Let me start off by saying that I do not like the term “chin-up”. That implies that all you have to do is squeak your chin over the bar. In my world to do the movement correctly you must pull yourself all the way up until your chest touches the bar. So let’s call the movement a “pull-up” from now on.

We also need to have a review on form. There is a big difference between doing 20 kipping pull-ups and 20 dead hang, no kipping, chest-to-bar pull-ups. This article refers to the latter. Kipping pull-ups are used for sport and are beneficial for a variety of reasons but when it comes to developing a big, powerful back nothing trumps the real thing.

So for this type of pull-up you will start from a dead hang and without kipping pull yourself up until your chest touches the bar and your elbows are behind the center line of your body and then you will lower yourself slowly back down. There is a lot of value in the negative portion of the movement so do the work yourself. Don’t be lazy and rely on gravity.

If you do pull-ups like this I think 20 is a good standard to aim for. Most people can’t do this.

Here are a few ways you can get there:

1) There is nothing better than the real thing:

If you want to get good at pull-ups then do more pull-ups. Sounds too good to be true right? It can’t be that easy can it? People do lat pull downs because they aren’t very good at pull-ups and in turn they stay not very good at pull-ups because they aren’t doing them. Break the cycle and start incorporating them into your routine. Maybe all you can do is one at a time to start. After some practice you’ll be doing sets or 2, then 3, then 4, and so on. Aim for 25 to 50 (start at 25 for beginners and build up) quality reps 3 times a week. Don’t have time for the gym? Set up a pull-up bar in the door frame at home and every time you pass it pay the toll by banging out a few reps. Do enough volume and you will have no problem doing 20 of them when the day comes.

2) Practice the negative:

What happens if you can’t do a pull-up? I would practice the negative. Do a jump pull-up so that your chest gets to the bar. Stick it, pause and then lower yourself slowly downward. Make this a 4 or 5 count. The slower you do this movement the better. People look to assisted pull-ups or bands but this works the best by far. By focusing on the negative you will eventually be able to complete a real pull-up and then you’ll be on your way.

3) Do exercises that use the same muscle group as the pull-up:

Start building up the requisite pull-up strength by practicing movements that use similar muscle groups. The Horizontal Row is my favorite for this. Set up a bar on a squat rack or set the Smith machine to the appropriate height (this may be the only good use for a smith machine) and get to work. When you do this movement keep a tight plank, pull your chest all the way to the bar, pause, and lower yourself back down. You can also do exercises like the Bent Row, Wide Grip Deadlift, and T-Bar Row.