How to Train for Mass With Chins and Dips

Training for mass without barbells is tricky business. I designed this program for just that purpose but before you write it off as just another bodybuilding routine, you might be interested to know that it’s a serious strength program for the upper body.

What I’m about to present to you is a two-week cycle that will add more weight to your weighted chins and dips than any other program I’ve ever encountered. During the time I did it, I added 20kg to my 3RM, which lead me to 150% bodyweight chins and dips.

You might be surprised by such low reps in a mass program, but it actually makes sense when you think about it. To build mass, you need to be strong first. Imagine what an additional 20kg in your 3RM would do for your 8RM — your previous weight will feel like child’s play! More weight = more gains.

The model I used was a block periodization design, alternating two blocks, one volume block and one intensity block, each two weeks in length. The strength increases gained in the intensity block allow you to lift more weight in the volume block. In this article, I will present the intensity block.

Mass With Chins and DipsMass With Chins and Dips: Basic Outline

I can’t take credit for the basic outline of this program. It came to my attention by StrongFirst Chairman Pavel Tsatsouline, but is from an unknown Russian author. You might know it as “the fighter pull-up program” and it looks like this when applied to your 3RM:

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

This means you do four sets each day starting with three repetitions (your maximum) and work your way to four. The program then continues by successively adding repetitions. But we want to add weight, so here’s what we’ll do instead:

  1. Figure out your 3RM. Take a day and work up to it. Keep adding weight until you no longer can get three repetitions. This is your starting point and the weight you should use for all sets to begin.
  2. When you’ve done the first six days, go back to day one but add 1.5-3kg. You’re starting over with three repetitions.
  3. Once those two weeks are finished, you switch to the volume block for two weeks and then back to this block again. You should be 3-6 kilograms better when you come back.
  4. Keep alternating.

Do this block with both chins and dips. The same progression works for both. They might not be at the same weight, and that’s okay. Pick any chinning variation you want: pull-ups, chin-ups, neutral grip, etc. You can even change them every block, just make sure you keep that variation for the entire block. For dips, I only suggest parallel bar dips, certainly not bench dips. I did my “parallel bar” dips between two chairs.

This is a ten- to fourteen-day block, depending on how well you can recover. Theoretically, you could do five days and then start over before changing the block. You could also do the program as listed above (a twelve-day block). Eventually, you might find that adding a rest day somewhere in the middle might be a good idea, therefore making it a two-week block. It’s all good as long as you recover.

What if You Fail a Repetition?

If you fail any set after the first one, you simply didn’t rest long enough. Take longer rest periods tomorrow. There’s no reason at all why you should fail after the first set. Rest periods are as long as needed.

If you fail the first set you have a couple options:

  1. Take a day off and try again after that.
  2. Try again tomorrow. Maybe you just had a bad day — it happens.

Combining This Program With Other Work

Lower body work is up to you — pistols, swings, squats — just don’t kill yourself. Personally, I found it best to do it later in the day in a separate workout. Even if it’s just 7-10 reps of the two movements fatigue will build up, especially since you’ll be adding weight at a fast rate.

A Little on the Volume Block

When the two-week intensity block is done you want to make use of your new strength in a higher volume, lower intensity block. Here are some guidelines:

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

This program added 20kg to my 3RM chins and dips and got me to 150% bodyweight for reps in both movements while increasing significantly in mass. It can do the same for you. Good luck.

Stefan Hedengren
Stefan is a personal trainer residing in Lund, Sweden. He has previously specialized in training with little or no equipment but in recent years has turned to powerlifting. With or without the use of barbells and kettlebells, Stefan’s goal is making the world a stronger place one client at a time.

33 thoughts on “How to Train for Mass With Chins and Dips

  • I think chins and dips are probably the best ways to hit the upper body.
    I first worked up to 3 sets of 8 of slow tempo reps in both the dips and chins only the dips where done on rings and both exercises greasing the groove style (one day chins other day dips.) Already had the simple goal in simple and sinister.
    Nowadays I lift 2 days in the week workout A heavy dips and deadlifts workout B heavy chins and squats (playing around with volume 2-5 sets of 3-5 reps). on my other days i just do hollow body positions and decksquats mixing it up with some basic bjj warm up and S&S if i feel good on that day i will do some skill work (one arm one legged push ups,pistols,handbalancing etc.) depends on the goal i’m aiming for. And not switch up the skill untill I accomplished it or reached a level of efficiency
    So play around with intensity don’t throw up to many exercises this was over a span time and i started with basic simple&sin for the guys who are afraid the bench will drop if you havent benched really that much amount of weight like over 2 plates don’t worry your strength will not drop off in the bench but only increase you will still be able to outlift a average joe on the bench and smoke some of them big guys on dips and chins.

  • i can understand the routine but i dont know how to structure a volume 2 week block can u give a more detailed info on how to do it thanks

  • Hey Orthodoxy,
    do you think you can get strong using just pull-ups and dips? I am a martial artist and want to get a little bit stronger. I am not the youngest, 54, but training martial arts since the age off 15.
    I have tried most off the bodybuilder routines but thats not for me. Now I am moved to another house and I just have a pull-up bar, a dipstation, 2 kettlebells (20 and 24 kilo) and off course a heavy bag to kick and punch.
    So i dont have room for a barbell, bench etc. Do you still think that you can get stronger? Off course I have a full time job, family, I teach one night martial arts, so I dont have hours to work on my supplementary training.

    Do you maybay have a example of a simple but effective routine that I can use with things that I have and that will make me stronger for my martial arts? My martial arts is Jeet Kune Do by the way.

  • Hey orthodoxy, do you mean everyday with weights? And do you think you can get a full body workout with only these 2 exercises for me as martial artist? Or do you maybay have another suggestion, i dont have weights so i have to work with i have but i find it hard to find/make a routine that suits my martial arts training.

  • Cute article.

    I’m a man of the old way. Synaptic facilitation. Think Dr. Judd.

    Several sets throughout the day, five days a week. Your body will adapt quickly, keep upping the volume as often as you can. To be able to perform 75-100 perfect form pullups or dips without stopping or breaking form, one cannot afford days off. A 5 day routine is great.

    I liked this article until you said you should alternate days on the 2nd part of the split.

    Too unorthodox for me, I stick to the old ways, Beasts of Sparta and warriors of your do not take days off. 5-6 days on, 1-2 days. Anything in between and you cannot expect to be a master in your field of strength.

    To each their own.

  • Stefan,

    Is this program adoptable to other body movements, for example the push up? I am training for the Navy PST and looking for some good ways to increase strength and total repetitions for push up, curl up and pull ups. I will be using the program described for pulls ups.

    Thanks in advance!

  • Okay, thanks guys, s&s dont seem to build a lott of strenght, i think. Just try to figure something out with basic exercises like the pull ups and dips

  • I dont have room for weights at home, i am a martial artist so i want to make strenghttraining as short and effective as possible because i have to train my martial arts to.
    Can you get strong using only these 2 exercises? And if so, how do you make it to a full workout?
    I have 2 kettlebells, one 20 and one 24 kilo. Thats all i have. Would be nice if you have a suggestion how i can stronger with the things i have and that wouldnt take hours to perform.

  • Hejsan, Stefan!

    Thank you for this article. Please, may I ask you to clarify two following points.

    I was wondering, if it’s correct 1) doing Chin-Ups and Dips as a superset or having a separate session for each exercise throughout the day 2) how much could this template improve bodyweight Chins and Dips while doing their weighted versions?

    • Thanks for reading it!

      1) Either one is most likely fine.
      2) It depends on the amount of weight you’re capable of. If you’re adding 5-10 kg the transfer will be a lot greater than if you add 40 kg that you do for three reps when you can normally knock out 15-20 bodyweight ones. In that case the weighted will train maximal strength while the bodyweight ones will be more a matter of strength endurance. Of course in block 2 you could take advantage of it and do reps at anywhere from 6-12 which in turn would carryover more to bodyweight.

      I hope that makes sense.

      • Very well, I have been looking for a new strength program, which emphasizes chin-ups, and this one seems clear and fits my needs. It even has a hypertrophy bonus.

        Great!

  • Thank you, Stefan. Looks like a great program.
    Would this programming work for other lifts as well? For example KB military press, BB deadlift, BB/KB squat?

  • Hi Stefano,

    Thanks for sharing.
    I’m still a little unclear what should the schedule be?
    1. Do 4 set of each exercise each day(so 8 total sets) (note 3 in your article says don’t do cons and dips daily – use a “split routine”)
    2 Do a 2 week block of chins followed by a 2 week block of dips,
    3. do you alternate chins and dips daily, per the rep schedule. (ie D1-chins, D2-dips, D3-chins, etc….). 4 sets/d

    Thanks for clarifying.

    • Hi Gary,

      Do BOTH chins and dips each day. Do it for two weeks following the outlined progression. After that you do two weeks of a split routine. After that back to the first block. Keep alternating. In the split routine block you shouldn’t do chins and dips daily. You can do a body part split (include dips in chest or arms, chins in back) or a movement split (i.e. push/pull/squat – do dips in push and and chins in pull) or any split you want really.

      Hope that helps.

  • Love chins. Hate dips because my shoulders can’t take them(and yes, I’ve tried MANY times, also on gymnastic rings).

    My program relies heavily on autoregulation(those who aren’t familiar with that concept, check out Mike Tuscherer’s and others’ stuff immediately).

    Pullup 1RM currently ~150 kg minus ~90 kg bodyweight.

    • Have you experimented with form on dips? I’ve found that turning the pit of the elbows forward, focusing on tension (especially lats) and pulling yourself down controlled can help a lot. Also, for just about any kind of shoulder pain I’ve ever had overhead kettlebell work is a blessing. Dumbbells do not have the same effect. A light kettlebell is the first thing I reach for when a shoulder is bothering me.

      Great work on the pull-ups!

    • Have you read and tried the dip variation in beyond bodybuilding? I messed my shoulder up awhile ago and it has allowed me to do dips. I’d detail it here but feel like that would be unfair to Pavel and dragondoor

    • Try to decrease the ROM to a level that you can do without pain, over time the depth will increase but give your body time to adapt. That worked for me.

      Good luck.

    • Pavel wrote 10 years ago to do dips in weight rack and set pins so you stand on the ground. Simply begin dip from ground and lower until standing. This has been a staple of mine since.

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