How to train for mass with chins and dips revisited

I was reminded of an old article I wrote years ago for StrongFirst. Someone contacted me and wanted details on the program. The article, entitled ‘How to Train for Mass With Chins and Dips’, describes how I came up with a program that allowed me to do chins and dips with 150% bodyweight. I found the question interesting so I’ll take a shot at answering it.

Back in 2015...

The original article came about after Pavel Tsatsouline (founder of StrongFirst and pretty much the reason you see kettlebells in western gyms these days) asked me if I wanted to write it. The premise of the program is:

  • I did not train at a gym at this time, only at home and outdoors.
  • Chins, dips and pistols were pretty much my main exercises so I was far from a beginner in them and progress wasn’t easy.
  • The goal was to build muscle but I knew more strength would lead to more muscle.
  • The program describes two block-periodized cycles with the original article explaining one of the cycles (focusing on strength) but only briefly mentions the second cycle (for muscle) and it’s this cycle that the person wanted more details about.

Block periodization, as used here, means alternating two very short cycles or blocks – two weeks each. The two blocks should train different qualities, which this program does. This type of periodization works very well but you need to run it for a significant amount of time. Doing each cycle once or twice won’t cut it. I suggest you read the original article first. There you’ll get a grasp of the strength block which is based on the Fighter Pull-Up Program, popularized by Pavel years ago.

What I originally did (probably)

So to reiterate, you do one of the blocks, for instance the intensity block described in the article, for two weeks, then you switch to the volume block for two weeks, back to the intensity block, back to the volume block, and so on and so forth.

The intensity block is easy to understand because I documented it in the original article. The TL;DR is:

Day 1: 3, 2, 1, 1
Day 2: 3, 2, 1, 1
Day 3: 3, 2, 2, 1
Day 4: 3, 3, 2, 1
Day 5: 4, 3, 2, 1
Day 6: Rest

Add weight and repeat.

As for the volume block, well, I don’t really remember – it’s been 7 years! I probably have it logged somewhere but I have no idea where (note to self, log everything properly for all eternity!). The recomendations from the article are:

  • Focus on volume over intensity: more sets, more reps, and more movements but lighter weights.
  • Include chins and dips but for higher repetitions (5-8 or even higher).
  • Make use of a split routine, don’t do chins and dips daily.
  • Eat and grow.

What I would do today (probably)

First, if your main goal is to increase the strength in chins and dips, whether that be through reps or weight, I’m not sure I would use this program. It clearly worked for me but most of the time simple progressions where a few reps or a little weight is added is a very good way to increase chins and dips. Something like the 15-2 program I’ve posted before (it’s still in frequent use today). Simple almost always wins.

In the past I also came up with the Naked Warrior Bear, or the Berserker (published at Dragondoor I believe), which is a rather extreme program calling for 10-20 sets of fives for chins and dips per session. It tells you about my fitness level when it came to these exercises. If you can’t rep out at least 8-10 chins or dips you should probably focus on that first (getting those reps, not doing the Berserker program!).

With that said, if one were to try this block periodized chins and dips program today, here’s what I would suggest.

Don’t change a thing about the strength block. It’s simple and efficient, like good programs are.

For the hypertrophy block follow the guidelines of higher reps for chins and dips. Now is not the time to increase max strength. Personally I would probably go for 6-8 most of the time, possibly 10. I would do chins and dips twice per week during this block. The sets don’t need to be static, for instance you could do 1-2*6, 1-2*8, 1*RM in the same session, all with different weights (or bodyweight only if that’s where your strength levels are).

I would add other exercises as well. Tricep extensions and curls for the arms. Some sort of row for additional back muscle, and perhaps dumble presses, pushups, or something to that effect for a more chest focus. 3-5 sets in total with 6-10 reps per exercise. Your recovery levels would have to determine the total amount of sets and exercises.

How to split it? The first option is push/pull (best split routine ever – screw your bodypart crap), a second way is “same but different” way, for instance doing dips with triceps focus one day, doing them with chest focus the next day, doing chins with arm focus one day and with lats focus the next day (fine, bodypart crap can be nice sometimes).

Let’s start with push/pull. Do all push exercises (including dips) on one day and all pulling on another day (including chins). You could train 4 times per week this way. Two pulling sessions and two pushing sessions. Simple enough.

The second option is a more bodypart-like split. The first day could be dips with a triceps focus, that means keep upright, look forward, and the elbows tucked back. It could be combined with chins with a close underhand grip (for more biceps involvement). Additional exercises could be added, like extensions, curls and presses. This is basically an arm/shoulder day. The next day would be dips with a chest focus, where you lean forward and keep the elbows out. The chins would be done with an overhand grip (to not involve the bicep too much). Additional exercises could be rows, flyes, and other things for chest and back. A chest/back day essentially. I think doing this 4 times per week without implementing some lighter days might be too much. You could of course do that or do it in 3 days instead.

Seeing that the second option already looks more complicated on paper I would probably opt for the first, but you do you. I just don’t care for unnecessary complexities.

TL;DR for the volume block

  • Do a push/pull split with two of each every week
    – OR –
    do a bodypart split (chest/triceps, back/biceps) 4x/week with at least two of the sessions being slightly easier
    – OR –
    do the bodypart split 3x/week.
  • Do 3-5*6-10 reps for chins and dips. You can change the grip and the way they target the muscle.
  • Add additional exercises, also doing 3-5 sets with reps no less than 6 reps. The more exercises, the fewer the sets per exercise.
  • If in doubt, remember that the goal this block is to work the muscle, not grind your joints. Get a pump, get good, get out.

Good luck.

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