Your guide to the perfect chin-up

What are they?

Chin-ups involve pulling yourself up to a bar with your palms facing you.  A full-range chin-up starts from hanging below a horizontal bar with your arms straight, then pulling yourself up until your elbows move past your ribcage and your chin just passes the bar, without throwing your head forward or back.


Key benefits

  • Compound exercise that strengthens the musculature of the arms, posterior shoulders, core and back.
  • Strengthens external rotators of shoulder (and counteracts the ‘desk hunch’).
  • Improves grip strength
  • Improves mental toughness
  • Can be performed in any setting where there is an overhead bar – the gym, local playground or at home.


Main muscles worked

  • Biceps
  • Lats
  • Posterior deltoids
  • Teres major
  • Spinal stabilisers /deep core muscles

Progressions to the chin-up


#1 Inverted or horizontal row

If you’re not quite up to a full chin-up yet, inverted or horizontal rows are a great place to start building strength.  These can be performed on a barbell anchored on a squat rack or on TRX straps. You should pull your chest towards the bar until your elbows pass 90 degrees and then release arms back to fully straight to complete each repetition.  


#2 Band Lat Pulldowns

Performing band lat pulldowns with a supinated grip (palms facing you) is another great way to strengthen the muscles required for chin-ups. To perform these, hang a resistance/strength band over a high bar and grab either end of the loop in each hand with your palms facing you.  Take a kneeling or standing stance depending on how much resistance you require then execute the pulldowns by squeezing your lats and drawing your elbows down in towards your ribcage. Release arms back to straight overhead and repeat.


Common mistakes


Swinging body for momentum

One of the most common mistakes we see made when performing chin-ups is using momentum or ‘swinging’ to get the body up to the chin up bar.  Using momentum can make it harder to keep a firm grip on the bar and increases the risk of injury.


To reduce swinging through the body ensure your abdominals are well-engaged to create a stiff spine.  Crossing the feet over and squeezing your legs together is also a good way to eliminate leg swinging.


If you find yourself starting to use momentum as you go further through your reps, stop when you can’t perform any further ‘good-form’ chin-ups. Use a strength band to assist with some extra push force whilst maintaining a stiff back and legs.


Half reps (lowering halfway)

Another common error made in chin-ups is not moving through a full range of motion (half reps).  This is when you start a rep from a bent elbow position rather than allowing the arms to fully extend to reset the rep.  

Performing partial reps on the chin-ups tends to put more focus on the arm muscles rather than the back muscles which we want to target.  You should be lowering back to a ‘dead hang’ position with arms fully extended (unless you experience shoulder pain moving through a full range of motion in which case this should be discussed further with your trainer). In the dead-hang position at the bottom of the movement you still want to have your shoulders drawn down and lats engaged to support your shoulders.


Throwing chin forward over bar

Throwing the head back and forward in an attempt to get your chin past the bar is another frequent offender.  This puts unnecessary strain on the neck muscles and throws the body out of alignment which makes it harder to engage the correct muscles properly.  


Instead of jerking your head up and over the bar, keep your eyes focused straight ahead throughout your entire chin-up and ensure it is your back and arm muscles pulling you past the bar rather than your neck.  If you can’t get your chin past the bar keeping a neutral head then use a strength band for a little extra assistance.


Chin-ups are usually people’s nemesis but with the right progressions, anyone is able to perform a chin-up with good form. Feel free to get some more tips from our trainers if you’re ready to progress.