How To Do a Chin Up and How To Do a Pull Up

by Jeff on May 14, 2011


This article is a Part 2 of yesterday’s article Chin Ups Vs Pull Ups

Proper Form

I have a video below that explains the form elegantly (simple, concise and clear, I love it). Pay close attention when he talks about ‘setting the scapula (shoulders)’. You don’t want to raise your shoulders.

How To Do Your First Chin up/Pull up

This section is for people that don’t have the strength to pull themselves up. Here are some things that you can do in order to do your first chin up/pull up.

– Start with the chin up, it is easier to perform than the pull up.

Only do the negative. Get into the peak of the motion by jumping up or by stepping on something. Then let yourself down as slow as you can. In this video below, the tempo is 10 seconds down. If you have trouble with 10 seconds, try 5 seconds or 3 seconds. This may not look like much, but it helps you build up the strength you need.

Bodyweight rows

If you can’t do these rows when your body is parallel to the ground (demonstrated in the video below), put your feet on the ground.

You can even do these at home, just make sure the table doesn’t flip over. If your table starts tipping, stop.

Lateral Pull-Downs

The lateral pull-down works some of the same muscles as the chin up/pull up, but your muscles work together differently for each exercise. The lateral pull-down doesn’t directly improve your chin up, but it helps improve your muscle activation. Most people don’t feel their back muscles working when they start doing chin ups/pull ups because their back muscles aren’t activating properly. I will speak more about muscle activation in the ‘Tips To Help Increase Your Chin up/Pull up section below.

Tips to Help Increase Your Chin Up/Pull Up

Improve Muscle Activation

If you don’t feel a muscle working during an exercise, it is not activating properly. If you don’t feel your teres major and lat muscles during your chin up/pull ups, it is preventing you from reaching significant gains. Here is what you can do to fix this.

  1. Use the lat pull down machine and set it at a light weight.
  2. Use the 3/3 tempo, take 3 seconds to pull down and 3 seconds let it back up.
  3. You are going to focus your mind on contracting and feeling your lat muscles contracting on every rep. You might not be able to feel them during the first few times, but keep focusing on feeling them and contracting those muscles.
  4. Do 3 sets of 20 reps with a 10 second rest between each set (Do 20 repetitions in a row without stoping, rest for 5 seconds before continuing, it can take another 5 seconds to get yourself into place to start the next set). You have use a light weight, or this will not be possible.
  5. Start off with the pull up grip on the machine. Take a 30 second break, then do another 3 sets with the chin up grip following the instructions above.
  6. Remember, don’t let your shoulders raise and get into a shrug position when performing these. It will take away tension from the back muscles.

5×5 Rep Scheme

Chin ups/pull ups are great compound exercises. You can make a lot of strength gains when you incorporate this into your strength training. Do this once you have all your back muscle activation.

Do 5 sets of 5 repetitions with a 2 minute break in between. You can do the initial 10 pounds just by holding a dumbbell between your feet.

Once you have successfully completed the 5×5 confidently, put on a weight belt and add 10 pounds and work your way up to 5×5 again. Each time you’ve completed the 5×5, add another 10 pounds, not 5.

Don’t train to failure, only attempt a rep if you’re confident that you do it. Once a month, you can push yourself.


Breathe out when you are pulling yourself up and breathe in as you are letting yourself down. Tighten your core (contract your ab and butt muscles). These 2 things will give you more power and endurance.

How Chin up/Pull up Fits Into Your Workouts

During your 5×5 strength training, you can set it on its separate day along the squat, deadlift, benchpress, shoulder press (or as Mark Rippetoe calls ‘the press’).

Monday – Squats
Tuesday – Shoulder Press
Wednesday – Weighted Chin ups
Thursday – Deadlifts
Friday – Benchpress

When you’re building muscle size, you can make it the beginning workout on upper back day to create that pre-fatigue for isolation exercises. Just use your body weight and do 3×8 (or as close you can get to it. Do more if you can, such as 3×12).

If you liked my Tips To Help Increase Your Chin up/Pull up, check out my article Bodybuilding Techniques for more powerful techniques to improve your lifts.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam- Look Like An Athlete May 17, 2011 at 1:34 am

I have always been a fan of pull ups as they help develop a great back and upper body strength. Doing as many as possible, even if you can only do a couple of repetitions is very important.

What drives me crazy is that many get the two exercises confused when the difference simply lies in the grip that is used.

I am glad you included pull downs to gain strength. Rows are also a good way to add strength and eventually improve chin ups and pull ups.



Jesus April 18, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Very good information, thanks a lot for share.


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