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


Negative chin ups – while you might lack the strength to pull yourself up, you are probably strong enough to lower yourself down as your muscles are as much as 30% stronger as they lengthen. To do a negative chin up, climb up so your chin is over the bar and then slowly lower yourself down to full stretch. Immediately climb back up and repeat. When you are no longer able to control your descent, stop your set, rest a couple of minutes and then repeat.

Lock offs – it is quite common to hit a sticking point when performing chin ups at the point your elbows approach 90 degrees. This can be remedied by performing lock offs. Climb up and position your arms so they are bent to 90 degrees. Remove your feet and hold this position for as long as possible. Try to increase the length of your lock off over subsequent training sessions. With time, you should find you have no issue busting through this sticking point.

Strategies for Increasing your Reps

Once you can do more than a couple of reps, it’s time to try and get your numbers up. These approaches can be applied to both pull ups and chin ups…

Little and often – a great way to increase your pull up or chin up numbers is to do lots of sets of low reps throughout your workout. For example, if you can do three reps, perform lots of sets of one rep. Do a set of pull ups or chin ups in between each set of your other exercises so by the end of your workout you will have performed as many as 20 sub-maximal sets. With this method, it is essential you always keep a rep or two in reserve and do not go to failure. To learn to do a lot of pull ups you need to do a lot of pull ups and that means avoiding failure and focusing on quality reps. I still use this approach and can complete anything up to 100 reps in a training session – far more than I could do if I performed regular sets.

Ladders – a ladder is a broken set made up of mini sets called rungs. Perform one repetition, rest a moment, then perform two reps, rest again, three reps, rest, and so on. When you can’t reach the next “rung” of your workout, take an extended rest and then start over at one. This is a great way of increasing exercise volume as if you manage a ladder of one/two/three repetitions, you will have actually completed six repetitions when, quite likely, you’d only manage four reps using a more traditional rep/set scheme.

Weighted – One of the best ways I have found for increasing my pull up numbers is increasing pull up strength. Strap a weight around your waist or put on a weighted vest and perform four to six weeks of low rep strength training – no more than five reps per set. When you next perform a set of regular bodyweight pull ups, you will have a greater amount of strength and this will make the exercise easier so you’ll be able to more reps. Take care though, the added weight can place a lot of stress on your elbows and shoulders so make sure you use perfect technique.

Pull up and chin up Variations – Next page…

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