progression every week.

Patience→ It’s hard to know how long it will take you to develop the strength to perform a regular chin-up. It all depends on your individual status (i.e. overall health, genetics, age, body weight, training history, strength level). Everyone progresses at a different rate. Keep in mind that heavier individuals will have a harder time performing a regular chin-up, as the chin-up is an exercise that uses your own body weight. For example, a chin-up for a 250 lb person takes more strength than a chin-up for a 150 lb person, as the former has to lift 100 lbs more!

If you find the program too easy, or too hard, here is a list of training parameters that you can adjust to make your own gradual progression:

  • Time held at the top (sec)

  • Time of controlled descent (sec)

  • Sets

  • Reps

  • Band tension variation

Can't Perform a Single Push-up? Watch this.

Push-up Progression

  1. Start with a platform height that allows you to perform 5 sets of 8 reps, with at least a few reps left in the tank after each set. Rest for about 2 minutes between sets (more or less, depending on how you feel). The initial platform height should be EASY. Things will become more challenging as the weeks progress.
     
  2. Each week you will remove a riser-level from the platform set-up, but you will continue to perform 5x8. Each week your goal is to perform 40 total reps with good form.
     
  3. When you train 5x8, that is your primary push-up day, but you will also have a secondary push-up day in which you will use the same platform height and perform 3 sets of max reps UP TO 12 reps. That is, you will do as many reps as you can for 3 sets, but you are not to exceed 12 reps per set. The secondary push-up day is performed weekly as well, and should be at least 2 days apart from your primary push-up day.
     
  4. As the weeks progress, you may find that you cannot perform 5 sets of 8 reps. If this is the case, perform more sets with fewer reps per set, while still achieving the total 40 reps. For example, instead of 5 sets of 8, you could do 8 sets of 5, or 10 sets of 4. Or, you could do [2 sets of 8] + [4 sets of 5] + [1 set of 4]. However, stick to 5x8 for as long as you can. When you change your [sets] x [reps], keep them as close to 5x8 as you can. For example, don’t do 10 sets of 4 if you are capable of 8 sets of 5.
     
  5. If you get to the point where you can’t perform sets of 3 reps or more, go back to the initial platform height that you used on week 1 and restart the progression, but this time performing 4 sets of 10 reps. Use the same progression described in step 2 – decrease the platform height by 1 riser-level per week, while performing 4x10 for as long as you can (increasing sets while reducing reps per set as necessary). All that being said, the gradual progression of removing 1 riser-level per week should make step 4 unnecessary for most people.
     
  6. Follow steps 1 through 4 (or 5 if necessary) until you are able to perform a regular push-up!
     
  7. This push-up progression can be included in your current program, just make sure to prioritize it by:
    1. Performing the push-ups as your first exercise if you use an upper/lower program.
    2. Performing the push-ups as your first upper body exercise if you use a total body program.

Summary

  • Decrease the platform set-up height by 1 riser-level per week.
     
  • On your primary push-up day, complete 40 total reps each week.
     
  • On your secondary push-up day, perform 3 sets of max reps (up to 12 reps per set) each week.
     
  • Stick to 5 sets of 8 reps for as many weeks as you can.
     
  • Increase sets and decrease reps as needed as the weeks progress.
     
  • When you change [sets] x [reps], keep them as close to 5x8 as you can.
     
  • Don’t allow sets of less than 3 reps (unless you have just one odd set left to finish your total of 40 reps). If you get to the point where you’d need to perform more than half of your sets of less than 3 reps to achieve your total 40 reps, go back to your initial platform height from week 1 and start again with the same progression, but doing 4 sets of 10 reps.
     
  • Always use good form and full range of motion! Don’t count the reps otherwise.

Key Components

Consistency  ► For this program to work, you must follow the progression every week.

Patience ► It’s hard to know how long it will take you to develop the strength to perform a regular push-up. It all depends on your individual status (i.e. age, bodyweight, training history, strength level). Keep in mind that heavier individuals will have a harder time performing a regular push-up, as the push-up is an exercise that uses your own bodyweight. For example, a push-up for a 250 lb person is much harder than a push-up for a 150 lb person, as the former has to lift 100 lbs more!