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

I recently visited Newfoundland for one month, and was looking for a good place to train while I was there. Jon and the team at JK conditioning really took the time to assess what I already knew, and set achievable goals for the time that I had with them. The gym was such a great place to push yourself. It had everything you needed, but more importantly it had a well organized, very knowledgeable, and really motivating group of trainers to push you at each workout. Not to mention a really nice group of other members who also motivated me to go that little bit further. I would highly recommend the gym to anyone who has a goal and wants to find a place to help them achieve it.

JKC is different from other gyms/fitness regimes I have tried in the past because of my level of comfort with the facility and other JKC clients and the amount of knowledge both Jon and Thomas demonstrate through personal attention to form, core development and overall strength is outstanding. JKC is by far the best training hands on attention that I’ve experienced period and I have experienced many over a lifetime of activity and playing various sports. The facility has everything you require plus, as you will learn there are many ways to use every piece of equipment and Jon and Thomas are very creative! There are many age groups and professions who attend this gym from elite athlete’s to the rest of us and the casual but focused atmosphere in the gym makes each visit interesting, friendly and challenging at all levels.

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.

I am 62 years young and I started training with Jon in 2013. I originally came to join JKC as a recommendation from other family members that were onboard with Jon. Their enthusiasm for the gym experience was quite evident.  I was not to be outdone, so I decided to join as well. JKC, in my mind, certainly stands out from the crowd. I feel it’s a combination of the skill and passion the coaches have for their job and their clients. Each client is treated with the upmost respect and given time to explore their fitness journey without any pressure. JKC is certainly not a cookie cutter gym.The coaches customize your fitness program to suit your needs and your fitness level. This certainly makes sense because no two clients are alike.  This is where JKC excels! Jon, Thomas, and Craig keep the atmosphere at the gym light, but productive. A great combination that obviously works and makes the clients want to come back. Lastly, the camaraderie at the gym is everything. Meeting likeminded people who make you feel you are not alone in your fitness journey is everything.

I was looking for something to augment my 20+ year yoga practice with a focus on strength conditioning. I am friend’s with Jon’s sister in-law and over the years always heard great things about JKC, especially with respect to the top quality trainers they have and programs they run. After talking to Jon about my goals, and hearing his thoughts on a training plan, I knew that this was going to be an awesome experience … and it sure has been. JKC stands out from other gyms because of the attention to detail, the high quality of the staff and the facilities. Also, the amazing people that train there. And no one posing and taking selfies. I’m 41 years old and I started in Dec 2021.

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