As a youth, I remember seeing images in muscle magazines of bodybuilders doing chin-ups and pull-ups with 50 lbs dumbbells suspended around their waists with a chain. I remember thinking that in order to do what they are capable of doing I would need to be as huge and muscular as they are.
It turns out this is far from the truth. Adding weight to the chin-up or pull-up is not as hard as it seems. The Guinness world record for the weighted pull-up was accomplished by a 165 lbs martial artist named Ron Cooper who did 27 pull-ups with a 40 lbs backpack. Other world records include a 206 lbs weighted pull-up and 14 pull-ups with a 100 lbs backpack – both set by Steven Proto.
The reason this is not happening in the gym is simple. No one is concerned about how much they can chin; they are worried about their bench press, preacher curl, and lat pull down.
Secondly, so many gyms in America don’t allow chalk and many powerlifters and weightlifters are forced to go to specialty gyms that are not always easy to find.
If you want to maximize the benefit from chin-ups you need to use chalk no differently than you would for the deadlift in powerlifting or the snatch in weightlifting. The thought of not using chalk is absurd.
Also, you need to be able to place the weight in a backpack or suspend the weight tightly around your waist with a belt. You need a fixed center of gravity. If the weight is able to move or swing – for example, if it is on a chain – the center of gravity will be thrown off.
Lastly, don’t worry about doing high reps. If you wanted to add weight to your bench press you wouldn’t focus on doing sets of 12 reps. Instead you would trim with a heavy enough weight that limited your reps into the 3 to 5 range or less.
So why would you train the lats any differently than the chest?
Start doing sets of 3 or 5 reps and continuously add weight slowly. In time, you will be turning heads at the gym each time you touch the chin-up bar.