How to do the chin-up to best gain upper back and biceps muscle size

The Chin-Up Guide (for Size)

Chin-ups are a great lift for your upper back, abs, and grip strength. It’s even great for improving your cardiovascular fitness. What it’s most famous for, though, is building killer biceps.

In fact, the only other exercise that comes close are biceps curls. But given that curls are a smaller single-joint movement, they’re better thought of as an assistance lift to the chin-up anyway.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • How to bulk up your arms, back and abs with the chin-up.
  • Chin-up accessories, such as neutral-grip chin-ups and pull-ups.
  • Chin-up assistance lifts, such as biceps curls and rows.

This article is bulking: It will grow and change over time. Occasionally we’ll trim off some fat. This isn’t meant to be the final word.

The Chin-Up, King of Biceps Exercises

To perform a chin-up, you start by hanging from the bar, arms fully extended, from what’s called a “dead hang.” Then you pull yourself up mightily, bringing your chest to the bar.

The purpose of starting from a dead hang and bringing your chest to the bar is that you want to use the largest range of motion that you can manage. Now, to be clear, that’s not because your biceps or lats need that entire range of motion. Your lats will benefit from part of it, your biceps will benefit from another part of it, but the main reason you want that massive range of motion is because you’ll work dozens of other muscles along the way. This is what turns it from a good biceps and back exercise into an amazing full-body exercise.

The best chin-up variations for range of motion tend to be underhand and neutral grip, which also have the advantage of being better for your biceps.

Rings (like gymnasts use) are a great option, too. They allow you to naturally rotate your hands from neutral to underhand as you pull yourself up. The only downside is that you might not have them.

Overhand chin-ups, which we’ll henceforth call pull-ups, are good for developing the lats and forearms (as are regular chin-ups), but they use a much shorter range of motion and aren’t as good for developing the biceps. Furthermore, because the biceps aren’t doing their share, people tend to be quite a bit weaker at pull-ups. Save these for a light assistance variation.

Best Chin-Up Variations

  • Classic Underhand Chin-Ups
  • Neutral-Grip Chin-Ups
  • Ring Chin-Ups

Best Chin-Up Accessories

  • Classic Overhand Pull-ups
  • Lat Pulldowns

Best Assistance Lifts

  • Biceps Curls
  • Barbell Rows (especially underhand)

About Shane Duquette

W. Shane Duquette, BDes, is a science communicator with a degree in design and visual communication from York University. He co-founded Bony to Beastly and Bony to Bombshell, where he specializes in helping ectomorphs, hardgainers, and skinny-fat people bulk up.

How to build 20 to 30 pounds of muscle in 30 days. Even if you have failed before


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