Whether a pro athlete or gen pop member, I include weighted chin-ups in every client's strength program.
Because you won't find a more effective exercise for arm and back growth.
Here's one of my pro hockey players nailing a solid 55 kg / 121 lb weighted chin-up.
Do Weighted Chin-Ups Build Mass?
Bodyweight exercises have a poor reputation as muscle builders.
That's because people associate bodyweight training with 50-rep sets of air squats or bench dips with limited ranges of motion.
True, these exercises won't pack on the size you want.
But weighted chin-ups belong in a different category.
They're a full range of motion exercise that you can overload forever in the 1-10 rep range to produce excellent upper body strength and size gains.
In fact, strength and aesthetics go hand in hand here:
The stronger you are on the weighted chin-up, the better your back will look.
I can do one with over 0.7 times body weight (more on relative strength standards later in this article), and my upper back is probably my best body part.
See the correlation?
What Muscles Do Weighted Chin-Ups Work?
Weighted chin-ups work the same muscles of the back and arms as regular chin-ups:
- Latissimus dorsi (lats)
- Rear delts
Forget lat pulldowns...
By driving your relative strength to new heights on the weighted chin-up, you'll carve out an enviable back...
And bust out of all your t-shirts.
Will Weighted Chin-Ups Build Bigger Biceps?
To some extent, yes.
Male gymnasts develop huge biceps from nothing but bodyweight training.
Just check out those cannons on Jake Dalton!
Except for some lighter pump work to keep the joints happy, gymnasts don't do curls.
So take a page out of their playbook:
If you can complete five bodyweight chin-ups today but worked your way up to five reps with an extra 100 pounds dangling between your legs over the next five years, your biceps would be bigger... no question.
A close-grip chin-up (pinkies ~10 cm / 4 inches apart) works even better to stress the biceps.
Still, any lifter looking to maximize biceps growth should also add direct arm exercises – such as dumbbell, EZ bar, and hammer curls – to his routine.
How to Load It
The average dude who attempts weighted chin-ups will hold a 20-pound dumbbell between their feet for extra resistance.
It's better than nothing...
But uncomfortable with any real weight.
When your goal is to become the strongest guy in your gym, that amateur crap won't fly.
You need a durable chin-up belt with a thick steel chain that can take abuse for years.
What about wearing a weight vest if you don't own a belt?
I'm not a fan.
The few times I tried one, the weight placement on my torso made it more difficult to use my arms and lats to pull myself over the bar.
It works in a pinch... but I'll always go with a belt when given the choice.
As for loading, some people like to use kettlebells.
Since kettlebells come in predetermined weights, you can't make gradual, consistent load jumps.
If you completed six reps with a 16 kg kettlebell today and want to increase resistance next week, you'd have no other option but to go with 20 kg – because a 17, 18, or 19 kg kettlebell doesn't exist.
By using small weight plates, you could make a more manageable leap of 2.5 kg.
Still too much for your body to handle?
Pick a 1.25 kg plate or use fractional plates to go up by <1 kg at a time.
Weighted Chin-Up Strength Standards
We all recognize a standout bench press or deadlift when we see it...
A guy benching three plates or pulling 500 pounds turns heads at any public gym:
"That dude is strong!"
But what about weighted chins?
No universal strength standards exist.
As a result, people underestimate what they can do by a long shot.
In my experience, an athletic male should be able to perform at least one chin-up with an extra 0.5 times bodyweight hanging off your waist.
That means 40 kilograms (88 pounds) for someone who weighs 80 kg (176 pounds).
You're either weak or fat.
Based on my work with hundreds of ice hockey players and gen pop clients, I believe these relative strength numbers reflect accurate targets for any lean man weighing ≤90 kg (200 pounds):
- Beginner: 0.5 x BW
- Intermediate: 0.65 x BW
- Advanced: 0.8 x BW
For a 75 kg (165 lb) man, I consider a 40 kg chin-up a decent starting point.
50 kg would be worth a hat tip. And 60 kilograms exceptional.
If you think these numbers are low, I've got to ask...
When was the last time you saw someone pull his body over a bar with three plates strapped to his waist?
Outside of national chin-up championships and YouTube fitness channels, maybe one guy in 200 could perform a single good repetition with an extra 60 kg (132 pounds) at a public gym.
It's that rare.
You may be wondering...
If weighted chin-ups are as great as I make them sound, then why don't more men go to town with a bunch of plates hanging between their legs?
The same reason they don't squat deep or deadlift heavy...
It's damn hard!
Most guys are mental and physical weaklings who would rather opt for the assisted chin-up machine (the one made for obese people!)...
Or park their skinny-fat ass on a lat pulldown station...
Than suffer through the unavoidable blisters and muscle soreness that weighted chins produce.
You're better than those losers.
Chalk up, put your chin-up belt on, and pull yourself up with ever-increasing loads.
Repeat for the next 5-10 years, and you'll see that head-turning cobra back – which other guys only find flipping through a fitness magazine – staring back at you in the mirror.