Start on the path to doing your first pull up!
I know you’ve been waiting for it, so I’m happy to tell you that my ‘How to do pull ups and chin ups for beginners’-post is finally here. We’ve already I covered the difference between pull ups and how to do them, so let’s not repeat that here.
Pull ups are very challenging (tell me about it), which is why I’ll show you how you can learn them by doing easier modifications.
Some of the modifications requires equipment that you might not have access to at your gym – don’t fret, you can still get there by doing the other variations. You will of course need a bar of some kind – but it doesn’t have to be a pull up bar at the gym. Maybe there’s a playground in your neighbourhood with something that can be used as a pull up bar.
In the rest of the post I’ll only write chin ups, but you can do exactly the same exercises just with pull ups. If you’re not sure what the difference is, read here. There you can also read that most people find it easier to do chin ups than pull ups, because your biceps are helping more. For a few people it’s the other way around, so try both out and see what works best for you.
Chin up modifications
Equipment: Cable machine.
Lat pulldowns are quite similar to pull ups (or chin ups if you use a close-reverse grip) – but instead of you moving, it’s the weight that’s going up and down. The good thing here is that you can adjust the weight as your progress. That means you don’t have to start out with lifting 60kg, or however much you weigh. You can start out with 10kg instead if that’s what you can handle at the moment, and slowly increase the weight as you get stronger.
ASSISTED MACHINE CHIN UPS
Equipment: Assisted chin ups/pull ups machine.
This machine is made specifically to help you do chin ups without lifting 100% of your bodyweight. It works by providing counterweight – so if I were to set the counterweight to around 60kg, I would be lifting nothing, because that’s roughly how much I weigh – and as I got stronger, I would lower the number of kg used as counterweight, to lift a larger percentage of my own weight.
My current gym doesn’t have this machine, but I’ve had a chance to try one out a couple of times. Although it felt a bit weird at first and you’re not using your core the same way because your lower body is stuck at the platform, the good thing about the assisted chin ups machine is that you are completely in control of how much assistance you want, unlike the exercises below.
BAND CHIN UPS
Wrap a band around the pull up bar (make sure it’s strong enough to carry you) and put your bent knee into the loop. The band will provide you with assistance as you pull yourself up – different bands provide different levels of assistance.
The problem with band chin ups is that they help you the most when you need it the least – by providing less and less assistance as you get closer to the top. They do however take up less space than an assisted chin up machine, and are much cheaper.
ASSISTED PARTNER CHIN UPS
Equipment: a partner.
Where the band can’t help you a partner can. Get someone to hold your knees/ankles and give you just enough support to enable you to pull yourself up. The partner should give less support or none at all, at the eccentric part of the exercise: when you slowly lower yourself down.
NEGATIVE CHIN UPS
Negative chin ups focus on the eccentric part of the chin up, when you’re lowering yourself down. It’s easier because your muscles is stronger at the eccentric part of an exercise, so even if you can’t pull yourself down, you might be able to lower yourself down (with control!)
You start at the top of the bar. If needed, you can place a small platform of some kind platform underneath your feet to help you get to the top of the bar at the start of the rep – you may have to jump a little. From here you slowly lower yourself down.
The keyword here is slowly. It’s easy to just fall down, but you have to lower your body in a slow and controlled manner. People often forget to focus on the lowering part of most exercises, but they’re missing out on the full effect by doing so. For negative chin ups, aim to take around 6-8 seconds to lower yourself down, then jump up for the next rep.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
This is a relative strength exercise, meaning the difficulty of the exercise varies with your weight. So if you carry around a lot of excess fat, the exercise will get easier as you lose it. On the other hand, losing muscle mass will often cause a loss in strength as well, and will therefore not necessarily make you better at chin ups.
TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL
If you’re up for a an extreme challenge, there’s always weighted chin ups and pull ups (!). You can continue to challenge yourself by holding a dumbbell between your ankles or attaching weight plates to a belt.
I am still far from being a pull up- or chin up master, but I’m working hard with regular chin ups and negative ones. I’m really hoping to get better, but it takes time. And I’ll encourage you to stay patient as well – few people don’t have to work very hard to master the chin up or pull up. Don’t push your body further than it’s ready to go. Keep up the good work and you’ll get there eventually!
I’d love to hear about your pull up progress. Tell me about it in the comments!