Chin-Up and Push-Up Exercise Routines

athlete girl doing pull ups outdoors

The chin-up and push-up are perennial exercises for a reason — together, they cover just about your entire upper body. With the chin-up, you target your biceps, upper and middle back, rear deltoids and smaller muscles in the rotator cuff and neck. The push-up is known for its ability to build your chest, triceps and anterior delts. It also offers core benefits as you must stabilize your trunk as you press up and down.

Build a complete upper-body workout with just these two moves. You have lots of options, depending on whether you want to add a chin-up/push-up routine to augment existing workouts, make it your only upper body workout or add it once a week for variety while on other strength days you lift weights.

Occasional Workouts

Insert one of these options on a day on that you don't feel like doing a full on resistance training session for your upper body. It's also handy if you're without access to the gym due to travel or holiday.

Ladder Session: Pick a top number of reps for each exercise, then ladder up to that goal. For example, say your top number is 10. Start with one rep of the chin-up followed immediately by one push-up, rest briefly. Move on to two reps of each exercise performed in quick succession and rest, then do three reps of each. Continue to ladder up until you've reached 10 reps of each move.

Pyramid Session: A pyramid session is just like the ladder session, but once you reach your top number of reps, go back down. So, in the above example, after you've done 10 of each move, you'd go back to doing nine of each, then eight and so on until you reach one.

Portrait of a fitness man doing push ups outdoors.

Use an underhand grip for chin-ups.

Super Sets

A super set is a great addition to a full-body workout day. Use it, for example, at the end of the workout to seal in muscle fatigue.

To perform a super set, simply alternate a set of push-ups and a set of chin-ups back to back with no rest. The number of reps depends on you — do a standard eight to 12, or go to fatigue. Once you've completed both sets, take a break for 60 to 90 seconds and repeat the super set up to two more times.

Weekly Variety

Maybe you don't have a gym to go to or perhaps you just need a change of pace. Use push-ups and chin-ups to create an entire upper body routine that you follow for four to six weeks exclusively.

Plan your push-up/chin-up routine to happen every other day, three times per week. Do your leg workouts on the days between these routines. You'll be doing variations of the exercises that emphasize different parts of your upper body each workout.

If any of the variations are too tough, default to a standard chin-up or push-up. If you haven't mastered the full version of these exercises, opt for an assisted chin-up machine, chin-ups with a spotter holding your legs, incline push-ups and push-ups with your knees on the ground.

On day one:

Do five sets of the decline push-up: Place your feet on an elevated surface such as a workout bench or stair step and perform as many reps as possible in each set. Rest 30 seconds between sets.

Do five sets of the standard chin-up: Grasp a pull-up bar with an underhand, shoulder-width grip; pull your chin up and over the bar for as many reps as possible. Rest 30 seconds between sets.

On day two:

Do five sets of close-grip push-ups: Place your hands in a diamond shape under your breast bone to push up and down. Do as many reps as possible and rest 60 seconds between sets.

Do five sets of a sternum chin-up: Hold the bar with an underhand, shoulder-width grip and pull up to touch your chest to the bar. Repeat as many times as possible and rest 1 minute between sets.

One day three:

Do five sets of standard push-ups: (if this is too easy, do them with your hands on suspension cables or a stability ball for increased core challenge). Go for as many reps as possible and rest 30 seconds between them.

Do five sets of weighted chin-ups: Hold a dumbbell between your ankles or fasten a chain attached to a weight plate around your waist as you pull your chin up over the bar. Do as many reps as possible and rest at least 1 minute between sets.