Chin Ups, Chin Ups, and More Chin Ups!

You’re guide to completing a chin up

One of the most common questions I get asked is “how to do chin ups/pull ups”. Since many people see these as the ultimate show off of muscular strength, they are a common goal. But first, let’s talk about the difference between the two: pull ups vs. chin ups.

Looking at hand placement, chin ups are when your palms are placed towards your face along the bar. Normally you take a narrow grip with them so your hand should be on the bar in line with or just outside the shoulders. While chin ups work the back muscles, it is the biceps that are dominant.

When your palms are placed away from your face is a pull up. Normally this is done with a wider grip- outside the shoulders. During a pull up the back muscles – specifically the latissimus dorsi- are stressed. As a general rule, pull ups are more challenging.

How does this help me on the pole? Everything you do on the pole requires a pulling motion. Pulling your body into an invert, climbing up the pole etc. all require you to pull your body up and around. Part of the conditioning I do with my clients is “pole pull ups”. This teaches them to engage their shoulders, core  and develop the upper body strength needed for pole dancing.

So where do you start? If you are a beginner, start by strengthening your back. Seated rows, lat pulldowns and TRX rows are a great start. Beginning with inverted rows will also improve your chances of chin ups because you are stressing the same muscles in a similar plane of motion. You are able to progress your inverted rows by moving the bar higher and higher.

In order to do chin ups, you need to, well, do chin ups. Wasting time increasing your weight on the seated row will not enable your muscles to perform chin ups miraculously. That being said, there are a few different ways to start.

In the Gym

Assisted chin ups: this is when you have either a band or a trainer help you. Bands are fantastic to work with because you can alter the resistance based on your needs. This is essential to completing regular chin ups because due to muscle memory. Since you will be doing the actual movement, your muscles will remember exactly how to activate and stabilize which will be regurgitated when you’re strong enough for the real thing.

Negatives: training your muscles eccentrically will improve the overall movement. Jumping up so that your chin is above the bar, pausing and slowly lowering until your arms are extended more than 90 degrees will strengthen the muscle needed. Again, by performing the actual movement, your muscles will remember and regurgitate what they need to do once you increase your strength.

On the Pole

Negatives: stand facing the pole, raise your arms up (keeping the shoulders depressed) jump and focus on slowly lowering your body down the pole. You may need to bend your feet behind you depending on the height of the pole so that you can extend below 90 degrees. When completing pole negatives, ensure you switch your grip to prevent imbalances. Perform your set with the right hand on top and then the left. For a complete video explaining pole negatives, click here.

Climbs: essentially you are trying to complete a pull up but have the use of your legs. Bit by bit try and take away the use of your legs and focus on the weight in your arms. Similar to completing an assisted chin up in the gym, only you’re in control of the resistance! An easy way to improve your climbs is by adding pole pull ups into your conditioning. In the beginning, you might need the use of your legs, but the more you do them the easier they become. For a quick video explaining pole pull ups, click here.

Now let’s take a look at some key points on form. Ensure your shoulders are retracted. You should be able to hang from a bar and complete 5-10 scapular retractions before you attempt chin ups. This protects your shoulders and engages your stabilizer muscles. Your chin must come over the bar (or your hands in the case of the pole). Failure to do so results in poor range of motion and is not a complete repetition.

Train your muscles through a full range so that you strengthen the muscles needed properly. Your elbows must extend past 90 degrees. Again, this comes back to a full range of motion. You lose the help of key muscles when you only train with a limited range. Lastly, try not to swing your legs too much! You should not be rocking back and forth from the bar to get yourself up. this signifies that you do not yet have the strength or core engagement to do chin ups. Go back to the basics.

While all of that information may seem like a lot, if you are dedicated to your goal there is no reason not to achieve it. Chin/pull ups are very difficult and require a lot of strength. Take your time and complete them properly, it will be all the more impressive

Happy Pulling 🙂


Ps. If you have not checked out my video on performing Scapular Retractions to help strengthen the muscles that hold your shoulders in place, you can check it out here. I recommend starting with this as it will increase the ease with which you learn chin ups.