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

10 Comments

  1. The "Big 5" Bulking Lifts - Outlift on August 30, 2019 at 5:59 pm

    […] The Chin-Up: an upper-body pull to develop the upper back, biceps, and forearms. It’s also a great ab exercise. […]

  2. What's the Best Type of Lifting for Skinny Guys? on September 6, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    […] Chin-Ups: There’s no better exercise for the biceps and upper back than heavy chin-ups. You’ll want to do them with an underhand or neutral grip and a full range of motion, […]

  3. […] Chin-Up: to build your upper back and biceps. […]

  4. The Complete Barbell Guide – Outlift on September 8, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    […] general strength goals: a 225-pound bench press, a 315-pound squat, a 405-pound deadlift, and a chin-up with 100 pounds around my waist. It seemed like that’s where the health, fitness and general […]

  5. The Squat Guide (for Size) – Outlift on September 11, 2019 at 11:37 am

    […] enough to stimulate any muscle growth. If you want to bulk up your lats, that’s where the chin-up comes […]

  6. Bony to Beastly—Jeff's 5-Week Progress Update on September 11, 2019 at 6:05 pm

    […] Chin-up: Jeff started with lowered chin-ups […]

  7. […] that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try other lifts. If you love pull-ups and here we come recommending chin-ups, eh, maybe give them a try. After all, we know what we’re talking about (most of the time). […]

  8. The Unfaithful Bulker Is Bigger – Outlift on September 14, 2019 at 2:19 pm

    […] For another example, let’s say that your programs calls for underhand chin-ups, but the underhand grip makes your elbows hurt. You know that the idea is to train your biceps and upper back, so why not keep that same idea in mind, but choose a variation that doesn’t bork your elbows. Perhaps a neutral-grip chin-up is the better choice. Or maybe gymnastic rings. For more on the pros and cons of each type of chin-up, here’s our article about how to choose chin-up variations and accessories. […]

  9. […] heart rate of sixteen people while doing a typical bulking workout consisting of the bench press, lat pulldown, biceps curl, leg press, and so on. They did three sets of ten reps for each exercise. The […]

  10. […] some heavy lifting. There are some upper-body lifts that might be heavy enough to qualify, such as the chin-up, and perhaps even the bench press. However, deadlifts and squats are much heavier and more […]

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