The Caveman’s Essential Exercises #3: The Basic Pull-Up and Chin-Up

Pull-ups and chin-ups are a great strength training exercise that you can do easily from the comfort of your own home. They force you to lift your own body weight and are phenomenal for building up your upper-body strength and muscle mass. The thing about chin-ups though – they’re very hard. Like… very hard. Fortunately, this caveman has been perfecting his pull-up technique for the last couple millennia, and I’m here to help you get the benefit of my experience!

If you’re a beginner, there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to do even one pull-up or chin-up. There’s no shame in that! Like I said before, chin-ups and pull-ups are really hard. The important thing to remember is not to get discouraged. If you can’t do a pull-up, it’s easy to decide that you’ll never be able to and give up before you even get going.

The first thing you need is a little vocabulary lesson. Maybe you didn’t know there was a difference between a pull-up and a chin-up. Well:

  • Pull-ups: your palms are facing away from you. This works out less of your biceps and more of your back. Pull-ups are harder than chin-ups.
  • Chin-ups: your palms are facing towards you. This works your biceps more than pull-ups do and is a little bit easier to perform.

There are a number of great benefits for those who can master the pull-up. Because you’re lifting your own body weight, you’re strengthening your body and building muscles in your arms and back. They also help any sport that involves gripping, grappling, and pulling (like rock climbing). Your overall strength will also improve in other activities (like the overhead press and the bench press. When it comes to chin-ups and pull-ups, there are a couple of things that you will need. Well, really just one thing – a chin-up and pull-up bar. You can invest in pull up handles or, if you’re feeling a little expansive, you can take a look at a chin up station.

So now that you have the equipment you need, how exactly do you go about doing the actual pull-up part?

  • First, squeeze the bar. Put the bar closer to your fingers rather than in the palm of your hand. This will minimize callous formation.
  • Breathe at the bottom of your pull-up. It’s easier to breathe there. Take a big breath before pulling yourself up.
  • Keep your chest up and don’t let your shoulders go forward (it’s bad for your shoulders).
  • Look up! You should never look down during pull-ups or chin-ups. You could injure your neck with the extra strain.
  • Finally, bend your legs and cross your feet. Letting your legs hang means less strength. Be sure to squeeze your glutes on the way up!

If you can’t do one pull-up, there are a couple of different methods that you can lean on until you get your strength up to do it unassisted.

  • Chin-ups: chin-ups are easier to do than pull-ups. If you find that you can’t do 1 pull-up, try turning your palms and doing a chin-up instead.
  • Resistance band: attach a resistance band to your pull-up bar and loop it around your knee. Need an idea of what it’ll look like? Check out this video.
  • Ask for help if you need it: Ask someone to grab your sides with their hands and let them help you on the way up.
  • It’s all in the hips: swing your hips while pulling yourself up until you get stronger!

So there you have it! Scratch’s own personal guide for the perfect pull-ups and chin-ups. Any advice of your own? Leave your tips in the comment section!

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