The Chin-Up is one of the most effective exercises for your back and your entire upper body in general.
It can be used to target all the major muscles of your back. The chin-up also has the advantage of being very versatile...it can be done anywhere there is a bar or tree branch or other solid object to hang from.
How to Do a Chin-Up
If you're not yet strong enough to do a full, unsupported chin, here's a method you can use to build up strength to perform your first chin-up.
Take a shoulder-width, underhand grip on a bar that allows you to hang free and straight. A designated chin-up bar or a high Smith machine bar works well for this.
Start with your arms straight, but shoulders not loose in the joint. Initiate the movement by dropping your shoulder blades down (like a downward shrug), then pulling your torso up towards the bar.
Pull up to the bar, until your chin clears the bar (or as far up as you can manage) while simultaneously arching your lower back and leaning backwards. This maximally activates the lats.
Lower yourself down slowly and under control. At the bottom, drop your ribcage at the shoulders, feeling the stretch but without losing tension in the shoulder sockets, then repeat.
Tricks For Performing Chin-Ups
1. Hands as hooks
Imagine your hands as hooks and try to pull from the elbows instead of your hands. The more you grip with your fingers, the more you activate the biceps.
2. Thumbless grip
Using a thumbless (also known as a "false") grip will take the biceps out of the exercise more.
3. Adding resistance
Once you're strong enough to do 10+ reps, there are a number of ways to add resistance to perform weighted chins.
Set a dumbbell on the floor or on the end of a bench. Grasp the bar then hook your ankles around the dumbbell so that the plates are behind and in front of them.
If you can reach the bar from a standing position, try setting the dumbbell between your feet using your hands. Hold the dumbbell tightly. Pull up as normal.
A hip belt with the weight hanging between your legs can also be used.
4. Burning out
To really burn out on chins, try fast half reps.
Rep out as fast as you can in the shortened range of motion, reversing direction hard at about the usual halfway point and coming back up. Forget the negative and just crank out as many partial reps as you can, as fast as you can.
This is a good way to start a chin-up workout while you are fresh. It will get a lot of blood into the lats.
Common Errors in the Chin-Up
1. Going too fast
This includes pulling up too fast and dropping down too fast.
Pulling up too fast reduces the tension you get on the muscles while dropping down too fast can injure your shoulders (when they are forced to absorb the impact of your mass coming down).
If you are so tired that you can't slow yourself down with muscle power, let go of the bar and land on your feet rather than jarring your shoulders unnecessarily.
2. Jerking the body around
This is invariably done in attempt to get to the top of the rep. While it may not lead to injury it does not lead to muscular tension and is therefore not a good thing to do.
Kipping is a variation of this, used by CrossFitters to generate upwards momentum to get more reps. It can be considered a separate exercise from a regular chin-up as it doesn't require as much strength and doesn't keep tension on the lats.
3. Relaxing the shoulders at the bottom
In all chin-up, pull-up and pulldown movements, when you allow the shoulder girdle to rise, don't relax your shoulder in the joint. Just relax at the shoulder blades. This prevents overstretching of the shoulder joint itself.
What this means is at the bottom, stretch the back, not the shoulders.
4. Consistently doing partial reps
While doing partial reps occasionally is not bad, you should primarily do full range reps to develop the back fully. Don't worry if this reduces the number of reps you can do. Your results will be greater in the long run.
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