Chin Ups Are Insane Fun! They’re Within Your Reach

Correct chin-up form

Do you imagine what it would feel like to pull your body straight up in the air over a specified point? Ah, the glory and addiction of pursuing chin ups and pull ups. They’re a good measure of functional upper body strength and have a bit of status attached to them – and with good reason! If you can do unassisted pull ups or chin ups then you’ve been working very hard to develop your back muscles. Not only that, but a muscular, broad upper back looks good on everyone.

So – do you crush it in the gym but still have trouble getting over the bar? Or can you do one chin up but want more? Then let’s explore chin ups a bit to see how you can reach that goal.

Chin ups (palms facing you) are not as difficult as pull ups because they recruit your arms as well as your upper back. Pull ups (palms facing away) use a wider grip and recruit your latissimus dorsi more and your arms less. Both involve hanging on a bar with straight arms and pulling yourself up until your chin passes the bar.

If you can’t do either chin ups or pull ups, don’t feel bad. I was able to do one or two unassisted pull ups awhile back, but the strain on my shoulder told me I wasn’t recruiting the right muscles. So I’m continuing to develop my back until I can do pull ups unassisted.

I’ve been doing unassisted chin ups for awhile, but then I realized my form was terrible (picture below). So I posted a picture of my bad form on my Facebook page and soon learned from my knowledgeable friends that I was recruiting my abs more than my lats. I was also using momentum at the beginning of the set, thus the swinging. Once I became aware of this it was relatively easy to straighten up by using my lats instead. Now that I’ve bought a chin-up bar for home, I’m completely addicted to the feeling of my body go up, up, up.

How to Work Up to Chin Ups

Incorrect chin-up form!

You should work up to chin ups and strengthen your back before trying to get your chin over the bar.

You need a nasty grip to pull your body straight up in the air, so work on strengthening it. A few ways to do this:

  • Wrist curls. You can do these with dumbbells or cables.
  • Reverse curls. Balance your forearm flexion muscles by strengthening your forearm extension muscles (or risk elbow injury). You can also do these with a barbell.
  • Straight-arm hang. Try simply hanging, straight-armed, from the bar for as long as you can, working up to 30 seconds. You can do this for both overhand and underhand grips.

I don’t recommend assisted chin-up machines because it’s too easy to rely on the machine to help you and not progress. But if you want to see a hot guy – er, how to use it just to get started with chin ups – see this video.

After you’ve strengthened your grip and continue to train your back hard, try these techniques to train for chin ups:

  • Jump up to grab the bars, hold briefly, and slowly lower yourself down for five seconds. This is called a negative and lets your body adapt to the movement and use momentum to get up.
  • Do partial chin ups in the bottom portion of the rep. Pull yourself up two or three inches and hold for several seconds. Lower yourself back to the hanging position, and then immediately pull back up a few inches again and hold for several seconds. Repeat this at the beginning and end of your workout.
  • Have a spotter hold your feet and support you as you go up.
  • Use elastic bands to offset your bodyweight. (I’m going to use this technique at home for pull ups.) Please be careful to keep your knee or foot down so as not to get whapped in the face with the band. Some demos: Demo 1, Demo 2, Demo 3

When You’re Ready to GO

Some people think going down only halfway down is ok, but others thinking that’s cheating (as do I). Follow these steps for a chin up:

1. Start from a dead hang from a bar on which your feet don’t touch the ground. Grip the bar a little less than shoulder-width apart.

2. Pull yourself up keeping your legs in line with your hips and leading with your chest.

3. Don’t let your shoulders pull forward. Crossing your ankles is fine and can help lock you into position.

4. Once your chin is above the bar, return to a straight-arm position before pulling up again.

Enjoy the insane satisfaction and addiction to chin ups – getting there can be lots of fun and they are within your reach.

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Comments

  1. AWESOME! I want one of those bars! I did real chin ups during my cross-fit workout (assisted with a band) and it was the coolest thing! I was so happy I was able to do so many!

  2. Thanks for the details regarding the techniques of a proper chin-up. They may be a long way off for me but I’ll remember the form when it comes time to bust out a set.
    Rob recently posted..Rolling with the PunchesMy Profile

  3. Thanks for taking the time to put this post together. I’ll be referring back to it just as soon as I get me one of those bars! I’ve been wanting one forever anyway. Please let me know if there is a certain brand of bar that is better than others.
    Yum Yucky recently posted..Bikini Monday- BodyRockTv Is Where It’s AtMy Profile

  4. I have never done a chin up or pull up unassisted in my entire life… Thanks for the tips! I’ll definitely put them to use 🙂
    Devon recently posted..No Sweets WeekMy Profile

  5. very linda hamilton of you…see terminator 2

  6. @yumyucky the golds gym pull up bar i picked up from wal mart gets the job done for me

    kH
    kohy recently posted..The Simple LifeMy Profile

    • Lisa- Lady you are kicking some serious bootay! Nice job keep it up!! I highly recommend the bar, it’s loads of fun.
      Rob- If you haven’t already, give it a go sometime to gauge where you’re at. Use the tips for getting there and before you know it, you’ll be over that bar :).
      Josie- I have the Iron Gym deluxe model, the one that includes the extra-wide pull-up handles. It’s $39.99 at Sports Authority. You can also get the one for $29.99 that doesn’t have the wide grips. See Kohy’s comment too.
      Devon- You’re welcome and thank you for stopping by! Good luck!
      Kohy- Linda Hamilton was a TOTAL bad ass in that movie. Now I need to watch it again so I can lustily remember her CRAZY beautiful muscles.

  7. As difficult as chin-ups are, there is real satisfaction in doing them — even one. It’s easy to lull yourself into thinking you are Queen of the Weight Room, but it isn’t until you can pull your chin up over that bar that you see what kind of physical strength you truly have (or don’t have). Thanks for posting instructions about correct form, Suzanne. I’m anxious to give them another try.

  8. You are such a nag.

    Okay, It’s a project. I’m starting just as soon as I submit this comment.

    XXOO
    ragemichelle recently posted..The Eyes Have ItMy Profile

  9. Chin ups have always seemed out of my reach – literally and figuratively! Have done them assisted on a machine but not on my own. But I love your step-by-step approach and photos of what to do, as well as the incorrect form to avoid. Thanks!
    Shira recently posted..Get by with a little help from my friendsMy Profile

    • Amy- As my steady workout partner, I admire you for the way you push it. You and me are getting stronger all the time despite whatever our schedules throw us. Our chins are over the bar!

      Michelle- Just make sure it’s ok with your shoulder. Form will be crucial. I’m proud of you!

      Shira- Thanks for your feedback and for stopping by. I’m glad when I can be helpful! The main thing is to try… People get into modes of thinking they can’t do something but they’re sometimes surprised. Let me know how you do xo

  10. Great tips! I definitely fall in the can-do-one-chin-up category. 😉
    Rach recently posted..Spring Sing 2011!My Profile

  11. I never knew what made them different – thank you for the explanation. I told my trainer that doing a pull up, just one, is a goal of mine. But now I think my goal is a chin up:)
    Karen@WaistingTime recently posted..Hey Look Us OverMy Profile

    • Thanks Rach. Congrats on being able to do one chin up! You are not far from two 🙂

      Karen, I think that is a GREAT idea. I hope you let me know when you do your first one.

  12. Chin ups always remind me of high school gym class because they’d always test us on it… did you have that too? So now everytime I do a chin-up I’m reminded of Mr. erdman shouting “one more, one more!”
    Ryan recently posted..Cheap Squat RacksMy Profile

    • Lol, thankfully I think I was spared that in gym class. Because I doubt I could’ve done one! I was very scrawny and didn’t take good care of myself either.

  13. Great post! All my clients do some variation of a vertical pull, though I too find the assisted pull-up machine to be a substandard choice. I use band-assisted pull-ups and pull-downs from various positions (tall kneeling, static squat–never seated) in their place and have seen great results.

    Keep up the great work and keep in touch!

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