A man getting ready to do a pull up exercise.

HOW TO GET YOUR FIRST CHIN UP: YOUR 6 STEP GUIDE TO A CHIN UP

Chin ups are hard. 

It’s a simple movement, but you are literally working against gravity to pull yourself up. 

Some people are able to perform chin ups easier than others. The hard truth is, if you want to achieve your first chin up, you might have to look at losing some body fat. 

Makes sense, right? The lighter you are, the easier it is to pull your body against gravity. 

This doesn’t mean you can’t work on chin ups though. You can simultaneously lose body fat, gain strength, and achieve your first chin up. 

Without ever using a scale, you can work on losing body fat and using your progress on the chin ups as a guide if you are getting results. Performance is a great indicator if what you are doing is working or not. 

Chin ups are hard, so make it easier on yourself by losing some body fat. Not everyone has to lose body fat though. Even if it is only 5-10 lbs, that’s a big difference for chin ups. 

Just imagine strapping 10lbs to your body right now and just hang on the bar, and compare that to just your body weight. You can feel a big difference between the two. 

This is your unofficial step to achieving your first chin up, see if you need to lose 5-10lbs of body fat to make it easier for you. 

Before I go through the steps with you, I want to mention that this will take time. You have to be consistent with it to see results. 

When you incorporate this guide into your routine, I highly suggest making it one of your first exercises in your routine. After you warm up obviously. This will ensure the best results. 

STEP 1: PULLDOWNS

    Your first step is simple, let’s just work on the movement without the body weight. You can do this with cable pulldowns. 

    It is the same movement, but you can control what weight you are using. This will allow you to build some strength, and endurance of the movement. 

    You can perform these with a variety of ways to build up your strength. 

    Here is a quick list of the ways you can perform this exercise:

  • Kneeling 
  • ½ Kneeling
  • Seated
  • Single arm
  • Alternating Arms
  • Both arms at same time
  • Slow Eccentrics
  • Pauses at bottom
  • Explosive Concentrics

As you can see, there are many ways to play with pulldowns and build up strength and endurance for when you progress to the next step. 

I suggest playing with each of these variations with different rep ranges, and different weights before progressing to the next steps. 

STEP 2: SUSPENSION TRAINER INVERTED ROWS

    The next step is to incorporate your body weight. This is a horizontal movement, compared to chin ups, a vertical movement. 

This is a bridge that will help you build strength with your body weight. 

    Starting off, you can perform this with a large angle, meaning less gravity working against you. Grab the handles of the suspension trainer and walk away from the anchor point of the suspension trainer. 

The farther away you are, the easier the movement will be. You will progress by taking steps toward the anchor point. 

Eventually you will progress till your body is parallel with the floor. When you get to this point, you can start with knees bent. 

You can progress by straightening your legs out in front of you, and from there you can elevate your legs using a box. 

Each progression for these you will be pulling more and more of your body weight. 

This will make your progression to chin ups much easier for you.

Play with these variations to build you strength, endurance, and movement quality: 

  • Wide legs
  • Narrow legs
  • Single leg
  • Single arm with thoracic rotations
  • Slow eccentrics
  • Explosive Concentrics
  • Pauses 

Try all of the variations with different rep ranges to build your strength and the endurance of the movement before moving to your next step. 

STEP 3: TOP OF CHIN UP ISOMETRIC HOLDS

    Now that you built the foundation, let’s work on the top portion of the chin up. You are not going to be going right into the full movement yet. With this step, you are only working on the top portion of the chin up. 

    With this step, you’re going to build stability in your shoulder blades and endurance with your hand grip strength. This is the first step where your whole body is working against gravity. 

    You are going to these for time. Starting off you will test yourself. Use a box, a bench, or whatever you can find to get yourself to the top position of the chin up. 

Squeeze your shoulder blades together, keep your core braced, and clench those butt cheeks like you’re crushing a walnut. 

Step off the bench and hold it as long as you can, while timing yourself. Once you can no longer keep yourself up, step down and check your time. 

For the workout, you will take 10 seconds off that time and perform 3-4 sets with 90 seconds of rest in between each set.  Each week you will add time to your working sets, this can be a second, or up to 3 seconds, that depends on how you feel. Do this for a minimum of six weeks. 

STEP 4: ECCENTRICS

Eccentrics is the down part of the chin up. Working on these will give you the most strength gains. 

These can be brutal. 

Not just on the back and biceps, but for the whole body. 

When you lower yourself slowly and with control, your whole body tenses up. 

Your core is braced, butt cheeks are clenched during the movement. 

It’s a great way to get the whole body working, and prepare you for your first chin up. 

Just like with the last step, you will want a box or a bench to help you get to the top of the bar. You are going to start like the isometric step. 

Recap: Squeeze your shoulder blades together, keep your core braced, and clench those butt cheeks like you’re crushing a walnut. 

Now you will slowly lower yourself till your arms are almost straight. I like to keep a very slight bend in the elbows before restarting.

You can start with a 3 second negative for 4-5 reps with 3-4 sets. Each week add a second and progress from there. I recommend doing these for a minimum of 6 weeks. 

STEP 5: ISOMETRICS + ECCENTRICS

    Alright, now it’s time for some fun. 

Not really, these are hard. 

This step you will be combining the two, doing both isometrics and eccentrics at the same time. 

Same as the previous steps, you will need a box or a bench to step up to the bar. 

Squeeze your shoulder blades together, keep your core braced, and clench those butt cheeks like you’re crushing a walnut. Hold this top position for 3 seconds, and then take 3 seconds to lower yourself to the bottom position. 

Once you are in the bottom position, let go of the bar and go again. 

Perform 3-5 reps for 3-5 sets with 90 seconds of rest between each set. Each week add a second to both the isometric step and the eccentric step. Stay with this for a minimum of 6 weeks. 

STEP 6: TEST YOUR CHIN UPS

    You have put in a lot of work by this point. 

    Now it is time for you to test yourself with the chin ups. 

    The other steps I had you start in the top position, for this test, I want you to start at the bottom. If you need a box to get started, go for it. 

    I am not the tallest guy, so depending on the bar location, I typically still need a box to get to the bar. 

    I still want the butt cheeks clenched and core braced. Start the movement by squeezing your shoulder blades together and think about driving your elbows down to your ribs. 

You can also think about pulling the bar to your chest, instead of your chest to the bar. 

Go as many reps as you can. If you did it, CONGRATS. 

    If you could not achieve the chin up, I’m Sorry. 

    Really I am, I know you put a lot of work into it. That doesn’t mean you failed. It just means you need to work a little harder than others to get that chin up. 

    If you could not get that chin up, I suggest going back to Step 3 of this guide and go from there and work your way back. You might find in step 3 that your max isometric hold has increased. 

And guess what? 

That’s progress! 

You could also use the big superband and wrap it around the bar to assist you in the up portion of the chin up. There are many levels of a band that will provide assistance.

Alright there is your 6 step guide to get your chin up. 

If you made it this far, thank you for reading. If you could, please share, I would appreciate it. 

If you have questions, please feel free to message me. I am happy to help.

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