FEW EXERCISES TARGET as many muscle groups as efficiently as chin-ups. Add to that the fact that they’re one of the easiest exercises to learn, and that you can do them on just about any relatively strong, raised surface and you’ve got a classic and effective exercise for building upper body strength.
Chin-ups, unlike other compound exercises like bench press, barbell squats and deadlifts, are actually a strong indicator of overall strength. That’s because chin-ups are a bodyweight exercise, meaning that being heavier won’t necessarily allow you to do or lift more. Instead, chin-ups allow you to get a clear idea of your strength relative to your bodyweight. In essence, someone that is 60kg and someone that is 100kg could very well be able to do the same amount of chin-ups and have the same level of strength relative to their respective weight.
So, we’ve established that chin-ups are a good measure of strength, but how many do you need to do to be considered strong? The answer is not a one-size-fits-all prescription, as it depends on various factors including age, fitness level, and experience with the exercise. Although, there are a few benchmarks you should be aiming for.
How many chin-ups should you be able to do?
What is considered a decent number of chin-ups is dependent on experience. Someone that has never attempted a chin-up before is unlikely to be able to pull off more than a few reps, while someone who’s been keeping their local gym afloat should get to double digits fairly easily. That being said, to consider yourself strong, ten chin-ups should be the benchmark, regardless of weight.
Here, we’ll assign a chin-up goal to every level of experience, so you know what you should be aiming for, and the variations you can use to challenge yourself further.
Beginners shouldn’t expect to immediately have exceptional chin-up endurance. If you can manage 1-3 sets of 5-10 reps (with a maximum rep output somewhere in that range), you’re well on your way to becoming a chin-up expert. Start with assisted chin-ups or negative reps if regular chin-ups are too difficult and gradually increase reps as your strength improves.
To consider yourself an intermediate-level chin-upper (and relatively strong), you should be able to comfortably do at least 10 reps. Sets of 8-12 or 10-15 reps should be the standard, and you can start working in variations like wide-grip chin-ups if the regular kind become too easy.
If you consider yourself to be experienced with chin-ups, you should be able to do between 15 and 25 as a maximum effort. That’s not to say that every set should include 25 chin-ups. That would be an incredibly taxing feat of muscular endurance. Instead, focus on mastering different chin-up variations like wide grip, close grip, and weighted chin-ups for continual growth.
How can you get better at chin-ups?
Improving the number of chin-ups you can do requires a combination of strength training, form improvement and consistent practice. Here are some tips.
Build upper body strength with other exercises
Incorporate compound exercises like pull-ups, lat pulldowns, and rows into your workout routine. These target the same muscles used in a chin-up and will make them easier the next time around.
Perfect your form
Ensuring proper form will engage the right muscles and prevent injury. Keep your chest up, shoulders down and pull yourself up towards the bar with your elbows. Avoid using excessive momentum or swinging and focus on controlled movements.
Practice chin-up variations
Chin-up variations can improve your grip strength and target similar muscles used in regular chin-ups. For beginners, negative chin-ups are beneficial. They involve jumping up to the top of the bar and slowly lowering yourself down. While you miss out on the ‘upward’ part of the chin-up, you’re emphasising the eccentric phase of the exercise, building strength.
Regularly including isometric holds at the top and midpoint of the chin-up can benefit people of all experience levels. By holding a fixed position for as long as possible, you’ll improve muscular endurance, allowing for a higher chin-up count.
For the advanced chin-uppers who can comfortably perform 15 or more bodyweight chin-ups, adding additional resistance with a weight belt or a weighted vest can allow muscle growth to continue, without the need to spend minutes at a time on the chin-up rack.
Allow for adequate rest and recovery
Leave some time for recovery between chin-up sessions. If you’re aiming to do as many as possible, the urge to keep practising will be hard to resist, but muscles need time to repair and grow stronger.
How often should you do chin-ups?
If you’re trying to improve the total amount of chin-ups you can do, two to three sessions per week should suffice. Consistency is the key to building strength and endurance. If you’re aiming for more rapid growth, performing chin-ups daily is an option, but remember to leave time for recovery, and if you start feeling sore, take a break.
How many chin-ups should you do every day?
Well, technically the answer is zero. While chin-ups are a great compound exercise that is useful in building muscle in multiple areas, they are not a necessity when it comes to being fit, and there are other ways to build muscle. However, if chin-ups are a regular part of your workout routine, 3 sets of 10 reps, equating to 30 per day, is a reasonable target.