How to Build Big Back and Arm Muscles with Pull Ups and Chin Ups

Looking to build wide lats, bigger biceps and upper body with one single exercise? Then Chin ups/pull ups are the best bulking-up exercise essential for muscle building.

Have you seen the physique of a male gymnast? They pack a lot of beef on their chest, shoulder, arms and back.

Even old-time strongmen who had no access to drugs or supplements built tremendous lats and upper back muscles.

Their secret: Pull Ups and Chin Ups bodyweight exercises.

Having spent countless hours on lat pulldowns, seated rows and pullovers, I have found Pull Ups to be the No.1 choice for upper body muscle building both for beginners and advanced bodybuilders. I keep coming back to it.

In this article you will find how to perform chin ups and pull ups for fast upper body muscle gains.

Don’t just do dozens of low quality chins/pulls, use my loading technique for faster muscle gains instead and build thicker upper back and bigger arms in less than a month.

Inside this article:

The Importance of doing High Quality Pull Ups for Muscle Gains

Why every muscle builder should do pull ups

In short, for upper back/lat development:

Pull Ups are better than Lat Pulldowns + Seated Rows + One arm Rows

Most people associate chin ups or pull ups with a high school activity that is not for serious muscle building. A very wrong belief that will rob you of some best muscle gains.

1. Pull Ups are the best all-round muscle builders for upper body. They target the latissimus dorsi, trees major, rhomboids, pectorals major, trapezius, and of course biceps muscle.

2. Pull Ups are functional muscle builders

Pull, push, bend and pick are the commonest moves known to man. Chin ups build functional muscle useful in sports and life.

3. Pull ups beat lat pulldowns and even biceps curls for building lats and arms

Research has proven that chin ups are neurologically more efficient than lat pulls downs and biceps curls. Neuro-physiology reveals the secrets.

Pull Ups Vs Chin Ups

Chin ups are performed with palms facing you. Pull Ups are performed with palms facing away.

Pull ups are just a variation of chin ups.

Whether pull up or chin up, your legs, torso and upper arms should remain in line with each other.

Which are best for muscle building? 

I suggest pull ups as your best choice because they work forearms more and therefore put less stress on your wrists.

Also you can alternate chins and pulls every set, not every rep and get the benefit from both.

How to Perform Pull Ups with Perfect Form

Performing Pull ups require a basic level of strength. In case you cannot do even one Pull up, perform assisted chin ups. See below.

I use a 3 step method plus 3 secret strategies for perfect Pull ups.

Grip: Take a thumbless Overhand grip with palms facing you and hands placed shoulder width apart. This offers the greatest range of motion for the lats and biceps.

Pull Up bar: A Pull up bar is a must to perform chin ups and pull ups.

  1. Step One: The Big hang
  2. Step Two: The Pull
  3. Step Three: The Push/Descent

Step one: The Full Hang

Want to recruit maximum back muscles? Then get a full range of motion by hanging with your elbows completely straight and shoulder blades elevated.

This ensures you work thorough the full range of motion.

Step Two: The Pull

Take a deep breathe in, hold your breath and in one smooth motion pull yourself up to the top of your chest. Pulling the bar behind to the base of the neck increases stress on the shoulder capsule and also prevents total arm extension and thus less contraction of the lats.

Pull by combined bending of elbows and squeezing of your shoulder blades. This is the best trick for generating maximum power.

Begin your pull up by tightening your armpits. Pull your elbows to your ribs.

Also pull more from the outside area of the palm. I learnt this technique from martial artists who hit objects including bricks by hitting them with this palm area below the little and ring fingers. This area, I found has maximum mechanoreceptors which generate maximum force. Lets use it on all our lifts.

Get full muscle contraction at the top of the movement. Your goal is to lift yourself till your chin is just above the bar.

I have found best results if you squeeze your lat muscles by trying to bring your elbows close to your lats.

Breathe out, exhale and take a deep breath in on your way down.

Step Three: The Push/Descent

Now lower yourself by actively pushing the bar. Don’t just lower yourself, but push hard at the bar as if trying to get away from the bar.

This activates the opposing chest muscles, relaxes the lats actively. As you learnt in the science of muscle growth, a fully relaxed muscle {lats} contracts better. So the lats contract more in the next rep.

Get to the bottom fully extended position and begin the next rep. 

Do not relax or bounce at the bottom. Maintain the muscle tension.

What to do if you cannot do a single pull up

Two cool ways:

1. Do assisted Pull ups

Here a spotter who lifts you at the ankles, providing just enough resistance to clear the bar. You can use a chair to push off too.

In Pull up machines select a counterweight that will allow you to complete your targeted number of repetitions with good form.”

Exercises like lat pulldowns and pull up machines do not work on the stabilising muscles. Sow hen you try the real pull up, they just cannot develop enough strength to Pull up.

Do not try the lat pulldown machine believing that your strength will transfer when you try Pull ups.

Pull ups and lat pulldowns are different exercises. The neuromuscular workload is different, and so is the muscle fiber recruitment.

2. Do Negatives Only

Another excellent way to develop strength to perform full chin ups is to do negatives only.

Climb onto a bench so that you can start with your chin above the bar. Now lower yourself slowly to the bottom.

Push using the bench support to the top position and repeat.

Very soon, you will develop enough strength to perform full range pull ups.

Sets, Reps and Rest Intervals

For best muscle stimulation I suggest 4 sets of as many reps as possible with a rest interval of 90-120 seconds. This allows suffice time for recovery.

Hypertrophy goals: But you want to build bigger muscles right? Then do not do reps higher than 10-12.

If you find performing 10-12 reps easy, add weights using weighted pull ups with weights attached to weightlifting belt or holding a dumbbell between the ankles.

Recall the heavier the load, the more the muscle growth.

Targeting 25-50 reps is a great plan but if you want bigger muscles, train with heavier weights yet stay in the muscle building rep zone of 6-12 reps.

Strength Goals: A 3 month plan to 50 rep progression is an achievable yet very challenging goal. I cover pull up progression in a different article.

Pull Up Variations

Pull Up Variations

Pull Up Variations: The best part of pull ups is the number of variations you can use.

Chin Ups are done with an underhand grip with palms facing away from you.

Want to target biceps more, perform narrow 6 inch apart chin ups.

Want to target brachialis and brachio-radialis muscles for fuller elbows? Perform pull ups with hands 6 inch apart.

Want to target lats and rhomboids? Do the v-bar variation.

Grip Variations: I have spoken to natural muscle builders with best upper back development and asked them about chin up grips. Their reply? Do a variety of grips. 

This ensures total back development as each grip targets different lat muscle attachments.

How bodybuilders should add pull ups to your workouts

Pull ups are essentially a back exercise. 

I prefer you start your back workouts with deadlifts, but pull ups should be your second exercise in sequence.

You can build a big, muscular back with only these two exercises - Pull ups build upper back or lats and deadlifts build mid and lower back muscles.

But remember to add progression to your pull up workout.

Best Bodyweight Bodybuilding Program

1. Build Muscle with Bodyweight training. How? Use Bodyweight bodybuilding Program.

2. Combine bodyweight training and barbell/dumbbell training for fast muscle gains. The NNMB Muscle Building Program is the best way to build muscle. Find out the keys here.

› Pull Ups and Chin Ups

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