Mastering the Chin-Up

Posted on 03/03/2015

When it comes to exercise and fitness, there are a few exercises that express themselves as an “act of initiation”.  In other words, there are exercises that showcase progression and developmental.  The exercise that displays this moment of recognition, perhaps more than any other, is non-other than the chin-up.

Chin-ups are tough.  They require the prerequisite strength to hold and support your body-weight in suspension.  In addition, the ability to perform a single chin-up, or multiple, is often associated with a healthy body composition (amount of muscle vs. amount of body fat).  After all, a heavier body is more difficult to support and “pull”.

Within this blog, I will share several progressions that can assist you in achieving your first chin-up.  For those of you who have already mastered your first chin-up, I will also include pull-up variations that will allow for continued progression.

Grip Hang

Before you can pull yourself up to the bar, you must demonstrate the foundational grip and upper-body strength to support your body-weight in suspension.  During this exercise, I cue my clients to maintain “active shoulders”.  Sharing further insight, think about pulling your shoulder blades “down” and “in”.  Activate the muscles surrounding your armpit.  Start out by holding this exercise for 20-45 seconds and two-four sets.  When performing this exercise, I believe it’s best to utilize a pronated (palms facing away) grip.  Keep in mind, the remainder of the exercises included within this blog will utilize a supinated (palms facing you) grip.

Eccentric (only) Chin-Up

The eccentric phase of a chin-up is the easier portion of the movement.  The eccentric-phase of muscular contraction involves the lengthening of muscles, as oppose to shortening (concentric phase).  Therefore, if an individual is unable to complete both phases of a movement, it often makes sense to break the exercise down into segments or phases.  Insert the eccentric chin-up.  Move a box, bench, or the squat-rack-arms into a position that will allow you to step up to the top position of a chin-up.  With a firm grip on the bar, slowly begin your decent.  Keep your muscles contracted and focusing on lowering yourself slowly.  The lowering-phase of the movement should be completed for five-ten seconds.  Once you reach the bottom of the movement, step back up to the top and repeat.  Begin with three-five repetitions and three-five sets.

Weighted Eccentric (only) Chin-Up

Following the same steps found above, add weight by way of a dip-belt, weight vest or by holding a weight (medicine ball or dumbbell) between your knees or feet.  If you have access, I recommend using either a dip belt or weight vest.  Be sure you are able to maintain a slow, controlled movement.  The eccentric (lowering) phase of the movement should be completed for five-ten seconds.  Begin with two-three repetitions and three-five sets.

Band Assisted Chin-Up

Select an appropriate strength resistance band.  DO NOT select a band that simply performs the exercise for you!  I recommend using only the single-loop style of band.  After looping the band around the chin-up bar, loop the band under a single knee.  Looping the band in this fashion, will provide assistance during both phases of a chin-up, especially during the concentric or “up” phase of the movement.  When attempting this exercise variation for the first time, it’s a good idea to have a partner to assist you in utilizing the band correctly.  Express control throughout the movement.  Start with five-ten repetitions and three-four sets.

Jump Chin-Up

A jump chin-up begins with a jumping motion, followed by a strong pull.  Utilizing a small jump at the beginning of a chin-up assists you in the most difficult segment of the movement (the bottom).  Do not allow the “jump” to overtake the movement.  Use your upper-body strength as the primary catalyst or driver of the movement.  Once in the top position, pause for one-two seconds and begin to slowly lower yourself down towards the bottom position.  Repeat for two-three repetitions and three-five sets.


You made it!  Complete both phases of a chin-up, unassisted.  Focus on explosively pulling yourself to the top position, followed by a controlled decent.  As you continue to progress, always be sure to perform the full-range-of-motion.


Advanced Chin-Up Progressions //

Once you’ve mastered your first chin-up, there are multiple variations that pave the way for additional challenge and continued progression.  Below, I will include two of my favorites. 

Weighted Chin-Up

Utilizing a dip belt or weight-vest adds resistance without calling for change in the execution of the exercise.  Therefore the implementation is rather easy, the execution is not.  Be sure to control the eccentric phase. Complete three-ten repetitions and three-five sets.


1.5 Rep Chin-Up

This is one of the exceptions to completing a full-range-of-motion chin-up.  After completing a full repetition, immediately execute a half repetition.  This chin-up variation has a ton of benefits including additional exercise variety, enhanced muscular control, increased muscular time under tension (TUT), improved mind-body connection and challenging grip-work.

This is not the only system that provides the tools needed to progress with your chin-up endeavors.  However, the implementation of these strategies and concepts has helped my clients and myself consistently improve.  Leave your excuses at the door and get to work!

Until next time,