Conquering the Chin-up

Chin-ups and pull-ups should be a staple exercise in virtually everyone’s program.

Regardless of whether your goal is to build a massive back, develop a stronger bench press, or even to lose body fat, mastering chin-ups can help you get there faster.

Unfortunately, people struggle with chin-ups for a variety of reasons.

Many people have no clue what proper technique consists of. They might go through a short or ineffective range of motion, or use the wrong muscles to produce the motion.

Others may want to chin, but don’t have the strength to do so correctly. Assuming they don’t have any other options, they reserve themselves to life attached to a lat pulldown machine.

The video below depicts proper chin-up technique, along with progressions you can use to help you really master the chin-up. While this may not be the only way to progress on your chin-ups, the following video depicts the strategy we often use at IFAST.

I really hope you enjoyed the video, even though it’s a bit rough around the edges. This was our first crack at a mini video like this, and we’re going to clean up the production going forward.  Hopefully these will only get better with time.

As well, if you think others could learn something from it, please take a moment to Re-Tweet it on Twitter, Share it on Facebook, or simply pass it along to a friend.

Thanks for your support and good luck with your chinning!

Stay strong

Mike

(Lead Photo Courtesy of Jayel Aheram)

25 Comments

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  1. Hi Mike

    Good info, thanks.

    A question: do you think it’s safe for our shoulders to start in a dead hang position?

    Doesn’t this cause the scapula to be elevated, which places tension on your tendons and ligaments instead of your muscles?

    I used to start each rep in the dead hang position and now I pull my shoulder blades down and lock my shoulders into their sockets before initiating the movement. I also maintain a slight elbow flexion (“99% lockout”).

    Just wondering what your thoughts are given your expertise with injury prevention and pre/re-hab.

    • Scott –

      I’m talking about full range of motion, not necessarily a dead, limp hang for extended periods of time.

      I don’t know where a lot of the voo-doo comes from regarding “locking” out joints, but our joints are made to go through full ranges of motion. It’s safe and natural. You hear the same things about not locking out your knees, elbows, etc.

      Now, if someone is just hanging there like a bat for extended periods of time, that’s probably not the best idea, especially if they have shoulder issues. I’m not prescribing that.

      Are there some people with shoulder issues that shouldn’t be chinning or performing overhead activites? Sure. But that’s an individual thing.

      At the end of the day, pulling from a dead-hang isn’t really an issue. The issue is if that individual has issues, in which case you may have to modify their exercise selection.

      As the saying goes, it’s not generally a bad exercise, but a bad exercise for a specific person.

      Good luck!
      MR

  2. And going forward, if you’re trolling around posting in the Comments section, you WILL be banned. I’m too busy to mess around with any nonsense.

    You’ve been warned 🙂

    MR

  3. Hey Mike, have you ever tried using a TRX as a way of assisting a pullup? Since I train people out of my garage, I don’t have a lat-pulldown machine, and I never liked using resistance bands for pullups because it doesn’t assist as much at the top of the range of motion where most people need it. So, what I did was I had people put a foot through the TRX which I have on the back bar of the power rack. Then they can use their foot to assist when they try a pullup on the front pullup bar in the rack. It works great for adding reps as well. I have some video on youtube somewhere called “TRX assisted pullup” if this explanation isn’t very good.

  4. Great info. Thank you. I have a client that always pulls first with her right arm. I can clearly see it clearly every time she does a pullup. It’s so natural to her that she doesn’t know she’s doing it. Suggestions on how to help her fix that? I’ve cued her to think about pulling at the same time but she still pulls with her right first. Maybe move her to a bigger band until it’s balanced out?

    • Kelli –

      Two options here:

      1 – Use a bigger band (as you mentioned), or
      2 – Use some unilateral pulling exercises for a while until her strength improves.

      Let us know what you try, as well as the results you give.

      Thanks!
      MR

  5. Mike,

    You say the band give accommodating resistance. This is only true for extension exercises. The chinup (being a flexion exercise) is harder at the top than at the bottom. The band offers the exact opposite of what we need.

    Regards

    Andrew

    • Andrew –

      We may be arguing over semantics here, but accommodating resistance as used by powerlifters can be seen in two fashions:

      1 – A way to aid in the most difficult portion of a lift (ala reverse band deadlifts, reverse band squats, band pull-ups, etc.) where you get help out of the bottom, or

      2 – A way to incorporate MORE resistance at the top.

      Either way is fine, it just depends on what you need to develop from your training.

      In this case, many people have the hardest time in the bottom position of a chin-up/pull-up, so this accommodates their strength curve. This is also why you rarely see people going through a full range of motion – the bottom part is hard!

      Do people struggle at the top as well? Sure – but that’s a different story.

      I hope that better explains things.

      MR

  6. Awesome stuff Mike. What do you think of using the band around a knee? I suppose putting it under both feet would make the band more accommodating and distribute it’s resistance more evenly.

    • Kyle –

      That’s a totally viable option. While we didn’t demonstrate that in the video, you can absolutely perform them that way.

      Great question!
      MR

  7. Everytime I see a chin-up article I hope they show how to progress from already 12-20 solid reps to using 50 kilos extra (I’m at 35kg currently)… But each time it’s the same old “how to get to 1 chin”.
    Mike, can you explain why this “pillar” chin-up you speak of is harder? I tried it a few times in the past and it’s definetely harder, but I could never understand why!

    • Y –

      Maybe I’ll work on that in the future. I think you’d be surprised at how many people just want to do one chin-up first, though 🙂

      Plus, I’m a powerlifter – anything over 5 reps is considered cardio!

      On the pillar chin-up, it’s harder because now you’re forced to stabilize your entire body, starting with your core and gluteals. It’s kind of like going from a bench press (where you have external stability) to a push-up, where YOU are forced to stabilize your body.

      When you go from bent knees to a pillar variety, all of a sudden you have to tighten everything up from your core down, making it a much more challenging variation.

      Hope that helps. Thanks!
      MR

  8. Thanks for the video Mike, it’s really helpful.

    I am working towards just doing my first chin-up. I haven’t got there yet! My gym doesn’t have any bands for assisted chin-ups. What else can I do/use to help me achieve my goal? (The chest supported row has broken and is not coming back 🙁 , so I don’t even have that option anymore)

    Elle

  9. Mike,

    This was just the right video at just the right time. I had a big aha takeaway with your “chin-up ISOs”. It bridges a gap for me and how I will move forward with my clients. Which is great because I’ll be installing a massive pull up cage in a few weeks with a truckload of bands.

    The only question I have is: how do you establish the proper time under tension for the holds? Does some data support specific t.u.t./reps/sets? I ask because I’ll be applying these techniques in small group training settings and want to nail this.

    So glad I found this site. Clear language and solid info.

    THANKS!

    Daniel Iversen

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