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