Pull ups & chin ups are 2 great bodyweight exercises that can be performed almost anywhere, with minimal equipment. Hitting a variety of muscles including the traps, lats, biceps and delts, pull ups & chin ups should be incorporated in to any strength & muscle building programme.
In fact, there is no better exercise for building strength in the upper body. There are significant differences between the two exercises and this guide will illustrate not only the differences between the chin up & pull up, but also how to perform them correctly, even if at the moment you can’t even perform 1!
So what is a pull up?
Grab a bar and hang from it. Now, pull yourself up until your chin clears the bar. That’s it! If you use an overhand grip (palms facing away from you), you’re performing a pull up. If you’re using an underhand grip (palms facing you), you’re performing a chin up. It’s as simple as that! Of course you can make the exercises harder or easier depending on your level of strength, but both the pull up & chin up are still great exercises in this basisc form. As we stated earlier, they are exercises that can be performed almost anywhere that you can hang from.
The full pull up technique can be broken down into 8 key points.
- Start each rep from a ‘dead hang’, with the arms extended fully.
- Using an overhand grip, take the bar close to the fingers not the palm.
- Breathe at the bottom of the movement as this is much easier than trying to breathe at the top.
- Focus on a point above the bar & pull up towards the bar, pushing the chest out and shoulders back.
- Don’t allow the shoulders to pull forward as this places unnecessary stress on them.
- On the drive, pull your elbows towards the floor. This engages the stronger lat muscles.
- Bend at your ankles behind you, this is a much stronger position than just having the legs hang below you.
- Using your legs to aid in the drive is known as ‘kipping’. Only incorporate this when you are tired. Or you’re doing ‘Crossfit’!
Start Of Assisted – The hardest part of the pull up is the actual pulling up portion. Only around 1% of women can perform unassisted pull ups. If you have a training partner, have them assist you in the lifting portion of the exercise by providing a platform for your ankles to push against or by aiding you at the hips. If you have suitable equipment, tie an elasticated band to the bar and hook it underneath where your ankles are crossed, again to provide some assistance on the lifting portion. Click HERE for an example on how to do this! If you have one available, utilise the ‘Assisted Pull Up Machine’. This machine works by using a counter-balance, which reduces the amount of your bodyweight that you are forced to lift. The greater the amount of weight selected, the less bodyweight you are pulling up to the bar. This is a good machine for those with very little upper body strength, however as you are unable to control the decent or ‘negative’ portion of the exercise, progress can be slow. Therefore, it is much better to use assistance from a partner instead of this machine.
It’s Good To Be Negative – The lowering portion of the pull up or ‘the negative’ is a controlled decent from the bar to the arms fully extended & because you are working with gravity instead of against it, it is an easier part to perform for the beginner. Performing ‘negative only’ repetitions is a great way to build up the strength on route to performing your first full rep. This can be achieved in a couple of ways.
Using a Team Mate – As we stated above, have a partner aid you in the lifting portion & slowly lower yourself back down
Step Up To Achieve – Place a step or bench beneath the bar & jump up into the top of the movmenet before again slowly lowering yourself back down.
Challenge Your Negative – Some people may get to a point of being able to perform multiple negative reps, without being able to do a full pull up. Adding some extra weight using a dipping belt or a small dumbbell.
Chin Up To Pull Up
Chin Up. Literally – Chin ups are an easier exercise to perform than pull ups, so utilise the above methods using the chin up technique. However, try to use both methods as they do utilise slightly different areas of the body.
Once you can perform 10-15 full repetitions, adding resistance in the form of a dipping belt with added weight, or a dumbbell held between the knees will keep the exercise challenging. In Part 2 of the ‘Hang Tough’, we will look at more challenging versions of the movement, including ‘muscle ups, ‘side-to-sides’ and asymmetric chins!