Step-by-Step Guide to Conquering Chin-Ups

In my time as a trainer I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a member say, “Are you kidding me, I haven’t done a chin-up since I was a teenager, I can’t do that!” The reality is that you can, with the right coaching and progressions! Below are the reasons I love incorporating chin-ups into almost every upper body workout program, as well as five chin-up progressions anyone can do to start their journey to complete their first chin up!

Reasons I Love Chin-Ups: 

They can be performed almost anywhere: Find a stable bar, tree branch, or monkey bar and you have your very own chin-up machine!

Everyone can benefit from chin-ups: Performing a chin-up requires many major muscle groups being worked in a short amount of time, so you get a lot of bang for your buck. In addition, it’s an exercise that recruits your posterior chain (muscles in your back), so regardless of if you are a young athlete or an adult working on a computer all day long, chin-ups are a great way to increase your posture.

There are many variations: There are so many ways to perform a chin-up which keeps them fresh, fun, and challenging for anyone no matter your fitness level.

They are so rewarding: It’s a true accomplishment to perform a chin-up or make an advancement in your progression. I love seeing people’s reactions when they perform their first chin-up. It’s a special moment.

5 Step Chin-Up Progression:

Successfully complete each progression for 5-10 training sessions and then try moving on to the next progression. Some progressions may take longer than others for you to successfully complete and advance, so don’t get frustrated, just embrace the challenge and know chin-ups are hard, but that’s also what makes them so rewarding! You got this!

1) Inverted Row: Use a TRX or set a bar about 3 ft above the ground in a squat rack and pull your chest up to the bar. Remember to keep your core tight and adjust your feet position to change the intensity. Although a pull up is a vertical row, and the inverted row is a horizontal row, it’s a great exercise to start with as it forces your posterior chain to pull your body to the bar. Many of these muscles are predominantly used in a chin-up so it’s a great exercise to begin with. Perform 3-5 sets between 10-15 reps.


2) Chin-Up Hold: Use a box to position your chin above the bar, step off the box, and hold for as long as you can until your arms extend and step softly onto the ground. Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together, and don’t forget to breath! Perform 3-5 sets with each set lasting 5-30 seconds.


3) Negative Chin-Up (Eccentric Chin-Up): Use a box to position your chin above the bar, step off the box, and SLOWLY let your arms extend until they reach full extension, let go and land softly on the ground, step back on box and repeat. Perform 3-5 sets with each rep taking 5-10 seconds to reach full extension.


4) Assisted Chin-Up: Perform a regular chin-up but with reduced weight. There are 3 options you can utilize: resistance band, chin-up machine, or friend holding your feet.


5) Chin-Up


Bonus Progressions: Below are some ways to make your chin-ups even harder!

  • Added weight: Place a weighted chain around your shoulders or a weighted dip belt around your waist to add additional weight
  • Negative Chin-Up with a Chin-Up: Perform a negative chin-up as described above, but perform a chin-up after the completion of letting your arms fully extend. Repeat as many you can.

Variations – Grip Position: Varying your grip position is a great way to add variety to your chin-ups progressions and challenges your muscles in different ways.

  • Chin-Up: Palms face in towards your body. These are demonstrated in the videos and are the easiest (I use this term loosely because no chin-ups are easy!) grip.
  • Pull Up: Palms face away from your body (prone position). These are more challenging then a chin because your biceps can no longer assist in pulling your body up to the bar.
  • Alternate Grip: One hand in and one hand away from your body
  • Wide Grip: Hand wider than shoulder width. This one is the most challenging!

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