Whenever I see someone doing a good set of pull ups or chin ups (don’t worry, I’ll explain the difference shortly) I mentally tip my hat to them as these two exercises are far from easy. It takes determination to become proficient at these exercises and compared to the vastly inferior lat pull down, the pull up and chin up shows a commitment to exercise and fitness that is often all too uncommon.
The main problem with the pull up and chin up is that you have to be sufficiently strong to lift your entire bodyweight using the muscles of your upper body. While there are ways and means of reducing the amount of weight you have to lift, the fact remains that you need a reasonable level of strength to even perform these exercises. That raises the question, how to you get strong enough to do the exercise in the first place? As well as explaining how to perform these exercises, in this article I will provide you with a number of strategies that will help you achieve your first pull up/chin up and then subsequently improve you numbers.
Pull up and Chin up Anatomy
Pull ups are performed with an overhand slightly-wider than shoulder-width grip whereas chin ups use a narrower and underhand grip. Both exercises are comparable because although the shoulder movements are different, the muscles responsible for those movements are the same.
In pull ups, the arms are pulled downwards and into the midline of the body – a movement called shoulder adduction. In chin ups, the arms are pulled downward and backwards – a movement called shoulder extension.
Both adduction and extension are the job of your latissimus dorsi muscles, lats for short, which are located on the side of your back and, when well developed, resemble wings.
The main different between pull ups and chin ups is how the position of your hands affects the function of your elbows. In an overhand, also called a pronated grip, your biceps (the muscles on the front of your elbows and your primary elbow flexors) are in a mechanically disadvantageous position. Conversely, when you palms are facing towards you, also called a supinated grip, your biceps are in a stronger position and better able to generate force.
This means that pull ups are harder than chin ups so you may find simply performing the palms under version makes this exercise easier. Those of you already able to do five or more reps of pull ups can test this for yourself: Perform a set of pull ups to failure and then immediately switch to a supinated grip and amazingly you’ll be able to complete a couple more reps as you move from a mechanically disadvantageous position to a more advantageous one.