Mastering the Chin Up: 7 Variations to Beat Gym Boredom
The chin up is one of the most popular exercises among gym goers. However, it’s not always easy to master. There are many ways to perform a chin up.
Some people prefer using a barbell while others like using dumbbells or kettle bells. And some just don’t have time for all these options!
So what do you need?
You need a way to get your body into a position where you can easily perform a chin up. That’s why there are various methods of performing the chin up.
1) Dumbbell Pull Ups
Dumbbell pull ups are probably the easiest method of doing them because they require no equipment at all. All you need is a pair of hands that can hold something heavy (a weight plate, kettle bell, etc.); a sturdy surface; and a partner willing to help you out.
If you’re going to use dumbbells, make sure that they’re strong enough so that when you lower them down into your hand, it doesn’t hurt. A good rule of thumb is if the weight feels like it would fall off your fingertips then its too light.
2) Barbell Pull Ups
Barbell pull ups are another option for those with limited strength and/or mobility in their arms. It’s basically the same idea as dumbbell pull ups, only a barbell is used in place of dumbbells. The primary advantage of using a barbell is that you can load up more weight and as a result perform more reps or do weighted pull ups.
To perform these, loop a towel, small piece of rope, or even your t-shirt through the bar in order to create a sling that can hold a plate (use at least 40% of your body weight).
3) Kettlebell Pull Ups
Making use of the age old “baby carrier” method, kettlebell pull ups are a great way to give your regular pull ups a new twist. These work much in the same way as dumbbell and barbell pull ups do, except that instead of having another weight at the bottom of a loop that you hold, you have a single weight at the bottom of each handle of the kettle bell. The kettle bell will provide you with counterbalance so that when you pull, the weight at the bottom helps you and when you lower yourself, it fights your movement.
4) Band Pull Ups
One of the most widely used tools for increasing your pull up output is a resistance band. Using one of these bad boys is as easy as finding something to tie it too and wrapping it around your body. These are great for building up your strength and endurance so that you can eventually do standard pull ups.
To use a band, wrap it under your feet to create tension and make the movement harder. As you get stronger you can move the band upward so that it provides less assistance.
5) Neutral Grip Pull Ups
Neutral grip pull ups are almost exactly like normal pull ups except instead of having a wider than shoulder width overhand grip, you have a shoulder width parallel grip. This places more emphasis on your back and biceps.
6) One Arm Pull Ups
These are exactly what they sound like. Using a similar movement pattern as the standard pull up, one arm pull ups are a great way to spice up your routine. To begin working on these, you can either use an assisted method or just hang from a bar with one hand.
Try to do as many reps as you can before taking a break and then switch hands. With practice, you’ll be doing these unassisted in no time.
7) Towel Pull Ups
Towel pull ups are a great way to progress from ordinary pull ups and one arm pull ups. All you need to do is take any long towel, wrap it around the pull up bar, and then place both hands in the middle of the towel. The middle portion of the towel should now be hanging on either side of the bar.
From here you just pull yourself up in the same fashion as you would with a normal pull up.
8) Ring Dips
Dips are one of the best ways to build up your triceps and they’re one of the few exercises that you don’t want to have a spotter for (unless you have someone willing to help you cheat). You can either make use of parallel bars, or if you’re really adventurous, try doing them between rings (like in gymnastics). If you’re using parallel bars, make sure your palms are facing each other.
If you’re using the rings, make sure your palms are facing away from you.
This exercise requires a good deal of abdominal strength and is a great way to start working on your pull up numbers as well. To begin, sit on the floor with your legs together and your arms out in front of you. From here, raise yourself up until your arms are completely straight.
Try to imagine that you’re going to lift your feet and your rear end off the floor, but don’t actually do it. Hold this position as long as you can.
10) Long Sit
This exercise is a more advanced version of the L-Sit. Everything is the same except that you lift your legs so that your knees are bent at a 90 degree angle and point your feet toward the ceiling. Hold this as long as you can.
If this is too easy, try holding a kettlebell between your feet.
Swimming is a great way to build up the strength in your arms for pull ups as well as your core and your legs to make you a better swimmer. You can either do actual swimming or do some sort of dry land drill. If you decide on the dry land version, find something to hold on to that you can pull yourself up on over and over again.
12) Scapula Dips
Scapula dips are another exercise that really help you build up the muscles that you use for pull ups. What this does is strengthen the muscles located between your shoulder and your arm. You can do these either on a table or a bench.
All you need to do is place your palms on the edge of the object, make sure your arms are straight, and then lower yourself until your shoulders are parallel with the floor.
13) Towel Chin Ups
This exercise is very similar to the towel pull ups from before, except now you’re going to hang from the bar with your palms facing you (instead of away from you). This will force you to use a slightly different grip which works your arm muscles just a little differently.
14) Door Frame Pull Ups
Door frame pull ups are another excellent way to strengthen your biceps and back for pull ups. All you need is a door frame and you’re ready to get started. To perform this exercise, all you need to do is place your palms on the door frame at shoulder width, jump up so that your chin is above the top of the door frame, and then lower yourself down.
This motion should look very similar to a pull up. If this is too easy, place your feet on a chair and use this as leverage to help you lift your body up higher.
15) Negative Pull Ups
This is another exercise designed to help you build up your strength for those tough pull ups. Here’s what you need to do: find a bar that you can grip that’s slightly higher than the height you can normally do pull ups. With this set up, you’re going to jump and grip the bar (make sure you grip it tightly).
Now, with your arms completely straight, you’re just going to lower yourself as slowly as possible. You can either have someone time you or count in your head as you lower yourself. Once you reach bottom, give yourself a few seconds rest and then pull yourself back up.
For the first couple of weeks, try to do 3-5 sets of these and only do them once every other day so your muscles have time to recover. As you get stronger, you’ll be able to do more and more.
16) One Arm Pull Up
This is obviously the mother of all pull up routines. The goal here is to eventually be able to do a one arm pull up. Here’s what you need to do: just like everything else, start off slowly by just working on your grip.
Hold a pull up bar with one hand and do as many as you can until you can’t any longer. Once you can do a few, move on to the next step.
The next step is to hang from the bar one arm and just practice pulling yourself up while using just one arm. After you can do 3 sets of 5 of these, try lifting your other arm off the bar and doing a one arm pull up. Continue to work on both sides until you can successfully get at least 3-5 reps on each side.
17) Ring Muscle Ups
If you thought the regular pull up was challenging, wait until you try to do a ring muscle up. Just like a regular muscle up, this is where you go from hanging below a bar to doing a pull up and pushing yourself over the bar and then lowering yourself behind it. The only problem is that there is nothing for your hands to grip in the first place!
So how are you supposed to complete this feat of strength and endurance?
The answer is, with the help of a trusty set of gymnastic rings. All you really need to do is fill a doorway with these rings and you’re ready to go.
If you don’t want to go through the trouble of setting up rings, you can always hang gymnastic handles from your pull up bar. These will essentially act as very short pieces of rope.
18) Get a Spotter
If you’re having a really hard time with any of these exercises and you think you need a little help, get a spotter. A spotter can help push you up when your arms begin to give out or if you begin to lose balance. This way, you’re still giving your muscles a good workout even if you can’t do the exercise unassisted.
There are also certain devices that you can use to help you out. For example, if pull up bars are just too hard to do because of the height, then try using a device like the Trekmaster Ab Puller TM 155 . This is a device that basically allows you to complete a row without having to lift your whole body.
It’s great for working on your back and helping you with any sort of lifting exercise.
Another good device that will help you with pull ups is the Power Pole PP-90. The PP-90 is a long bar that you grip and then hang from. It has cables and pulleys that help to bring you up to the bar.
It’s also great for working on your grip.
If you need help with push ups, try using a device like the Perfect PUSH-UP. This is a board with wheels that helps you slide away from the floor when doing a push up. It also has handles that you can grip to help you push yourself up.
19) Try Doing Your Pull Ups On Different Surfaces
If you really want to make your pull ups more challenging then try doing them on different types of surfaces. You don’t have to do them just from bars or even the Perfect PUSH-UP. There are plenty of other things around your house that you can use.
Try hanging from tree branches, the edges of tables and counter tops, or even the edges of stairs and railings. You’ll be surprised at how much harder it is to do a pull up when your hand is slipping off of something. Just make sure you’re careful when you do these so you don’t fall or drop a weight on yourself.
20) Use Different Hand Grips
The way that you grip the bar when doing a pull up is very important. There are several different grips that you can use and they all work different parts of your arm and back muscles.
If you are doing regular pull ups then you are actively using your lats, arms, and shoulders. You can make this exercise more difficult by moving your hands outward. This will make it so that you are using your chest muscles as well.
This type of grip is called a chin up grip because it is very similar to the grip used for a chin up. Make sure you’re using the right grip to get the most out of your muscles without straining yourself.
The two most common grips are the pronated grip and the supinated grip. The pronated grip is when you have your palms facing away from your body. This works more of the muscles in the center of your back.
The supinated grip is when you have your palms facing toward you. This one works more of the muscles on the sides of your back.
If you move your hands in as close to your body as you can get them, then you are using more of your back muscles and less of your arms and chest. This type of grip is called a neutral grip because it’s not really pulling your arms in any one direction.
21) Try Different Types Of Pull Ups
In addition to the different types of grips you can use, there are also several different types of pull ups that you can incorporate into your routine.
A common one is the knuckle pull up. All you do for this is curl your fingers into a fist and then put the knuckles of your fist against the bar. This type of grip allows you to hang from your knuckles instead of your whole hand.
This takes a lot more strength so don’t use this grip until you’ve mastered regular pull ups. Another variation on this is to wear rings on your fingers and do pull ups that way.
Using a towel as a pull up assist device is another great way to build up strength for real pull ups. All you do is grab one end of the towel in each hand and then pull up using the towel as assistance. Once you are at the top, let go of one end of the towel so that it snaps you back down and then repeat.
As your strength increases, you can let go of the towel sooner so that you are using more of it for assistance.
Another pull up that takes some strength is the chin stand. This one isn’t really a pull up so much as it’s a hold. You start in the top position of a pull up and then you just hang from that position.
The more you do this, the stronger your muscles will get and the longer you’ll be able to hold this position.
If you want to work more on your arms, you can also try doing some negative pull ups. This will allow you to get more reps with less effort. Then when you can do thirty regular pull ups, you can start doing towel pull ups with your chin barely clearing the bar to work on your weak “negative” part of the pull up.
This is where you bring your chin above the bar and then lowering yourself down as slowly as you can. By taking your time to lower yourself, you’re really focusing on the muscles in your arms. If you’ve ever seen those guys that hang from a bar and then do slow motion reps where they shake all over, this is similar.
Regardless of which type of pull up you do, there are some important things to keep in mind. The first is to keep your wrists straight so that you don’t damage them. This can take time so if they start to hurt, then you should take a break and stretch them out before continuing.
The second thing to keep in mind is to keep going until your arms are fully locked and your chest touches the bar. Some people will cheat and only go part way down to make it look like they are doing more reps than they really are. Make sure you keep your head in a neutral position.
This means that your ears should be aligned with your shoulders and your shoulders should be aligned with your elbows and your elbows should be aligned with your wrists. You should also have a slight curves in your neck.
You should also keep your body straight the entire time. If you start to twist or slant to either side, you put strain on the shoulder and back muscles that aren’t being used and that can lead to an injury. Your goal is to build strength, so you want to make sure that you are really working your muscles.
With proper form, pull ups should be one of the best exercises you can do because they work out your whole upper body in addition to strengthening your core and helping to develop balance. No matter what other upper body exercises you do, pull ups are always going to be important.
As you get more advanced, you can start doing different kinds of pull ups. One that works your back is called the chins. This is where you go all the way up so that your chin goes over the bar and then all the way down so that your chest touches the bar.
To work your biceps more, you can do a chin up which is done with your palms facing towards you instead of away from you.
Both of these can be done with one arm at a time or you can do them with both arms at the same time. The one arm version is called a “false grip” and it makes the exercise more difficult because you are twisting your wrist in a way that it isn’t meant to twist. This takes some practice so don’t be surprised if you can’t do any yet.
There are also a few variations on how far your legs are used. Another cool one is called the knurly chin. This one is like a normal chin up except you put both of your arms over the top so that your hands end up between the top and bottom bar.
Your palms can either face each other or away from each other for more of a challenge.
Now that you have made it this far, you should be feeling pretty strong. The best part is that you still have a lot more to go. As you keep going with the program, you will be amazed at how much progress you make.
You are probably starting to notice some gains in strength and your body is probably looking a little bit better too.
Does this sound too good to be true?
Well the only way to find out for sure is to keep going and see it all the way through. If you do, I guarantee that you are going to be happy that you decided to join me in this 12 week program.
Important Tip: One mistake that a lot of people make when they are starting out is they try to do too much too soon. The best way to start is by focusing on one exercise and getting really good at that before moving on to the next one. This is what I like to call “focus stacking”.
Here is an example of how you can apply “focus stacking”
The next chapter will cover the first exercise that you will be focusing on and it is the hanging leg raise.
Hanging Leg Raise
The hanging leg raise is a great abdominal muscle workout. In addition to working your abs, it also works your shoulders and hips. It is important to get really good at this exercise before moving on to more difficult ones because if you don’t have a strong base, you won’t be able to perform the other exercises properly.
There are two ways that you can do this exercise. The first one involves hanging from the bar and raising your legs up until they are parallel with the floor. The second one involves hanging from the bar and raising your entire body up until it is parallel with the floor.
Both exercises should be performed in a slow and controlled manner on the way down as well as the way up.
Here is an example of a good regimen for the hanging leg raise:
Perform 2 sets of 15 repetitions for both methods.
When you can consistently do 2 sets of 15 reps, add another set (3 sets total).
Once you are consistently doing 3 sets of 15 reps increase the number of repetitions to 20. Keep this up and you will soon have some impressive abdominal development.
Important Tip: Always keep your hips up when doing this exercise. If you allow your hips to drop below your hands, you are placing a great deal of stress on your lower back. If you find that this is happening to you, it means that you need to improve the strength of your abdominal muscles and lower back region.
One way to correct this during the exercise is to put a pillow or a folded blanket under your hips to keep them up as you perform the exercise.
Chapter 3: Developing Your Chest
The pectorialis major and minor are two muscles that are located in your chest and help determine the shape of your chest. The main function of these muscles is to pull the arm across the body, like when you are doing a front pulling motion (like a horizontal grip row) or a classic push up motion. There are two types of push ups that can help develop the strength of these muscles.
The first one is with a classic thumbs forward grip and the second is with a reverse grip where your fingers are pointing towards your feet.
The best exercises to strengthen your chest are the classic bench press and the incline bench press. I suggest that you start off doing the classic bench press and add the incline bench press variation once your bench press weight has been stabilized. Here is an example of an effective chest routine:
Perform 4 sets of 5 repetitions of both the bench press and incline bench press.
When you can consistently do 4 sets of 5 reps, add another set (5 sets total).
Once you are consistently doing 5 sets of 5 reps increase the weight you are using.
Important Tip: Always stop a rep or two short of failure. This will ensure that you are always performing each repetition through the full range of motion and not getting injured.
Chapter 4: Developing Your Back
The latissimus dorsi (lats) are the largest muscles in your back. They run from your lower back, across your hip, and attach under your arm on the edge of your chest. These are the muscles that give the v-shape look to a person’s upper body.
Sources & references used in this article: