How to Improve your Chin-up

Developing back strength is one of the most important aspects of training but also one of the most overlooked. Most of us tend to be drawn to the mirror muscles (chest, biceps and abs essentially) and disregard other muscle groups which are important for overall postural health and body control. There are not many better ways at developing your back, along with your core, than a chin-up. Most of us don’t put much effort into chin-ups because…..well, they’re hard to do, especially correctly. With the right approach, you would be surprised at how easy they can really become over time.


First, it’s important to differentiate between a chin-up and a pull-up. Here are a couple of videos to help you out, pay attention to the hand position:




In the top video, the hands are in a pronated position, taking the biceps mostly out of the movement. This is a pull-up, which, for most, are harder than chin-ups for the fact that you take your biceps away with the hand position. In contrast, the second shows the supinated hand position for the chin-up. This activates the biceps so that they will assist with the movement more, making it easier to perform (again, for most).


Now that we understand what a chin-up is, how do we improve it? The first thing that we need to do is strengthen the top and bottom of the movement. Speaking about the chin-up, Gray Cook once said if you work on the top and bottom of the movement, your body can figure out the middle. When hanging from the extended position (at the bottom), start with your hands pronated (palms out). Once you can hold that position for 30 seconds, move to a supinated hand position (palms in) and work to 30 seconds again. Holding the top of the chin-up for time is a little trickier. We’ll do the opposite with hand position, so we’ll start with supinated hands for 30 seconds and work to pronated hands for 30 seconds. Be sure that your shoulder blades are fully adducted while you’re holding, meaning pull your shoulder blades down to your butt. If you’re doing chin-ups or pull-ups and allowing your shoulders to roll anteriorly, you’ll be in a world of hurt eventually. Just remember, shoulder blades to your butt. If you can’t pull your shoulder blades into position at the top of the chin-up, be sure to work on this at the bottom of the movement by holding both the abducted (shoulder blades out) and adducted (shoulder blades back) position. Be sure to maintain a straight body line, keeping your legs straight and abdominal muscles tight with no swinging. If you want to build true back strength do not swing and do not kick your legs.


Once we’ve defeated the top and bottom of the movement, we have to eventually do actual chin-ups. Here is how the program will work:



DAY 1                    3  2  1  1

DAY 2                    3  2  1  1

DAY 3                    3  2  2  1

DAY 4                    3  3  2  1

DAY 5                    4  3  2  1

DAY 6                    OFF

DAY 7                    4  3  2  1  1

DAY 8                    4  3  2  2  1

DAY 9                    4  3  3  2  1

DAY 10                  4  4  3  2  1

DAY 11                   5  4  3  2  1

DAY 12                  OFF

DAY 13                  AMGRAP


When you’ve completed the program, start adding load. Also, we want to cut back on frequency also. Repeating the same movement for a couple of weeks won’t mess with the joints, but do the same thing day after day for a month or so and you’ll start having problems. Shoot for a couple of days a week with the same rep scheme.

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