The Anatomy of Pull Ups and Chin Ups (Complete Guide)

 

Chin up and Pull up Mistakes

Despite being a technically straight forward movement, it is still possible to make a hash of this effective but demanding exercise. Here are a few of the more common faults and how to fix them…

  • Failure to pull chin over the bar – likely to be either a technical fault (poor exercise habits) or a biceps weakness. Try performing chin ups instead, strengthening your biceps or using bands for assistance as described below
  • Failure to fully extend the arms at the bottom – again, probably a technique fault so make a point of pausing for a second with arms fully extended between repetitions to ensure this habit is eliminated. May also be a coping mechanism for making the reps easier by reducing range of movement. It’s better to perform fewer reps using a full range of movement than more reps using a partial range of movement so no chopping your reps short as that is CHEATING!
  • Kicking with the legs – sometimes called “kipping”, using the legs can create a kind of “body wave” that helps you perform more repetitions by creating momentum. CrossFit, which often prescribes high repetitions of pull ups, use kipping quite a lot. If you are doing pull ups and chin ups for developmental purposes, I suggest kipping is counterproductive as it merely takes stress off the target muscles of the lats and biceps. If, however, you are training for CrossFit then by all means add a kip but don’t forget that strict pull ups and chin ups are your bread and butter in terms of muscular development.
  • Unable to do pull ups or chin ups – don’t worry as you are not alone! I’ve outlined some strategies below to help you do your first solo repetition and then increase your performance numbers.

Completing your first rep

Doing your first rep of pull ups or chin ups is a major fitness achievement and separates the boys from the men! Many exercisers go through life never achieving this goal and that’s a shame as both the pull up and chin up are excellent upper body exercises. While on the subject of the genders, don’t think for a minute that women can’t do pull ups – I assure you they can. The hints and tips below are the same ones I used with my wife to help her get her first solo rep and she is now doing sets of ten with relative ease!



As chin ups are the slightly easier of the two exercises, I suggest you start by concentrating on that variation and then progress to the pull up once you have begun to master the less demanding movement.

Assisted chin ups – if you are unable to lift your bodyweight, it makes sense that reducing your bodyweight will make the exercise easier to perform. This can be done in a couple of ways; you could use an assisted chin up machine where a weight is used to counterbalance your bodyweight. You could loop a strong resistance band over your chin up bar and then stand or kneel in the band so it provides some extra thrust or you could recruit the assistance of a strong spotter to help support some of your weight. Whichever method you choose, try to reduce the amount of assistance so that you get stronger. As you are training for strength, keep your reps below five and focus on quality over quantity.

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