How To Perform A Chin up or Pull up
Ahhhhhh the chin up/pull up. Next to deadlifting, this has to be one of my favorite exercises of all time: it would certainly be on my top 5 list. Unfortunately, the majority of people lack the upper body strength to complete even one. Both men and women struggle with it, whether they’re beginners or have been training for a while. It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but if you give it try (and use the progressions shown in the video) you’ll eventually succeed.
Watch the video above to see how I do it, and then read the remainder of this article for precise instructions on how to perform this exercise.
The main muscle group moving the body in the chinup or pullup is the latsAdd a Tooltip Text. The bicepsAdd a Tooltip Text, forearms, shoulders and other muscles of the upper and middle back are also involved. This makes it one of the more complete exercises for your upper body.
If you’re just starting out, don’t overstress about the differences in grip width or whether you’re using an underhand (chin up) or an overhand (pullup) grip. Just pull your chin up to the bar. It really is that simple… just not all that EASY.
You’ll need a pullup bar fixed to your door frame (like the Iron Gym Total Upper Body Workout Bar), if performing the exercise at home. Most gyms have pullup stations with a variety of preset grips, and if you’re outdoors at a playground, for instance, you’ll easily find plenty of objects to hang from.
If your door frame does not allow you to set up a bar at home, this is one exercise you may need to perform in a gym or outdoors.
All individuals can perform this exercise—beginner through advanced, all levels. Remember, there are ways to assist yourself through the range of motionAdd a Tooltip Text for this exercise that both beginners and advanced trainees can utilize.
Description of action:
The following description is for a full chin up or pull up.
- Hang from a fixed pullup bar with your hands shoulder-width apart. If performing a chin up, you will use an underhand or parallel (palms facing) grip; if performing a pullup, you will be using an overhand grip (chin ups are somewhat easier for beginners as the biceps can assist).
- Bend at the knees if necessary to get to a complete deadhang.
- Arch your back slightly and pull your body up—chest leading until your chin clears bar height.
- Slowly lower your body back to the starting position. Your arms should be fully extended before starting the next repetition.
Of course, if you can’t do a full chin up or pull up, how can you build the strength to do it?
You have several good options:
- If you have a partner available, have him/her spot you. Bend at the knees, and have your spotter support your ankles. A good spotter will provide just enough help for you to get your chin over the bar, then allow you to descend under your own power.
- Bend at the knee and rest your feet/ankles on a chair or bar-type stool. You can assist yourself up using your legs, then descend under your own power.
- Use a step stool to get to the top of the bar and complete JUST the lowering (negative) portion of the movement, as shown in the video. Or depending on the height of the bar, you could jump up to bar and perform the lowering motion only. Trust me, I’ve seen client after client build up the strength to this by using this method. It looks like it’s cheating but it’s not.
- Use power bands, as shown in this YouTube video. Some gyms will have a range of band tensions that you can choose from. Otherwise, you can purchase your own (Rubberbanditz and Jump Stretch are two popular brands). I tend to favor a K.I.S.S. (“keep it simple, Sumi”) approach when training and try to minimize the things my clients need to buy, so see how you fare with a chair, step stool, or partner assisting you with the movement.
Unlike most other exercises, I find it pretty hard myself to complete a full setAdd a Tooltip Text of 12 repsAdd a Tooltip Text. I might start with 12 reps on the first set and—if I’m lucky—I might get 6 or 7 in subsequent sets. Sometimes I get only 5. When that happens I’ll usually complete 4 or 5 sets to get the desired number of reps in.
Whether you can do a full chin up/pull up or not, aim for a total of 24 to 30 repetitions, divided up into 3 to 6 sets (or as many as you need) and rest for a minute or two between sets.
- If you workout in a gym that has one, stay away from the gravitron/assisted pull up machine! The gains in strength from completing machine work never translate to the actual body weight work.
- If you workout at home, always check to see if the object you are hanging from is secure enough to carry your weight. You don’t want to fix a bar at home on a rickety door frame.
- If performing this at a playground, make sure there’s enough over head clearance for you (some rails or monkey bars may not be placed wide enough, for instance). I know this after I banged my own head.
- Don’t attempt to mimic techniques (like Kipping pullupsAdd a Tooltip Text) based on what you’ve seen in the gym or on youtube. Learn the basics of the movement first.
- When using bands, make sure that you’re midfoot is firmly placed firm and flat against the band or bands. If given the opportunity to slide off your forefoot, the band might smack you a good one. I know this after I smacked me a good one…
- It’s generally a good idea to vary your grip with this exercise once you’ve been performing it for a while. I found mixing grips to be be really helpful for avoiding the elbow/shoulder bursitis issues. Again, the pullup stations at most gyms have various preset widths; and see the variations section below for other ideas.
Variations On The Chin up/Push up:
- Advanced trainees that can easily perform 15 to 20 reps, should consider loading this exercise by using a weight belt that allows the addition of weighted plates. Or, you can do these with a dumbbell held in between the ankles.
- The exercise can be varied in other ways (as it should be) if you are consistently incorporating them in your routine. Towel chins (at home), rope chins, v-bar attachments, rings and different grip handles can be found at the pullup stations at some gyms.
The chin up/pullup is an awesome exercise for working the lats, shoulders and biceps…I’ve even gotten sore in my abs from doing these. Plus it’s portable; you can do this at home, at the gym, or—if you’re a show off—at the playground.
So get under the bar, and bring yourself up!