Why You Should Include Chin Ups and Pull Ups In Your Workout Routine

December 31, 2007

I forgot how great chin ups work the upper body. Recently, the lat pull down machine in my gym was taken, so I walked over to the power rack and decided to do chin ups instead. I did 5 sets of 5 reps at a slow tempo to really get the best out of the exercise. By the last set my forearms, biceps, and back were on fire! The next day, my entire upper body was a bit sore including my abs.

fit man performing chin ups outside
[A guy performing wide grip pull ups outside]

What is the Difference Between a “Chin Up” and a “Pull Up”?

Basically you will get slightly different answers depending upon who you ask. I consider it a “pull up” when your palms are facing away from you (like in the picture) and a “chin up” when your palms are facing you, or facing each other. I really prefer the chin up version the best, because it seems to give you the best leverage and works your arms more than pull ups. That being said, both chin ups and pull ups work very well. They are both wonderful exercises.

Don’t Chin Ups and Lat Pull Downs Work the Same Muscles?

You would think so, since they visually look like your muscles are moving though the same range of motion. The biggest difference is that chin-ups are a “closed chain” exercise (your body is moving toward resistance) and lat pull downs are an “open chain” exercise (resistance is moving towards your body). The muscle recruitment patterns are extremely different for these two types of exercises. It has been show that closed chain exercises like chin ups will work the muscles harder than open chained exercises.

I Used To Avoid Chin Ups at All Costs

I’m 6’3″ tall, so I’m not the ideal build for doing chin ups or pull ups. My range of motion is huge, so the first time I tried adding these I struggled big-time! My workout partner at the time was 5’8″ tall and he could jump on a bar and do 10-12 reps and these reps looked easy for him. At the time I tried doing them I was into the bigger muscle look, so I also weighed closer to 225 (now I weigh 185-190). Anyway…I finally began doing chin ups every workout. Within 6 months, not only did my back look much more defined, so did my arms. The thing that surprised me the most was how much better my abs looked after doing chin ups for six months…in fact, most guys and girls I have run into who do a lot of chin ups have decent abs.

The Proper Way to Perform the Basic Chin Up

I really believe the best version is the basic underhand shoulder width or slightly narrower (I prefer a bit narrower) than shoulder width grip. Lean back a touch and inhale. Pull until your chin clears the bar and then go back down. Exhale as you descend back down. Go all the way to the bottom where your arms are fully extended and straightened.

Avoid Poor Form and the Use of Wrist Straps

When you perform a chin up, you don’t want to kick your legs or engage the hip flexors (unless you are doing L-Chin Ups). The legs should stay in line with the torso. You can bend your legs at the knees, just make sure your body and thighs form a straight line. Throw away your wrist straps! Seriously…there is no place for them in a good workout. One of the great benefits of lifting is getting defined forearms and functional strength. I don’t think you should train with any weights that you can’t grip. Your grip will improve in time, so ditch the wrist straps.

What If You Are Too Weak to Perform Chin Ups?

I’m all for low reps, so I typically don’t do any more than 5 reps. I get a great workout with 3-4 sets of 5 reps. I perform these in an extremely slow and controlled manner and squeeze the hell out of my arms, lats, and entire torso. If you have a tough time performing 5 reps, then a spotter can help you up by cupping his or her hands. You place your foot in one of their hands and get help on the way up by pushing off with your foot. An alternative is the special weight assisted machines that help with chins…you put your foot on a platform or bar that “lifts” you a bit to make the reps easier.

What If You Can Easily Do 5 Reps?

If you can do 5 reps of chin ups without even straining, then you have a few options. A friend of mine does them last in his back workout after he has completed 5-8 sets of rowing exercises. Normally 5 reps is easy for him, but his muscles are fatigued a bit by doing theses last, making chin ups tough. An alternative is to perform chins with a weighted belt (a lot of gyms have these). You basically put a belt around your waist that has a chain to add weights.

Tons of Ways to Add Variety to Chin Ups and Pull Ups

You can use an over hand grip, a parallel grip, one arm chin ups, wide grip chin ups, weighted chin ups, etc. I would recommend sticking with one version and getting the most of that version before moving on to a variation. Arthur Jones (inventor of Nautilus) believed the best grip was a medium parallel grip (palms facing each other). Supposedly, this gives your body the most leverage and puts your arms and back in the strongest position. Most gyms have this sort of chin up bar, so give this one a try.

Experiment With Reps, Tempo, Etc…

For me, 5 super slow reps really does the trick…that doesn’t mean that 5 reps is the best for everyone. You don’t necessarily have to go slow either. I just hopped on to Youtube and saw a bunch of great variations. Here is a guy who is doing the “L chin up” and is releasing the bar in between reps. The L chin up is a great one for the abs, since they have to remain flexed to a certain degree to hold the weight of your legs forward. Releasing the bar in between reps has to be amazing for building forearm density!


[This guy has a thick shirt on, but you can tell he is in tremendous shape]

In Case Regular Chin Ups Get Too Easy!

[Looks like I have some work to do!]

Spend Some Time Building “Functional Strength”!

Chin ups and pull ups are all about building functional strength. You can get really strong at “lat pull downs”, but it doesn’t translate into being strong at pulling your body weight. The reason the military puts so much emphasis on pull ups and chin ups is these exercises build functional “pulling muscles”. Anything that involves gripping, pulling or climbing is greatly made easier by being strong at chin ups and pull ups. They greatly improve the appearance of your back, abs, and arms as well.

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{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

Burak December 31, 2007 at 4:55 am

Wow…it’s like you read my mind. The holiday time with the family is over (so I have permission to work out again, right?) and it turns out my gym isn’t open until a few days after new year’s. I’ve been making due with this pull up bar in my apartment for the past few days. If I had a good cardio routine, I could approximate my regular workout pretty effectively (any ideas?).

I could almost skip the gym entirely, but then I’d miss out on the motivation of cute girls wandering around…

Happy New Years,
Burak

Steve P December 31, 2007 at 8:33 am

Rusty,

If I was only allowed to do one exercise, pull-ups would be it. A couple of years ago I could lift nearly the full stack on the pulley pulldown machine but could barely do 3 or 4 proper pull-ups when I first tried. I had been avoiding them for years because I knew they are very hard to do, so I was avoiding them! It makes most people feel weak when they realise they can’t do many reps or impress their friends while hanging lamely off the bar.

I agree both chins and pull ups are great. I personally do mainly pullups, as I think it relates more to functionality, like if I had to climb over a high wall, do rock-climbing etc. Chins help build strong biceps but I think pull ups involve the lats more, with a better lat contraction when the bar is reached. I think both need to be done though for balanced development.

I think you are right about the abs. Controlling the legs to prevent swing during the movement is done by abdominal contraction throughout the movement. Its such a hard exercise to perform precisely, you almost never see anyone executing pullups/chins properly without swinging like a monkey to gain momentum!

I think this is a fundamental exercise, and is complemented well by bar dips which work the chest, triceps, front deltoids to balance the rear-delt, lats, and bicep development of pull-ups.

Have a great New Year whatever you are doing!

Tyler Durden December 31, 2007 at 10:39 am

oh my gosh the second video is crazy! I’m 5’9” so i’m great at doing chin and pull ups! I can do 20reps in the first set and 12, 10 after that. Somtimes in the gym i grab a dumbell with my feet and perform chin ups that way.
These videos inspired me to improve my chin ups even more! Pulling yourself with one hand is extremely difficult. Even i cant do 1 rep that way altough i can 20 with both hands.
Chin ups work your abs better than direct abs exercises!

Tyler Durden December 31, 2007 at 10:46 am

i think at first i’ll try to do the L chin up that looks much easier than the one hand variation.
Rusty could you tell me the english name of the exercise which works your triceps and your pecs mostly, work with your own weight, you have to grab 2 parallel levers and push your body up and descend afterwards…i hope you got it…
That’s one of my favorite exercise since i work with my own weight and gives you functional stregth.

C December 31, 2007 at 11:06 am

Or – you could go indoor rock climbing! I did the other day and I’m still hurting.

Helder December 31, 2007 at 11:08 am

Hi Rusty
Very good post, i love chins they are a fantastic exercise. I left the gym, i’m inspired by gymnasts and i’ve started what i expect to be a long time routines of bodyweight exercises, i’ve started one month ago, though i was strong in many exercises, like presses, front squats and rows, i had little functional strength, it was hard to do push ups, chin ups and other exercises just with my body, and in the gym i have always trained with low reps. I can tell you right now after a month, i’m getting stronger, i’m getting leaner, and i feel my muscles look better, the movements seem to be more natural, my joints don’t hurt no more, and i’ve discovered a world of exercises, a lot of diferent ways to make an exercise harder, you can sometimes go for high reps and other times it’s possible to make things so hard that you stick to low reps, lots of gymnastic isometric exercises that really tone your body for cause of the hard contractions. The chins are a fantastic exercise i say it again, no matter if you train in the gym, outside the gym, i f you train to look good, if you train for sports, whatever, everyone should do it.

Happy new year to you Rusty and to everybody, a year full of good things, health, happyness and Love, with all the people we Love and care about close to us.

Jonneh December 31, 2007 at 12:31 pm

Haha I was just about to comment and mention one-handed-pull-up’s, but then I saw them in one of those videos. I can only do them with my right arm – my left arm is so incredibly weak compared to my right that I don’t think it can even do one. MAYBE one.

Anyway, I love pull up’s (or chin up’s, whichever I guess). I don’t know which one I do, but I like it. They are what I mainly worked on when I first began working out, and I got tremendous results in my arms with them. Results that stayed, mind you. I combined pull up’s with regular dumbbell lifts for each arm, though I guess I concentrated more on my right arm because I’m right handed so it started out with an advantage over the left.

admin December 31, 2007 at 1:13 pm

Burak,

I like your comment…
“I could almost skip the gym entirely, but then I’d miss out on the motivation of cute girls wandering around…”

I think that having the opposite sex around is always a good thing in just about any activity that you do. We compliment each other very well.

Steve,

Yeah…I can pull almost the full stack on the lat pull down machine for a few reps, but I have some work to do to get better at chin ups. The great thing is that the chin up bar never gets used in my gym, so I can use it whenever I workout. I plan to do an article on dips as well…another great exercise!

Tyler,

You would be speaking about “dips”…I plan to do an article on them as well. Another great exercise. You sound like my first workout partner I had when I was 17. He was WAY better at this bodyweight stuff than I was. You are right about that guy in the second video…he has outstanding pulling strength!

C,

I have a rock climbing wall right down the street. I have actually never tried rock climbing, but maybe I’ll give it a shot in 2008.

Helder,

Yeah…I want to eventually be able to do one arm chin ups and one arm push ups. That takes crazy amounts of functional strength and is more impressive than putting up 315 pounds on the bench press. What is funny is that bodybuilders are typically terrible when it comes to things such as pull ups. Their strength doesn’t grow in proportion to their increase in mass.

Jonneh,

You are ahead of me, I can’t do one arm pull ups with either arm! I want to train to be able to do 3-5 reps with each arm. One arm pull ups or chin ups are an extremely impressive display of strength.

Happy NEW YEAR Everyone!

Rusty

PS: We should all try to get in the best condition of our lives this year…make more money, date great people, take a trip to an exotic location, step out of our comfort zones a bit and grow as people…you get the idea!

Thomas December 31, 2007 at 4:53 pm

rusty
my gym was closed to and dont make fun of me but my girlfriend does this red carpet system workout by valarie waters and Its circut training full body and you use dumbells. You do 3 circuts and alternate with high intensity cardio 3 days . It made my legs so lean i was suprised how well it made my upper body really lean to. The ab exercises were plank variations just like you do. ive been following your idea of working and love interval training. I love doing 5 or 6 times a week wwhen i want to get lean. I was wondering would you stick to this program or once the gym opens go back. I like the gym atmosphere too. here is the the link take a look if you can.
http://www.redcarpetready.com/

jake December 31, 2007 at 4:56 pm

hey rusty like the site.I am confused about some thingd I know you do low rep i want to ask you though ive started doing low rep. I also followed this ast sports science website and says the go 4 to 6 reps and thats what they use for bodybuilding whats the diffrence between toning and bodybuilding from this site ?
here is the web site
http://www.ast-ss.com/

Helder December 31, 2007 at 5:42 pm

One thing i forgot to say, yesterday i’ve seen 2 cool videos on youtube, fitness from the streets is the name of the videos. You can see a few guys working out in a park, they do all kinds of pull ups, chin ups, pushups, dips, etc… you name it, take a look a then tell me what you think about it.

Gators December 31, 2007 at 6:53 pm

ok Rusty…
it’s new years day, here’s the deal…i’m heading to Melbourne in 23 days to watch the Aussie open tennis and there just happens to be this girl i was seeing last year who lives there (sth american goddess, think Jenna Dewan lookalike), anyway to cut a long story short, things were going really great then i kinda stuffed things up (long story)…i want to go 23 days training straight, when i see her i want to feel like a Lion, i want to be at my absolute peak physically & mentally. i’m probably 80-85% there…when you go long periods of training everyday, how often can i duplicate my workouts eg. weights one day, running the next and repeat? i like to train hard, i like to feel i’ve pushed the threshold everytime…can you give me the most kickass/hard workout i can do for the next 23 days straight? diet is no problem and i wont be drinking either!
have a great NYE!
Cheers…

Ron December 31, 2007 at 8:11 pm

Somewhat off topic, I saw Larry King last night and he had contestants from The Biggest Loser who’d lost a ton of weight. They showed some clips from the show and what I found interesting was this pushup variation they were doing. I’ve done something similar, where I had my feet on a ball, but what they were doing different is that they had their hands on a balance board! I thought what I was doing was difficult!

Oh, and apparently I’ve been doing chin-ups wrong, as I haven’t been coming all the way down. And my legs do tend to swing, even when I’m doing dips. I’ll try to work on that. Thanks for the info!

Mark December 31, 2007 at 8:16 pm

Rusty,

Great article! Good old-fashioned pull-ups. I’ve been doing them since the 70’s. One of the best exercises out there.

I remember Arnold saying that he built his power by doing, say, 50 wide-arm chins in a back workout. He would just keep doing sets to failure until he reached 50 reps in total.

Then, he would gradually increase this total number to 52, then 55.

Not a bad plan. Pretty credible source.

Have a blessed new year, my friend!

Mark

admin December 31, 2007 at 8:18 pm

Thomas,

I’ll come back and look at the website when I have more time. I have to take off for a New Years party soon. Anyway…if it gets results, stick with it until the results stall. I am a huge believer in different types of cardio…circuit training is basically a way of getting a cardio workout with weights and if done properly, it can work well. At some point you will probably want to come back to weights to make sure your muscles don’t get too “soft” looking. Heavy training builds great muscle density which results in high muscle definition.

Jake,

The biggest difference between what I recommend and a low rep bodybuilding approach? I recommend not going to failure, not damaging the muscles, not performing forced reps, and keeping the total volume low. I also put a strong emphasis on creating a calorie deficit through dieting and I recommend a strong emphasis on year-round cardio. The bodybuilding approach calls for a higher volume workout, more calories, damaging the muscles through going past failure, and limiting cardio during a “mass gaining” phase.

Helder,

I’ll search for those guys on Youtube tommorrow. Heading out to a party in a few.

Gators,

I’m actually going to write a free e-book on a 21 day fitness blitz, but I’ll touch on a few quick points here.

* If you keep reps and volume low when you lift, you can work each body part up to 3 times per week for up to 4-6 weeks without overtraining.
* You can do up to an hour of cardio each day as well. I’ve done 21 days in a row of cardio before summer in the past.
*Day 1: Work 1/2 your body in 30 minutes (remember you have to keep the volume low or you will overtrain)…follow this by 45 minutes of cardio…and 10-15 minutes of planks.
*Day 2: Work the other 1/2 of your body in 30 minutes the following day followed by 45 minutes of cardio…and 10-15 minutes of planks.
*Day 3: Really tough cardio for 60 minutes

Do this until you leave for Melbourne. You will be able to do this for three weeks without overtraining. Obviously anything over a month and this would put your body into an overtrained state. Also…Just pick two lifts for each body part. Perform just 3-4 sets of each lift for 5 reps. Try to get stronger each workout if possible. This workout is obviously cardio heavy, but that is what is going to create the rockin’ body that will make you very physically appealing to this young woman.

I like to work chest and back on day 1. Then shoulders biceps, and triceps on day 2. Your legs will get very toned if you perform tough cardio. Don’t do squats or anything like that…no need. You will look great for that beautiful young woman!

Okay…It is Time to Celebrate!

Rusty

admin December 31, 2007 at 8:32 pm

Ron,

Yep…you have to build up those muscles to pull around all that heavy camera equipment. I expect you to make some big motion pictures at some time in the future!

Mark,
It is funny how the really “old school” exercises like chin ups are often the best ones. I like to mix up old school stuff with newer techniques. Although I’m not a huge fan of bodybuilding, I really thought that Arnold was one of the few guys that gave the sport a good name. He brought a charisma that the sport hasn’t had since.

Rusty

Ron December 31, 2007 at 9:47 pm

Some more balance board exercises

http://youtube.com/watch?v=M7eJ8XR7CQY&feature=related

Ron December 31, 2007 at 9:49 pm

I’ll work on it! Auditions for Midnight Schlock Theater (ok, so it won’t be the next Midnight Cowboy…though it does have “midnight” in the title) are on the 12th & 13th!

Grips do the equipment carrying 😉

Angie December 31, 2007 at 10:46 pm

I love doing chin ups and pull ups,love the way they work my body and how it feels, but I do have to use the machine. Not quite able to do them alone quite yet..but someday….hey..what a great goal for 2008!!

admin January 1, 2008 at 2:38 pm

Ron,

Those guys have much better balance than me, I’d “bite it” for sure! Love the name of the film…gotta love the “indie” crowd! Make your grips do pull ups before you hire them 🙂

Angie,

I know you will be able to do them without assistance soon. I’ve been to your website, you look like you have the strength to do these.

2008 is here…time to push hard!

Rusty

Jeff January 1, 2008 at 3:45 pm

Rusty, another great post! What I love about the ideas on this site are that many can be done outside of the gym! I love doing pullups/chinups-the best upper body exersise-barnone (pun intended). A tip for those who can do more than 10 reps is throw a dumbbell into a backpack if you don’t have one of those weighted vests/belts. I’ve found this to be very helpful with creating muscle-density. Who needs a gym when you have a pullup bar and determination. Here’s to 2008!

Gators January 1, 2008 at 6:01 pm

Cheers Rusty
hope you had a great NYE…that’s an awesome workout! i’ve never done 21 days straight before, especially with loaded cardio so i’m going all out..i look forward to it starting today. i’m also hoping it’ll take my mental state to a new level of confidence…this is actually what i hope she’ll notice the most, if that makes any sense…i think a lot of times it comes down to how you hold yourself and the aura you project, not so much how you look…we’ll see! will keep you posted how it goes now the countdown has begun….

admin January 1, 2008 at 11:46 pm

Jeff,

Great idea with the back pack! I never thought of that before, but that is perfect for weighted chins and dips. I am all about getting out of the gym and living life. There are a much bigger variety of people outside of the gym.

Gators,

I completely agree with your mental state being extremely important. To be honest, over 1/2 the reason you want to be in great shape is so that you “feel” more desirable. If you feel confident and attractive, then she will see you that way as well. We actually project a lot of how people see us. Kick butt and get in awesome shape buddy!

Cheers,

Rusty

David January 2, 2008 at 3:24 pm

I guess great minds do think alike! I started doing chin ups last week. It makes sense that the old school ways of building strength still work. Not like we have changed drastically on a physiological level in the last 30 years.

I’m looking forward to becoming stronger without getting bulkey in 2008!

Ron January 5, 2008 at 3:41 pm

Whoops…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjgCZ3HF3Qk&feature=related

Maybe something to do in addition to those chin-ups?

admin January 6, 2008 at 2:38 am

Ron,

I can’t even do a handstand and hold that in place. Doing handstand push ups is something to aim for!

Rusty

Ron January 6, 2008 at 4:24 am

You think that’s impressive? Check this out!

http://youtube.com/watch?v=MA5XskutHrA

Now THAT’S something to aim for!!!

People are amazing. I hope to be one of them.

David January 8, 2008 at 1:20 pm

Rusty,
I was wondering if you could help me out here?
I have been doing the strength training programme and took the advice you gave me. I was wondering is it possible to over train where your not damaging the muscles by training to failure? I do a two day split, lifting weights 6 days per week with Sunday off.

Also a bit off topic. I watched a movie over the holidays called ‘Highway’ (2002) with Jared Leto and Selma Blair. I’m a big fan of ‘Fight Club’, so that is why I couldn’t help but notice that Jared is in seriously good shape, even more so since he is a vegetarian. He seems to have improved his body some how, without getting bulkier, but more streamlined. Any ideas on what he might have done to get that kinda result?

David January 8, 2008 at 1:59 pm

Sorry I forgot to say that he had improved his physique since being in ‘Fight Club’. THe movie I’ talking about (‘Highway’) would have been made about 3 years after ‘Fight Club’. Yeah so just wondering.

admin January 9, 2008 at 1:44 am

David,

Jared is the classic example of a guy who watches his diet and does a lot of cardio. Judging by his physique he is a guy who obviously has gained all the muscle that he wants and now focuses on staying lean. I actually think his band, 30 Seconds to Mars, has a couple of decent songs.

So to answer your question, once you are satisfied with all the muscle you want, you can begin working on making your physique exceptional. Over time, if you don’t increase your body size…you will increase your muscle density…especially if you focus on getting stronger without gaining mass (like an Olympic gymnast).

The reason most guys don’t get a refined looking physique like Jared is that they workout in a way where the body grows at the same rate as their strength levels…this just creates a bigger version of their average looking physique (this might be the longest run-on sentence of my entire blog).

So…workout under a slight calorie deficit and include cardio, with the goal of gaining strength and performance without adding size…in 12 months you will be transformed.

Rusty

David January 9, 2008 at 8:45 am

(Longest run-on sentence on your blog..lol).

Awesome. So really he is an example of the type of physique you reccomend. I feel good doing the strength training. It’s only been 5 weeks but already I am seeing results! More tone and definition without bulk. 12 months is a long time when your statring out, but I’m gonna be working out that whole time anyway, just a case of wanting the results instantly…lol.

I have been trying my own version of the Warrior Diet over the last 3 weeks. I workout in the morning so I have porridge and a protein shake afterwards. Then I just have fresh fruit or vegetable juice or fruit during the day then my main meal in at night. I feel I have more energy. I have also noticed how free my mind feels not having to constantly think about my next meal or snack.

Have you noticed this?

admin January 9, 2008 at 3:20 pm

David,

You will actually get 90% of the way there the first 3-6 months. The last 6 months, you physique will go from great to outstanding…you don’t have to wait 12 months to look good…it jut takes a while to look amazing.

I get WAY more done now that I’ve dropped eating throughout my day. I was just reading Ori’s newest version of The Warrior diet. I saw it at Border’s books for $18, so I picked up a copy yesterday. He believes that people who eat this way have clearer thinking, or more creative, more energetic, and happier (no blood sugar mood swings). I am beginning to agree with him.

Rusty

staki January 9, 2008 at 5:38 pm

Hi,
I have a question, great article, this is kind of off topic, but I want to build up my shoulders without getting them too wide. I bought power tubes (the light ones–as you can see I am weak), and doing the shoulder press was a bit hard. How can I widen my shoulders by using the power tubes or even without them? I saw different exercises, and they have biceps too, or other upper body parts and I just want to focus on my shoulders. Thanks so much for your help.

admin January 10, 2008 at 1:04 am

Staki,

The best way to build up the shoulders a bit is to do overhead presses of any sort. Go as light as you want and add weight as you get stonger. You could buy those really light dumbbells at any sporting good store until you get stronger.

You could also do really light lateral raises.

That should do the trick!

Rusty

staki January 10, 2008 at 4:07 pm

Thanks so much Rusty!

Hulbs February 6, 2008 at 7:02 pm

Hi Rusty,

3 months ago when I was 198 pounds (90kg) and quite weak i hated these exercises and would sometimes do them on the assisted wide grip chin machine (palms facing away) needing at least 85 pounds of assistance by the machine.

Now i’m at 173.5 pounds and relatively a lot stronger and it’s great that I can actually do 4 reps unassisted on the wide grip chins (palms away) or 6 reps unassited with shoulder width pull ups (palms towards). I now love these exercises and my functional strength is a lot better than most of the’big guys’ at our gym. They are also starting to give me that V shape i’ve always wanted, and given that i’ve gotten my waist down to 30″ (from about 34″) it doesn’t take much muscle or much shoulder width to get a decent V i’ve realised.

Hulbs

admin February 7, 2008 at 2:21 am

Hulbs,

I am a long-armed guy like yourself. Pull ups are tough when you have such a large range, but they are worth the effort. I also notice that my abs get a bit sharper when I do a lot of chin ups in my workout. They are a really solid exercise.

Rusty

Brad February 21, 2008 at 11:41 am

Rusty, that is a really good article about pullups and chinups and I enjoyed reading many of the posts and you’re responses. So much good stuff here!
I really enjoy my workouts again since I’ve been reading your articles. I never realized before that you can improve muscle density without adding size. I always thought that if I wasn’t trying to add muscle size then my workouts were just a waiste of time.
I really focus on functional strength now more then ever. Chinups, pullups, dips, pushups etc……. These are great exercises and I never seen any of the bodybuilders in my gym doing these. It is more impressive to see guys who can do 50 pushups or 20 chinups then a guy who can bench 300 pounds once or twice.
You have forever changed the way I workout and my attitude towards each workout. Seriously can’t thank you enough!
I also love the 21 day workout you gave to Gators. I can’t wait to try that sometime this summer. I will wait until I know when and where I’m going on vacation and then I will do that exact workout for 21 days along with my healthy diet. I’d imagine that will really put my body over the top and lose any stubborn bodyfat that I still might have.
Thanks again Rusty, great stuff!

admin February 22, 2008 at 1:37 am

Brad,

I’m glad you have experienced a “mental shift”. I changed my way of thinking about working out almost 9 years ago now. I am not impressed by bodybuilders at all anymore. I am much more impressed by the physiques and physical accomplishments of “special forces” in the military, high level masters of martial arts, middle weights in boxing, gymnasts, etc.

In a military engagement, big bulky guys are toast. They simply aren’t quick enough to head for cover, climb over and under things, can’t run for long periods of time, etc. I don’t plan on being in a battle any time soon, but it does give you a better perspective when you workout to realize that you are better equipped in a life or death situation.

Cheers,

Rusty

Jamie March 19, 2008 at 10:47 pm

Hey there Rusty.

My friend told me about your site, it’s excellent.

Slight problem here, My rear delt is hunched. It’s like the shoulder blades are pulling towards front.
I’ve been doing rear delts and also rowing as well so that they could pull back. I’m even doing chest and back in one day so it could the work. But It’s not really showing any obvious results.
What should I do, I’m desperate, I’ve also strecth proper my pecs but still.

What should I do Rusty. Thank you.

admin March 21, 2008 at 12:40 am

Jamie,

Thanks for the compliment…and tell your friend “thanks”. You are doing the right things, it just doesn’t happen overnight. Make sure you put in a decent amount of time doing seated low pulley rows. Do the narrow grip, medium grip, and wide grip. Maybe you want to specialize in this for the next year or so. That will definitely help.

Rusty

Bob March 26, 2008 at 7:54 pm

Hey man, great article as usual. Incorporating pull/chin ups into my workout is something that I have gotten away from (I got too into doing lat pull down for mass), and this is definitely inspiring me to get back into them. I’m just trying to decide which days are best to do these exercises on. I want to start doing a split like yours, chest/back Mon and Thurs, and shoulders/arms Tues and Fri.

Which and how many days do you think I should do pull ups and chin ups, since they both rely heavily on both your back and biceps?

Thanks for the help Rusty!

admin March 27, 2008 at 3:12 pm

Bob,

One of the reasons I chose this split is that smaller muscles like biceps and triceps recover quicker than big muscles like chest and back. By doing the split like this your biceps get worked directly on shoulders and arms day…then they get worked indirectly on back and chest day. The same thing happens with triceps.

Your arms are getting worked on a more frequent basis than your bigger muscles. It works out very well!

Rusty

BNY March 28, 2008 at 3:26 am

Hi Rusty.

As i know, we are recommended to do back after chest, so that the rear delt and rhomboids will pull back our pecs in odrer not to get hunched. And that’s what i do.
But recently, my friend told me to do pull up first then do chest muslce. He said that the back will be more dominant then. It does not make sense to me.
Is it true, or my friend just don’t what he’s talking about ?

My neck is a bit hunched forward. Any idea what should I do? My neck is a bit long too.

Thanks Rusty.

admin March 29, 2008 at 12:08 am

BNY,

I’m still going to recommend that you do them last. Your friend is probably saying that your back will be strongest if you work it first. I have never found that working the chest first makes me lift lighter when I get to the back lifts.

I like the idea of leaving the gym in good posture. If the last thing that you do is pull your shoulders back, then that is going to enforce better posture than pulling them back for 20-30 minutes…and then pulling them forward right after by hitting chest right after.

Just my two cents,

Rusty

Re August 19, 2008 at 3:49 pm

Pull ups are king for upper back along with the bench press. I am now starting to do them with the weighted belt after doing them for 2 months with my own bodyweight. I suggest every serious trainee incorporate pull/chin ups in their programme!!

Abril February 28, 2009 at 3:58 am

Just wanted to say Rusty, that had it not been for your site to give me motivation….I would always have believed pullups were beyond my reach. Looking muscular yet fem was beyond. But wow. I can do pullups now.

I couldn’t even do them in the Army!

Thanks Rusty!

rugby April 7, 2009 at 10:56 pm

lol, i suck at benching, can’t even do 160 but when it comes to the back i can rock out like tons of chinups i could do a lot of chinups and pulups a day at when i was at 290 and i had tennis elbow at the time.

Gymless Jim July 6, 2009 at 8:31 am

I feel like being a good person, so here’s a tip if you’re having trouble doing pull ups/chin ups:

Start off at the top of the bar and perform negatives instead. (a chin down?) Negatives are easier but remember you’re trying to build yourself up to being able to do a full pull up, so don’t just drop like a rock (ow my sockets…). Go slowly and controlled. You can also do this for other exercises like tricep dips.

There’s my good deed done for the week (:

akit110 October 24, 2009 at 11:56 pm

“The reason most guys don’t get a refined looking physique like Jared is that they workout in a way where the body grows at the same rate as their strength levels…this just creates a bigger version of their average looking physique (this might be the longest run-on sentence of my entire blog).”

I think the key is that they are getting bulkier (added muscle but with equal or more gains in fat) as they are eating or drinking excess calories to maximize hypertrophy. Inevitably this leads to a bigger but softer look. With pro bodybuilders, this is fine because they will (and know how to) lean out for competition, but for regular folks, they just end up – as you said before – bigger versions of themselves.

akit110 October 25, 2009 at 12:08 am

i had been working out with kettlebells pretty seriously for 2 years. I had found them to be a great for general fitness, functional strength and the posterior chain. Then this summer, I hurt my lower back trying to duplicate a kettlebell snatch with a dumbbell in the gym at work.

So I backed off and started doing pull-ups and dips. Exercises I used to do a lot when I was in my early 20s (nearly 20 years ago) but had mostly done very sporadically as ‘finishing’ exercises at best. I was very pleasantly surprised how many muscles are taxed with pull-ups (and to a slightly lesser degree with dips). Even though I had been exercising quite regularly, I was surprised to see some of my muscles start to fill out again from doing ‘ladders’ with these exercises. I realized that there is a lot of ‘time under tension’ with a pull-up (and of course, your entire bw as resistance). And very little momentum compared to some of the kettlebell exercises & that there was a lot of utility to bringing these two exercises back into the routine!

The other thing I noticed from doing the pullups regularly and keeping the volume up with ‘ladders’ is that as you keep doing the exercise, you start to get better and better at engaging the large muscles of the back and even the pecs into the exercise and your arms no longer become the weak link for the exercise. As I started to notice this – the reps started to climb right up!

Alain - How To Build Muscle July 27, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Nice post, mainly the slow and controlled chin ups for 5 reps. Today is gym day and im definitely trying this. Im thinking 5 reps are doable (hopefully) lol but i know how much harder they will be in a slower motion.

Alex November 16, 2010 at 5:48 am

Hi Rusty,

Thank you so much for your amazing blog posts. They are informational and at the same time inspiring to me!
In many ways you have helped me by just being there.

However, if it’s not too much to ask, I would like a little bit more advice on chin ups.
I’ve started doing chin ups and started by using your low reps high volume style training 3 times a week for the past 2 months.
My starting max reps were only 6 reps, but at the current moment, I can only push out 7 max reps.

I am quite certain that I am using good form during each rep, but why is it that I cannot seem to drastically increase my max reps?

Being Healthy is Easy. I Show How February 11, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Great post. Body weight exersices should be a part of everyones workout. I think we rely too much on weights and machines.

Christopher Chipps June 18, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Hello. I love pull ups and chin ups, but I’m getting discouraged because I can’t seem to engage my lats when I do a pull up or chin up. I don’t know how. How exactly do you engage your lats when pulling yourself up? I feel it in my arms of course, and shoulders, but not my back. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks,
Christopher

Trevor Streeton October 5, 2012 at 4:19 am

Hi Christopher

Try this to “find” your lats. Stretch your arms out to the sides, then bend your elbows to 90 deg. Move your arms back a bit, pushing your chest out and notice which muscles in your back contract.

sajeev November 9, 2012 at 12:36 am

Excellent blog,Rusty….Very informative.

I am 5 ft 11 inches, and weight around 143 pounds. I have been working out a while.(I don’t have access to a gym). I am able to do 9 consecutive pull ups . Other than pull ups, I love doing push ups. Can you give me a routine for a week where I can include pullups, push ups and chin ups(if necessary.). Currently, I am doing pull ups and push ups on alternate days(no else exercise), with Sunday as rest.

Thanks,
Sajeev.

mg November 19, 2013 at 2:47 pm

I wonder how many of this guys have a full time job.

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