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Friday, September 2, 2011

The “I-Can’t-Even-do-One-Chin-up” Cure

A trainer friend of mine once said that if she were able to get a female client to be able to do 10 “boy” (AKA military) push-ups and one unassisted pull-up, she’d have a client for life.  Chin-ups are tough for many men, let alone a woman with a lot less upper body strength.  While one could argue that no correlation exists between the value of a trainer in their client’s eyes and their ability to do one (or more) pull-ups, achieving that elusive “one” (unassisted) pull-up has, in fact, elevated many a fitness professional to hero status.

Both men and women have come to recognize this exercise as a “staple” of upper body training because it involves so many muscle groups in the upper body. The muscular development of the back in relation to the waist creates the desired look
of an “hourglass” in women and the powerful “X silhouette” in the male physique.

Chin-ups are also known as pull-ups; only the grip is changed.  When palms are facing away from the body, they are often known as pull-ups (generally considered more difficult) and when the palms are facing toward the body, they are known as chin ups.  Semantics aside, “chin-ups” is the common term applied to pulling the body upward on a bar from a hanging, straight-arm position until the chin is level with the bar. There are a variety of grips that can be used to accomplish this with each grip working the musculature differently.
There are many muscle groups involved in chin-ups including: the latissimus dorsi, teres major, biceps brachii, the brachialis, and the brachioradialis. Contributing to a lesser degree are the mid and lower trapezius, rhomboids, and pectoralis major muscles.   In recruiting so many muscle groups, it is easy to see why when it comes to upper body exercises, this one provides a big bang for your buck.

Use this quick training guide to finally get over the hump and perform that “one” pull-up/chin-up (and hopefully more.) It is based on a workout designed by Alwyn Cosgrove, a leader in the fitness industry and writer for many fitness publications.  It requires a chin-up bar, a lat pulldown machine, and rubber Superbands that can be purchased inexpensively to provide assistance in pulling your bodyweight up to the bar until you’re able to do it without assistance.  Superbands are available in several sizes; each providing more assistance as the bands get thicker.  A ½” band (they are all 40” around), provides about twenty-five pounds of assistance/resistance.  A 1” band provides about fifty pounds of assistance/resistance. While perfecting chin-ups, start with the 1” band and move to the ½” band for less assistance as you get stronger.
  • First exercise:  Band-assisted chin-up: The beauty of the using the Superbands is that in doing so, you are coming as close to performing a “real” chin-up as possible in terms of form and movement pattern. Loop the band around a chin-up bar and then pull it through the other end of the band and pull it snuggly around the bar.  Depending on your height, stand on the edge of a box or bench to reach the bar, grasp the bar with arms shoulder-width apart, using an underhand grip; then place your knees inside the loop of the band.  Let your arms hang straight to reach the starting position.  Begin by doing 2 sets of 6-10 reps, resting a minute between sets.  Then begin exercise number two.
  • Second Exercise:  Negative Chin-ups:   With this exercise, you will not be pulling yourself up to the bar; you will simply lower yourself down from the top of the chin-up. Begin by standing on a box or bench positioned underneath the pull-up bar so that the top of your chest is level with the bar.  Step away from the box and begin lowering your body until your arms are straight.  Do your best to lower yourself at the same rate from start to finish.  Do 2 sets for time, resting 60 seconds between sets.  When you can take 30 seconds to lower your body, or combined, your 2 sets equal 45 seconds, then add a third set. Once your can complete a 30-second negative chin-up, you can likely perform one chin-up.  Move on to exercise three.
  • Third Exercise: Explosive Lat Pulldown:   This exercise is performed explosively (quickly and powerfully) in order to train your fast-twitch muscle fibers which are the most important for building strength. Grasp a lat pulldown bar with a shoulder-width, underhand grip.  But, instead of sitting in the machine, position yourself on your knees in front of it taking care to keep your body in a perfect alignment (arms should be completely straight with elbows soft.) Pull the bar down to your chest as quickly as possible without bending the torso.  Allow the bar to return to the top in a quick but controlled manner.  Choose the heaviest weight that allows you to complete 4 (but not 5) repetitions.  Do 10 sets of 2 reps each, resting 60 seconds between sets.  Each week, shorten your rest periods between sets by 15 seconds.  By week 5, do one single set of these for as many reps as possible.  In week 6, begin the process over again.
Once you have mastered the basic chin-up, you can experiment with different grips, arm widths, weighted chins-there are lots of options.  But we’ve a ways to go before that.  Chin-ups are the true test of upper body strength and endurance.  While we all know men that can crank out a set of 20 and look like they’re doing it in their sleep, a woman who can “crank” out a set of 10 or more chin-up/pull-ups is, well, a sight to behold.

© 2011 Jinifit, Inc.

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