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How to Do the Pull Up and Chin Up Exercises

Build Back and Arm Strength With Pull Ups and Chin Ups


Updated June 10, 2014

While most exercises in the weight trainer's toolkit involve lifting or moving external weights, some exercises involve lifting or moving your own body weight. Pull ups require that you lift your body up by the arms so that your chin or neck is approximately level with the bar your arms are using to pull you up. You can hold the bar overhand (pull up) or underhand (chin up). Some trainers call both grips "chin ups," with the underhand grip called a reverse chin up.

1. How to Do Pull Ups and Chin Ups - Starting Position

Pull up starting position
(c) Paul Rogers / Cooloola Gym
  1. Set yourself below the bar you intend to use to pull your body up. Some gyms have "assisted" machines that allow you to set a counterweight to make it easier to perform this exercise.
  2. A standard pull up bar will usually be at a height that requires you to jump up and grasp the bar. Do this, choosing either the overhand pull up grip or the underhand chin up grip
  3. If you prefer the assisted equipment, position your hands on the grips of the assisted machine after setting an appropriate counterweight.
  4. You are now ready to do the exercise. In fact, what you would normally do is grasp the bar and immediately move into the upward phase of the exercise and down again.

2. How to Do Pull Ups and Chin Ups - Exercise Movement

The pull up exercise
(c) Paul Rogers / Cooloola Fitness
  1. Your feet should be off the floor if you're using the standard pull up bar (featured in the photos), and your knees should be on the pad in the assisted equipment station. Note that crossing and bending the lower legs can provide a more favorable bodyweight balance.
  2. Pull yourself up until your chin is about level or just above the line of your hands on the bar. Pull up bars usually have wide or narrow grip positions.
  3. Lower yourself down to full stretch and repeat the movement without touching the floor.
  4. You can vary the time taken to do one repetition but holding at top or bottom or moving slowly will increase the work you do.
  5. Start out with 3 or 4 repetitions, rest, then try to do another set. Build on this as strength improves.

3. How To Do Pull Ups and Chin Ups - Points to Note

  • The reverse or chin up grip will place more emphasis on the biceps muscles of the front of the upper arm than the overhand pull up grip, which emphasizes the middle back muscles as well as the arms.
  • Starting out with the assisted machine is a good way to build strength in order to progress to the standard bar.
  • This exercise can be hard on the shoulder joint and muscles if done unassisted, especially with a wide grip. Stick to the narrow to medium grip (see photo).
  • Remember, in this exercise you are pulling your body weight off the ground. It is not a trivial exercise and it is best to develop some strength first, perhaps with the assisted machine, before doing hard workouts with the standard bar.
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