This definitive guide will teach you everything you need to know about the Chin Up.
What is the Chin Up?
The Chin Up is a bodyweight pulling exercise where the athlete must pull their body up to a raised bar.
- What is the Chin Up?
- Muscles Worked by the Chin up
- Benefits of Chin Ups
- How to Do the Chin Up
- Training Tips
- Programming for the Chin up
- What’s the Difference between the Chin Up and Pull Up?
- Chin up Variations
- Chin up Alternatives
- Learn More
Muscles Worked by the Chin up
The Chin Up is an effective way to improve and challenge the arm, back, shoulder and general pulling capabilities.
It can be programmed to stimulate both strength and/or hypertrophy.
The latissimus dorsi are engaged during the movement in a similar way to the Barbell Row, Pull Up or other back heavy pulling exercises.
The different hand positioning recruits the biceps to a much greater degree. The movement demands a high level of elbow flexion, therefore the biceps have to work hard to create this.
Without good grip strength, the athlete will simply not be able to hang on the bar long enough to complete each set.
A solid grip will also make the entire movement easier. The exercise itself is an excellent way to develop better grip strength.
The exercise places a lot of emphasis on the arms. This makes the forearms work hard to support the body throughout the full range of motion.
Benefits of Chin Ups
This exceptional exercise has many benefits.
Augment Upper Body Muscle Mass
The movement is a great way to build muscle mass for your upper body. This is especially true if you want to create bigger arms and a more muscular back.
Enhance Upper Body Strength
They target back muscles such as the latissimus dorsi, teres major and trapezius, as well as the biceps, forearms and grip. This results in a much stronger upper body in general.
Build Focused Arm Strength
The movement is a fantastic way to develop arm strength.
Having to hoist your entire body up, whilst gripping the bar, is not easy. The end result is exceptional arm strength that has huge carry over for other exercises and life in general.
Build a Vice-like Grip
Without a strong grip this exercise is impossible (unless you use straps). The grip is the foundation of the movement.
Consequently, as you get better and progress, so too will your grip strength.
Grip strength is one of the most undertrained aspects of fitness yet it is incredibly important. Don’t neglect yours.
Difficult to Cheat
With gravity working against you, this is a tricky exercise to cheat. Make sure to keep your form true and work through the full range of motion to ensure maximum gains.
How to Do the Chin Up
The only piece of equipment you need for the exercise is a bar.
If you don’t have access to a pull up bar then be creative. Use scaffolding or a tree branch. There are many ways to adapt.
If you need, you can also use a plyometric box underneath the bar to reach the equipment and set yourself up in the hanging starting position
- Grip the bar with a supinated grip (palms facing you), shoulder width apart
- Allow your body to hang fully with your elbows slightly bent
- Inhale and brace your core, glutes, quads and grip
- Rotate your shoulder outwards to fire the lats
- Pull your shoulder blades down and your elbows back to begin the movement
- Squeeze your lats and pull your body upwards until your collar bone touches the bar
- Pause at the top
- Slowly lower your body back to the starting position and exhale
- Repeat for the desired number of reps
Keep your chin tucked in throughout the full range of motion. Don’t reach your head upwards like a tortoise to make the rep easier.
Free hand at the bottom of every rep to make sure there are no partial reps.
Make sure to brace your core. This will help to stabilise the body and make the movement smoother.
During the pulling phase, think about bringing the bar to your chest and drive your elbows into your back pockets. This will ensure you maintain solid form.
Stay tight on the descent as well. This is especially important if you want to build muscle because it will help to maximise time under tension and therefore muscle growth.
Quality over Quantity. 3 quality reps with full range of motion are better than 30 poor partial reps. Always go for quality over quantity.
Programming for the Chin up
You can use the Chin Up in different ways in order to achieve your personal goals.
Programming for Strength
Here you want to aim for smaller sets and long rest periods.
Start with 3 – 5 sets of 2 – 5 repetitions and rest for up to 3 minutes between sets.
Here you can also add extra weight. The last few reps should be close to failure.
Programming for Muscle Mass
Go for 4 – 6 sets of 7 – 12 reps. Keep your rest periods shorter, up to a minute max.
What’s the Difference between the Chin Up and Pull Up?
The two movements are similar however they do have a selection of major differences.
The first one is grip, which is what defines them as separate exercises.
- Pull Ups are performed with an overhand, pronated grip
- Chin Ups are performed with an underhand, supinated grip
The two variations also work different muscles groups.
- Pull Ups place more emphasis on the back
- Chin Ups also work the back (to a slightly lesser degree) and recruit the biceps much more
The final difference is that the Pull Up is harder.
Chin up Variations
There are many ways to change the exercise so that your training is varied, exciting and challenging.
Eccentric Chin Up
This is a great variation for anyone that wants to build more strength or struggles with pulling their bodyweight up to the bar in the first place.
The exercise only involves the lowering part and you simply try to move back to the starting position as slowly as possible. This can also help to build confidence, as well as for extra reps if you are completely fatigued
Banded Chin Up
Again, this is good for getting used to the movement and building strength and confidence. The band supports the weight of the body and makes the exercise easier and more stable.
Remember that this is a supporting exercise so there will come a time when the band needs to be discarded.
Weighted Chin Up
This is a simple and effective way for advanced athletes to make the exercise harder and the gains keep on coming.
You can use a weights vest, harness or squeeze a dumbbell between your legs. It is a big step up in intensity.
Chin up Alternatives
These alternatives will provide a similar stimulus if you cannot perform the original exercise for any reason.
The simplest alternative. Simply switch up your grip and change the stress and challenge for your body.
Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown
This is an effective exercise that will allow you to develop the biceps and back with loads that weight less than bodyweight.
Supinated Barbell Row
This barbell variation is similar and works to improve back and bicep strength and muscle mass.
Scroll through our FAQs to answer any more questions you may have.
Can I do Chin Ups Every Day?
Yes, calisthenics and bodyweight training is a great choice if you want to workout every day as it requires less recovery time that heavy barbell strength training for example.
What is the Chin Up Good For?
The exercise is a great way to increase the strength and muscle mass of the back and biceps.
Is Holding a Chin Up Good?
Yes, adding in isometric work within this context is an effective way to build strength, confidence, muscle and the mind muscle connection.
Are Chin Ups Better than Bicep Curls?
No. Bicep Curls do isolate the bicep but often they are not performed correctly and are easy to cheat.
The latter is essentially a Bicep Curl where you curl your entire bodyweight.
It is actually a better bicep exercise that will also work your upper body, core and grip strength as well to a much greater degree.
Do Chin Ups Make your Arms Bigger?
Yes, the exercise is exceptionally useful when it comes to hypertrophy.
The exercise will build big and muscular arms.
- Athletes-doing-Chin-Ups: Unsplash / CrossFit Inc