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

Courtney Sharpe

Nutritional Coaching by Julia Howard

For the past two months I have worked with the JKC team and have never felt better! In addition to a personal fitness plan, JKC’s holistic nutritionist, Julia, worked with me and around my busy schedule to educate me on healthier food options and meal planning. I maintain a daily food log which Julia reviews and provides feedback on and we also have weekly chats to discuss my nutritional goals and potential improvement areas. Julia also helped me to identify and work around dietary constraints which have caused digestion issues for years!

Julia and the rest of the JKC family have helped me get my confidence back! I love starting my days with a good sweat and a healthy breakfast. I understand what foods make me feel my best and my body is well on its way to becoming more lean, fit and happy! I would totally recommend Julia and the entire JKC team!

My original reason for joining JKC was to get some sage advice to help with my running. I had been looking for awhile, came across Jon, met for an assessment, and was quite happy with how that all went. Apart from the running specific strengthening and conditioning approaches, JKC is different from other gyms as I am a fan of the small group sessions where everyone has their own goals and individualized programs. As well, the run coaching is super. All the coaches go the extra mile to make sure you get the best out each training session. They are fantastic motivators! My favourite memory is deadlifting 330lbs. Making a lot of great friends and meeting some really cool people is pretty high up on that list, too.

sumo deadlift

I had always wanted to start lifting weights and get stronger, but didn’t know where to start. I was looking not just for a gym, but for training on proper technique to prevent injury and a program designed for my specific goals. I also wanted a fun and supportive atmosphere to keep me coming back. JKC delivered on all of this and more.

Jon and Thomas have a wealth of knowledge that help their clients get the most out of their time in the gym. Programs are continuously modified to keep the workouts challenging. Even through everyone’s program is unique, you always have the coaches and other clients cheering you on and pushing you to achieve new bests.

Astrid Billfalk-Kelly

Personal Strength Training by Thomas King

I wanted to add strength training to my cardio, but have always felt gyms to be a bit intimidating, and was worried I would hurt myself without some supervision and help. JKC was highly recommended by several work colleagues. Thomas and Jon are both fantastic, making sure that everyone gets a highly personalized work out in a very supportive environment. The attention to detail and professionalism are second to none. The groups are very small, but very supportive and make the workouts even more fun. Since getting pregnant (36 weeks as I write this) I’m so happy that they continue to help me get stronger while always being safe.

JKC was recommended by a previous trainer who followed Jon online. He thought Jon’s approach to training was excellent. JKC employs well educated trainers who are very particular about technique and form. I have never injured myself because the trainers know what they are doing. They can always answer any questions I ask about my training. As well the trainers are friendly contributing to a relaxed and friendly atmosphere at the gym.

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