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Why chin ups are awesome and how to progress

Here at CoActive we are a huge fan of chin ups, no other upper body exercise gives as much bang for your buck when it comes to building strength. A chin up with perfect technique is a full body movement requiring excellent core stability, great shoulder mobility and of course great elbow flexor and back strength.

Regardless of your health and fitness goals, being able to perform chin ups is of huge benefit.


The amount of muscle recruitment needed to perform a chin up means that it is an excellent choice for upperbody strength development. Look at the back development of gymnasts to see how effective chin ups are at building a good upper body.

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Shoulder Health

Performing full range chin ups is an excellent way of maintaining shoulder health and mobility. Many of the issues related to shoulder pain and impingement stem from muscle weakness. The chin up and it’s various different grips help maintain strength in the necessary muscles.

Grip strength

A good grip is essential if you are to get the most out of your body in the gym. Using a variety of different hand positions on chin ups helps develop a great grip. Check out our article Thick Grip Training for more information.

Core Stability

One of the most under estimated benefits to doing chins ups is core strength and stability. If you don’t believe me try doing some heavy eccentric chin ups for 30 seconds under control and see how your abdominals feel the next day.

Chin ups are a closed chain movement that requires you to control your whole body in space. To stop yourself widely swinging around it is necessary to engage your abdominals and lower back to stabilize. This is one of the reasons we don’t program a huge amount of isolation abdominal exercises here at CoActive.

How to start and progress with chin ups

Stage 1: If you can’t do a chin up

Chin ups are awesome however the majority of untrained new members cannot do 1, if that’s the case then this is how we progress you. If a client cannot perform a single chin up then:

1: We start with isometric holds at the top position with a neutral grip. This involves climbing up to the top position of a chin up and statically holding for up to 30 seconds.

2: Once they can do 30 sec hold then we progress to 30 sec lowering. It is important to lower at a consistent speed through the entire range of motion. This phase will continue sometimes with additional weight until a chin up can be performed. *We will also program in exercises to help with areas of weakness (often the elbow flexors, specifically the brachioradialis and pronator teres).

Stage 2: If you can do 1 chin up

Once you have the strength to perform 1 chin up you can start to focus on technique. The most important point is to initiate the movement with the lats not the elbow flexors. To do this you must retract the scapulars and drive your elbows downwards whilst lifting yourself up.

From here a great way to increase numbers is to do max reps then do 30 sec lowering on the last rep. Over the course of a 4 week program you should expect to add 2-4 reps to your max.

Stage 3: If you can do over 3 reps

To achieve structural balance and maintain shoulder and elbow health it is important to vary your grip when doing chin ups.

The best grip to start with is a neutral grip, this is usually the strongest grip as it enables you to use the 4 elbow flexors at their peak ratio. Next you should do a supinated grip followed by the most challenging a pronated grip. Grip position should change Program to program.

Once you can perform over 3 repetitions then to further increase your strength you can add additional load with the help of a dip belt. Being able to perform a chin up with 50% of your body weight attached is a great goal!

Additional Support

If you need extra support achieving your goals or are considering working with a personal trainer, get in touch using the form below.

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CoActive Health
London Rd,
Chalfont St Giles,
Bucks, HP8 4NN
Tel: 01494 873531
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Mon – Fri: 06:30 to 19:30
Saturday: 07:00 to 12:00
Sunday: Closed
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