Training

How To Get Your First Chin Up [3 Step Progression]

by Ben Thompson

How To Build Chin Up Strength

The chin up is often considered the upper body equivalent of the squat. 

It's a fantastic exercise to develop the musculature of the upper back and is a great indicator of relative strength.

The exercise is one of the simplest but most mentally challenging exercises to master. It is often done with poor technique and there is no structured progression to getting stronger.

People often wonder, why on earth is getting a chin up so hard? 

The hardest part for most people is getting their first rep. This is because you can't regress load from bodyweight, like you would with a dumbbell or barbell. 

If you can’t do a rep, how on earth do you progress?

There are various methods out there that claim to improve chin ups (using resistance bands, chin up machines etc) however, over the years we have found they are not the most effective way to make progress. 

After many years of taking both males and females from 0 to 8+ reps, there is a key formula we like to follow. 

While there are also multiple considerations for improving chin ups, like dropping bodyweight and additional accessory work, today we will give you a simple progression of the movement. 

The key is ensuring you build strength using the correct technique and do not create bad habits. 

But before we run through the plan, let’s talk about correct technique. 

Exercise Technique

  • Start in a dead hang position on the chin up bar.
  • Elbows need to be fully extended, scapulae fully elevated, upwardly rotated and the shoulder joint fully flexed.
  • To start the movement, pull your shoulder blades back and down, bend your arms and pull yourself towards the bar.
  • Continue pulling till your upper chest makes contact with the bar.
  • Begin the lowering phase by reversing the movement, lowering with control until you reach your start position.
  • No reps are counted unless full range is used.

Common Errors 

One of the most common errors we see in the chin up is 'shrugging' when performing the lift. 

This breakdown in technique causes the upper traps to be recruited which leads to the under development of the middle back and even worse, a jacked up neck.

This occurs because in the majority of the population the upper traps are the 'default' and are used in preference to the middle / lower traps. 

To correct this and ensure you get the most out of the movement, slow the initial phase of the movement down and ensure your shoulder blades move back and down as you initiate movement.

Now you know what to do, what is the best plan to get stronger? 

While everyone will begin their chin up journey at a different start point, there are some simple guidelines that have proven to get great results time and time again. 

For many years we have used the plan below and acknowledge Charles Poliquin for the ideas and philosophies used.


Progression 1: 60 sec x Active Hang


Progression 2: 3 x 10-15 sec Eccentrics

* Ensure the eccentric speed is consistent across the full range of motion.


Progression 3: 1 x 30 sec Eccentrics

* Ensure the eccentric speed is consistent across the full range of motion.

Once you can perform a 30 seconds eccentric, you will have enough strength to get your first chin up.


Training Frequency 

To progress toward your first Chin Up, you are going to need to apply frequency.

For the plan included, you will need to perform the progression 3 x / Week. In the example we have suggest Monday, Wednesday & Friday but just make sure they are not consecutive days.

Follow the steps included to build strength and complete your first Chin Up.

Phase 1 - Progression 1 [Watch Video]

Week 1 (Performed Monday, Wednesday & Friday) 
4 Sets of 30 sec Active Hang

Week 2 (Performed Monday, Wednesday & Friday) 
4 Sets of 40 sec Active Hang

Week 3 (Performed Monday, Wednesday & Friday) 
4 Sets of 50 sec Active Hang

Week 4 (Performed Monday, Wednesday & Friday) 
4 Sets of 60 sec Active Hang 

Phase 2 - Progression 2 [Watch Video]

Week 5 (Performed Monday, Wednesday & Friday) 
4 Sets of 3 x 10 sec Eccentrics  

Week 6 (Performed Monday, Wednesday & Friday) 
4 Sets of 3 x 10 sec Eccentrics  

Week 7 (Performed Monday, Wednesday & Friday) 
4 Sets of 3 x 15 sec Eccentrics  

Week 8 (Performed Monday, Wednesday & Friday) 
4 Sets of 3 x 15 sec Eccentrics  

Phase 3 - Progression 3 [Watch Video]

Week 9 (Performed Monday, Wednesday & Friday) 
4 Sets of 1 x 20 sec Eccentrics  

Week 10 (Performed Monday, Wednesday & Friday) 
4 Sets of 1 x 20 sec Eccentrics  

Week 11 (Performed Monday, Wednesday & Friday) 
4 Sets of 1 x 30 sec Eccentrics  

Week 12 (Performed Monday, Wednesday & Friday) 
4 Sets of 1 x 30 sec Eccentrics  

If you have any questions, feel free to drop a comment below. 


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