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
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.