4 Chin-up Progressions You Should Be Doing

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The chin-up is considered to be one of the greatest markers of bodyweight strength: you can either pull yourself up to the bar, or you can’t. This is one of the feats of strength that you can’t cheat (unless you’re kipping, but let’s not even go there…)

Many lifters, particularly women who are new to weight training, have a hard time performing a single rep of a chin-up. In this article, I will list some techniques that can be used to build up strength towards that first rep.

Inverted Rows

This is a great exercise since it will help strengthen the scapulae muscles that are used during a chin-up, including the rhomboids and traps. Although the strength carryovers aren’t as direct as performing and being able to practice a chin-up itself, it is still a great option for beginners since they’ll get comfortable rowing their own bodyweight.

To increase the difficulty, keep your legs straight and elevate your feet so that your body becomes parallel to the floor.

Eccentric Chin-ups

The eccentric part of any lift is the lowering phase. It is the part where we’re significantly stronger, so increasing the tempo with which you lower the weight (or in this case, your bodyweight) will increase the difficulty of the exercise.

Eccentric chin-ups are performed in a slow and controlled motion. They’re one of the best ways to increase chin-up strength, since they are very specific to the lift and cover all ranges of motion with the same effort (if performed properly).

To perform eccentric chin-ups, find a way to position yourself at the top of the movement (either by using a box or by jumping up) and control the movement using at least a 2-second tempo on the way down. Make sure you’re not only controlling the first half and letting go once you reach the bottom part of the movement.

TIP: You can only get stronger at the ranges of motion that you practice. Therefore, it is crucial that you implement full ROM training when doing eccentrics or band-assisted chin-ups.

The first ¼ of the movement (from the bottom in a dead hang position) tends to be the most difficult for beginners. Make sure you don’t skip on starting from a dead-hang (if starting from the bottom) or lowering all the way down into that position if starting from the top.

It is also from the dead-hang that you must learn to retract and depress your shoulder blades to initiate the pull, so use it to reinforce proper technique every time.

Band-assisted chin-ups

Bands are a great way to keep time under tension and to learn how to perform the movement correctly. This allows for hypertrophy benefits in the lats and upper back muscles. You can increase the difficulty by looping it around one knee instead of the foot, which will reduce the stretch in the band.

The downside to using bands is that it makes the exercise significantly easier at the bottom of the movement, which is precisely where beginners have the most difficulty and should learn to build up strength on their own.

Regardless, if you have access to bands, I highly suggest them as a means to building up confidence in your chin-up training and to grow and strengthen the primary muscles being used.

Isometric holds

Holding a position isometrically at different parts of the movement will have a strength carry-over to about 10-15 degrees around the joint angle being used.

In the video below, I incorporated eccentric training with two short isometric holds at half-way and just before locking out my elbows at the bottom.

Sample Routine

Day One:

Eccentric Chin-ups 3 sets of 3 (3-5 second tempo)

Inverted Rows 3 x 6-8

Day Two:

Band-assisted Chin-ups 3 x 5-8

Isometric Holds (top, halfway, 1/8 down) 3 x 3

Day Three:

Eccentric Chin-ups with Isometric Holds 3 x 3 (3-5 second tempo with holds at the top and halfway)

Inverted Rows 3 x 6-8

There you have it, I hope this article has helped shed some light on how you can work towards your first bodyweight chin-up rep. As always, remember to keep an eye on proper technique and don’t forget that consistency and frequency is key to building strength gains.