Tip: The 2 Minute Chin-Up Test

Find out how strong your biceps and lats really are.

The Challenge

Do a single chin-up (palms facing you), but do both the positive (lifting) and the negative (lowering) phases as slowly and deliberately as you can.

  • Step 1: Hang from a bar and do a slow-as-possible chin-up.
  • Step 2: Then, with no rest, lower yourself as slowly as possible.

Because slow, smooth reps are better for testing and building size in your biceps and lats.

Now, what will your time reveal? Your time in the positive should be what you're able to do in the negative. If your time pulling up (from hanging at the start to chin well over the bar) is 37 seconds, then that same 37 seconds should be possible for you in the negative, especially since you're going to be approximately 40-percent stronger in the lowering.

But that doesn't mean you'll be successful scoring the same time going down as you did going up, especially during your initial try. Your grip may be the limiting factor. You'll have to practice the movement for several weeks before the negative is the same as the positive. Unless, of course, you're already very strong in your grip, biceps, and lats, which is what this challenge is all about.

You'll need someone to help with the timing by using a watch or clock with a visible second hand. He or she should tell you to begin at the bottom and call out your time in seconds at 5-second progressions (5, 10, 15, and so on) in both the positive and negative.

  • Less than 30-seconds up and less than 30-seconds down: You definitely need work on your chinning ability. Weakness is probably due to a lack of strength in your biceps and lats.
  • 31-40 seconds up and 31-40-seconds down: Better-than-average strength in your biceps and lats.
  • 41-50 seconds up and 41-50 seconds down: Very good strength in your biceps and lats.
  • 51-59 seconds up and 51-59 seconds down: Excellent strength in your biceps and lats.
  • 60 seconds up and 60 seconds down: I've used this challenge on hundreds of bodybuilders and athletes of all ages. There were three guys who could eventually perform 60 up and 60 down, and it took six weeks of practice to do so.

Only one man was successful on his first trial. His name was Boyer Coe. He did the test in the spring of 1983, at the Nautilus Research Center in Lake Helen, Florida, while weighing only 185 pounds. On that date his biceps and lats literally dwarfed his other major muscle groups.

Boyer Coe
Boyer Coe

Boyer Coe later won the 1969 AAU Mr. America and 1969 NABBA Mr. Universe contests. For more than 40 years, Coe has had some of the best-shaped arms in the history of bodybuilding.

Final note: I've never had any trainee weighing more than 200 pounds do a 60-second positive followed by a 60-second negative in the chin-up. Find out how you rate.

Dr Darden was director of research of Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries for 20 years. He is the author of a number of best-selling books, including The Nautilus Book, The Nautilus Diet, A Flat Stomach ASAP, and The New High Intensity Training. Dr. Darden was also recognized by the President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition as one of the top ten health leaders in the United States.

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