The chin-up is one of the most underrated exercises, not only is it a great back builder but this exercise also helps build grip strength and aid in developing your biceps, triceps, and shoulders and that’s before your abdominals are given a good workout too!
Never done one before? Don’t worry we’ve got tips that will make it easier to get started as well refining your technique.
What is a chin-up?
The chin-up is one of the most effective but also challenging upper body movements but well worth adding into your training.
The chin-up can be performed at bodyweight (progressed by adding weight or regressed with a band to help assist with the movement). From a hanging position with your hands in a neutral or supinated grip, you simply pull yourself upwards towards the bar until your chin passes over it, and then lower yourself back down (keeping your feet off the ground) – Easy right!?
The benefits of the chin-up and the muscles targeted
The chin-up is a compound exercise which means it can target a variety of muscles at the same time making it a very efficient training movement. The main muscles targeted are the latissimus dorsi (lats) and rhomboids in your back, biceps, and forearms.
This means you can build functional upper body strength that can be used in other pulling movements such as deadlifts and rows but also for movements in everyday life, add these into the start of a workout to get maximum benefit and form.
How to do chin-ups
Master your bodyweight with just you and a bar…
- Reach up and grip the bar approximately shoulder-width apart — with an underhand, supinated grip (palms facing towards you).
- Hang from the bar with your arms extended. Engage your lats and rhomboids by pulling them back and down as well as bracing through your core to ensure you don’t swing. Squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Pull your body up, squeezing your shoulder blades and driving your elbows towards the hip — stop when they’re in line with your body or chin is over the bar and your chest touches.
- Pause at the top, and reverse the movement by slowly lowering yourself back to the starting position — stay in control during the lowering phase.
There’s no need for a spotter during a chin-up, but if you’re struggling with the technique, try using a bench or step to help you get into position or add a band.
Variations of the chin-up and alternative exercises
A chin-up is a challenging movement for beginners. Now that gyms are open you can start by practising your chin-ups using an assisted pull-up machine.
Amend the weight on the machine to aid you with the pulling motion, ensure that it is still a controlled movement and that you are still engaging your core as well as your back and biceps. The last two reps of your round should still be tough.
As you get stronger, decrease the assisting weight, before eventually attempting the full chin-up.
The negative chin-up involves only the lowering phase of the exercise, but it’s still a great way of building strength.
Stand on a box or bench so that your chin is above the bar. Take your feet off the box, make sure to engage your core and control the movement as you lower yourself until your arms are fully extended and your feet are touching the floor. Then get back on the bench and start again this movement should be very controlled and you shouldn’t just drop.
This can help build strength over time to allow you to begin handling your own bodyweight more comfortably.
So you nailed the chin up, there is no swing in your movement?! Well it’s time to level up — this means adding more weight.
The easiest way to add weight to your chin-up is by using a dipping belt or simply holding a dumbbell between your feet. As you get stronger, you’ll be able to gradually increase the weight but ensure to always be engaging your core to ensure it also gets stronger in stabilizing you.
Common mistakes and how to fix them
Anterior humeral glide
Anterior humeral glide is a common mistake during chin-ups and occurs when the shoulder joint pushes forward in relation to the shoulder socket resulting in movements where the arm is brought towards the body or even behind it.
It’s essential to maintain control and posture throughout the whole movement. Keep your shoulders back, core engaged, and your chest lifted. Remember, quality over quantity.
If you are using momentum or a swing in your legs to give you more lift during the chin-up, your only cheating yourself when it comes to maximising your muscle and strength gains.
Leave your ego at the door. Slow controlled movements and good technique will allow you to make the most of this challenging exercise and see the quickest progress.
Take Home Message
The chin-up is one of the most effective upper-body exercises that everyone should add in their training, the movement will help improve your strength, posture, physical aesthetic but more importantly your overall movement pattern in everyday tasks.
You can train and challenge a number of key muscle groups with one movement and can be made easier or harder depending on your needs.
So it doesn’t matter if you’re a gym newbie or veteran the chin-up is something everyone should be training as part of their program.