By Thomas King, MSc, CSCS, CSEP-CEP

The chin-up is considered by many to be the true gold standard of fitness. Unlike exercises such as the bench press or deadlift, in which you move an external weight, the chin-up forces you to lift your own bodyweight, giving a true indication of your relative strength.

Despite this, the average gym goer does not frequently use the chin-up as a training tool. Because chin-ups are difficult, lat pull downs are the more favourable option. This is unfortunate since the chin-up is undoubtedly one of the best exercises for strengthening the lats, biceps, forearms, shoulder stabilizers and grip.

In fact, the name chin-up itself is a bit of a misnomer as the goal of a properly executed chin-up is to bring the collarbone to the bar, not just the chin.

The Ideal Chin-Up Technique

  1. -Dead-hang from the chin-up bar with your preferred grip. Pack your shoulders and brace your abs to prevent your low back from going into excessive extension.
  2. -Initiate the pull by focusing on bringing your elbows down to your rib cage. This will help activate your lats.
  3. -Pull yourself upwards until your collarbone makes contact with the bar. Make sure that your chin is tucked at the top of the movement. Don’t hyperextend your neck by looking up.
  4. -Hold the top position for about one second keeping your shoulders away from your ears. Keep your abs engaged and try not to swing.
  5. -Slowly lower to the bottom position and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Grip Variations

  • -Double underhand grip = “Chin-up
  • -Double overhand grip = “Pull up
  • -Neutral grip (palms facing together) = “Neutral grip chin-up
  • -Mixed grip (using a different grip for each hand) = “Mixed grip chin-up

If you can’t perform a full range chin-up, try adding in these 3 chin-up variations to your workouts. You will build strength for different phases of the chin-up and finally reach that milestone of one perfect chin-up.

1) Improve the Bottom Range: The Banded Chin-Up

These are great if you struggle with the bottom range on the chin-up. To do this variation, attach one end of a long band to the chin-up bar. Next, pull the band down and place it either around your foot (easier/more help) or around your knee (harder/less band help). Follow the above technique guidelines and preform the desired number of reps.

2) Improve the Top Range: The Rack Chin-Up

Next, we’ll tackle the opposite issue. If you struggle with the top range of the chin-up movement, this is the best variation for you. Place a barbell in an adjustable power rack at a height where your arms are fully outstretched and you butt just touches the floor. Your feet can either sit flat on the floor in front of you (very deep squat) or the legs can be crossed in front of you. Initiate the pull by bringing your elbows to your rib cage. Use your legs sparingly to assist you in achieving the full range of motion for the exercise. Repeat for desired number of repetitions.

3) Train the Descent: The Negative Chin-Up

Due to the physiological processes that occur when a muscle is contracted, we are much stronger lowering (eccentric contraction) a weight (or our body) than we are at lifting (concentric contraction) a weight. In addition, our muscles get stronger not just by lifting, but by lowering weights as well. Because of this, the negative chin-up is an excellent variation to strengthen the muscles involved in a chin-up.

Stand on a tall box underneath a chin-up bar. Grab the bar and jump up to reach the top position. Try not to swing. Hold this position steady for 3-5 seconds, then slowly lower your body over a 8-10 second count. Once your elbows and shoulders open fully, stand back on the box, and jump up for your next repetition. Repeat for desired number of repetitions.

Sample Weekly Routine

While it may seem like an unattainable goal when you first start your fitness journey, doing one perfect chin-up is within reach for anyone with the proper coaching and motivation. Using the above chin-up variations should help you reach your goal sooner than you might think! Here is a sample training-week that incorporates the techniques listed above.

Monday – Band Assisted Chin-Up – 5 sets of 5 reps with the band around your feet

Wednesday – Rack Assisted Chin-Up – 8 sets of 3 reps

Saturday – Negative Chin-Up – 3 sets of 5 reps with a 5-10-second lowering phase

Kathryn Sparrow

Nutritional Coaching by Julia Howard

From my initial consult with Julia, she was professional and knowledgeable as both a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and athlete. She was interested in my nutrition and fitness goals and the development of a plan that would set me up for success.

Julia designed weekly meal plans that were complete with recipes and shopping lists. The food choices were nutritious, easy to prepare, and ensured that I felt well nourished and energized throughout my training and non-training days. Not only do I feel leaner and more fit, but I have more energy and I feel much more in tune with my body and food choices. Julia really helped me put everything in place so I can continue this process going forward- I cannot thank her enough!

I had signed up for other gyms in the past and never went or rarely went. Something always got in the way or I was just too tired and lacked motivation to go. This way I’ve made a commitment to Jon or Thomas and I try very hard to keep my sessions once I’ve booked in. JKC is different from other gyms that I’ve tried in the past because no one is there to be “seen”. We are all there to get a good workout in and go on with our lives. And it’s a small gym so you get to know everyone and it’s like a big family. When I joined JKC, I couldn’t do a chin up with an elastic band, but I’ve slowly worked up to 10 free hanging chin ups. That was big because I hate chin ups.

cas dyke

I started training at JKC in 2016 because I had built up a number of muscle imbalances from old injuries and activities like rock climbing which had led to some really bad posture and mobility issues. On top of that some friends had convinced me to sign up for a half-ironman. Working with Jon and Thomas was a way to pull my body back into alignment and make sure it wouldn’t fall apart during my race. The staff at JKC pride themselves on continuously advancing their knowledge, which leads to new and inventive way to address problems, old and new. I got my Dad to start training here and recommended JKC to all looking to improve their strength and fitness.

I heard somewhere that achieving your health goals is determined largely by what you do in the kitchen. I am grateful to have found Julia who brought direction and accountability to this most important piece for me. Having Julia in my corner has brought me confidence and certainty that I am on my way to achieving my goals. I highly recommend her if you are serious about making a change and feeling better about your health.

As Seen On: