Chin Ups vs. Pull Ups

I use the words “chin up” and “pull up” fully interchangeably. As far as I am concerned, a pull up and a chin up is the same exercise. To me, it is not the grip you are using that determines whether you are doing a chin up or a pull up. It is instead whether or not your chin actually clears the height of the bar (with a neutral neck!). This is my primary concern when pulling up. Yes, different grip orientations will be more difficult than others, and even stimulate the working muscles differently. But if you cannot even pull yourself to full range of motion with your strongest grip, you have no business differentiating between a “chin up” and a “pull up”. 

Just grab the bar (with whatever grip feels strongest to you) and get pulling. I always encourage my trainees to use whatever grip necessary to hit the prescribed amount of reps I assign. Once you develop sufficient pull up/chin up strength, you can then consider adding variety to your gripping arrangements. And when you do get to switching your grip around, I would rather hear the exercises called something like an “underhand grip” chin up or pull up, or an “overhand grip” chin up or pull up. Because once more, it is much more about getting your CHIN above the bar, than which grip you use to do so.

My favorite way to achieve a proper pull up is to signal your elbows to “drive” toward the ground. I like this cue for two primary reasons…

  1. It gives you a phycological break. Instead of thinking “I have to pull myself all the way up there?!” all you need to think is “drive my elbows down.” No matter which form of pep talk you choose to use, you will produce the same net effect - you will move toward the bar you're holding. It’s just that the latter seems much more simple and encouraging!
  2. It re-enforces proper use of the lats. If you dis-regard the cue to drive your elbows down, you may have a tendency to pull with only the biceps. This will be a weak pull. To pull yourself to full range of motion, you will need to develop sufficient strength through shoulder extension (pulling your elbows down from an overhead position). 

I have also found that this cue somewhat negates the tendency to “reach” up with the chin (I will go over this later in the post, and at the end of the video). Driving the elbows down simply makes the task of pulling up stronger. If you get in the habit of doing this, you won’t feel the need to reach up with your chin to clear the bar. You will have the strength to get high enough using the scapular, back, and arm muscles (the muscles used in a pull up). 

On to a video….

When human flagging, your top arm will experience a tremendous amount of pulling effort. Your bottom arm is pressing. This is what holds you to whatever you're holding onto. Once you have created a strong anchor, you will need to keep your spine locked in anti-lateral flexion (see yesterday’s post). 

There is even more to account for to complete a flag. Your hips and legs will need to lock to your spine. This is beyond the scope of today’s post, and I will cover that later.

If you don’t have a strong pull with the top arm, you won’t be able to generate enough tension to flag. This is why having a strong chin up/pull up base is essential.

I have been spending more time using a wide grip. I hypothesize it will have greater carry over to a human flag than a narrower grip will. The image below shows the angle that my top arm comes out from my body. This gives me reason to build strength with an ultra wide grip when pulling up.

 The resemblance in grip width for a human flag and a wide grip chin up. 

The resemblance in grip width for a human flag and a wide grip chin up. 

To finish up today, I want to further explain the errors that are demonstrated at the end of the video. Keep in mind that I am being picky with this breakdown. If you find yourself making any of these errors as you are developing the strength to do your first chin up, or if you only do them every so often (when you are stepping over plateaus), I am okay with it.

There is still some benefit to doing "non-strict" chin ups. Having said that, there is ABSOLUTELY no excuse to not take the time to develop strength and body control required to do a strict chin up!

Don’t make sloppy reps a habit. Once you can do one “non-strict” chin up, work toward doing several non-strict chin ups. Soon after that, work toward doing your first strict chin up. From there, leave questionable looking chin ups in the past. I argue that the benefits of doing one to several strict chin ups far outweigh the rewards of doing a ton of less strict chin ups.....

 

(GOOD REPS)

Strict.

Elbows are driven down. 

Body is straight. This indicates that the glutes, hamstrings, calves, and abdominals are active, and therefore a circuit of muscular tension is created through the entire body. More tension=more strength and better positions.

Neck is neutral. 

 

(REACHING NECK)

Not completing the range of motion with the shoulders and arms, but rather with the neck. 

Straining of the neck.

 

(NOT ENOUGH RANGE)

If you don’t practice full range of motion, you will not build as much strength.

If you don’t practice full range of motion, you will not develop as much stability.

If you don’t practice full range of motion, you will not experience as much flexibility.

If you don’t practice full range of motion, you will not experience as many training benefits!

 

(LIFTING KNEES)

Cheating into too much of a mechanical advantage.

Lesser training effect.

Actively lifting the knees decreases the total weight being lifted. The hip flexors are lifting the legs to a higher position so the upper body doesn’t have to do that work.

Allowing your body to move forward indicates a lack of tension being generated and held throughout the body. Refer back to keeping the body straight with the “good reps”

 

 

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