When it comes to building pure strength, any exercise that involves lifting your own bodyweight is generally considered the most effective. Sure you can use heavy weights to build up some serious power but it’s when you exercise using your own bodyweight that you’ll see the biggest increases in strength.
Just look at gymnasts for example. The vast majority of their strength gains have come from exercises involving lifting/moving their own bodyweight. Pound for pound, gymnasts are some of the strongest athletes you ll come across.
If its strength increases you’re after, stick with exercises that lift\move your own bodyweight.
The king of strength building
One of the most effective ‘body lifting’ exercises for building strength across the entire upper body is the pull/chin up. The downside to pull ups & chin ups is that they are hard to do – very hard.
If you’re a beginner, chances are that you’ll struggle to complete even one pull up or chin up. But don’t despair, I’ll reveal some top tips here to help get started.
A pull\chin up is itself a very simple exercise to perform and requires nothing more than an overhead bar. The exercise involves simply gripping an overhead bar and using the arms only, raise the body towards the bar.
Both the pull up & chin up work the entire upper body with the main emphasis on the back, shoulders and arm muscles.
Pull up chin up, what’s the difference
Many people confuse a pull up with a chin up. The difference between the two is subtle yet distinct. A pull up is performed with the palms facing away from the body, with a chin up, the palms are facing towards the body.
Although both variations work the entire upper body, this subtle difference in hand position produces a marked effect on the muscle worked.
With pull ups (palms facing away from you), emphasis is placed mainly on the back, shoulders and arms whilst the chin up (palms facing you) places more emphasis on the biceps. In fact, the chin up is regarding as one of the best exercises for building strength in the biceps.
It still amazes me today to see youngsters in the gym blasting their biceps with every known bicep exercise from EZ-Curls to preachers curls. And yet if I ask them how many chin ups they can do they look at me blank. If you’re looking to build strength and size in your biceps, there is not better exercise than the chin up.
Whilst both exercises are difficult to do, as stated, most beginners will struggle to complete one rep, the chin up is generally easier than a pull up.
You can further alter the affect of both variations but adjusting the distance between the hands on the bar. The wider the grip, the more emphasis is placed on the back muscles. A wider grip also makes the exercise much more difficult to perform.
The simplicity and effectvines’s of the pull up make it the perfect choice if you’re looking to build some impressive upper body strength.
Another compelling reason to include pull ups & chin ups in your exercise regime is that the exercise requires the most simplest of equipment to perform. All you need is an overhead bar – that’s it, nothing else.
Walk into any gym, even the most basic and they’ll have some sort of pull up bar. But the fact that this exercise requires such a simple piece of kit makes it the ideal exercise for the home trainer.
The different types of pull up bars
Home pull up bars comes in a variety of guises these days but they all fall into one of three categories:
Door mounted pull up bar
These bars are designed to be temporarily mounted over an internal door frame. They are designed to be easily and quickly attached and removed from the door frame without the need for any permanent fixings. These types of bars are easily the most convenient and require only an internal door and usually pack away neatly when not in use.
Wall mounted pull up bar
The pull up bars require a permanent fixing to the wall which would normally be a substantial outer wall. much sturdier than door mounted bars but do require a permanent setting.
A variation to the wall mounted pull up is the ceiling mounted bar which, as you can probably guess, is mounted on the ceiling.
Free standing pull up bar
These are generally the most expensive type of pull up bar you can get and also require the most floor space. They range from a simple dedicated pull up bar to a multi-exercise station. Some even come with a weight stack to counter balance your bodyweight and assist you with a pull up.
Performing the pull up
- Take a grip on the overhead bar, palms facing away.
- Position your hands shoulder width apart
- Raise your legs and allow you body to ‘hang’ from the bar.
- Pull yourself up until you chin reaches the bar
- Lower yourself slowly until your arms are fully stretched.
- Keeping your feet off the floor, pause momentarily at the bottom repeat the movement.
My top tips
- Ensure your grip is tight and grip the bar more towards your fingers, not with your palms. A palm grip places more stress on the forearms.
- Inhale at the bottom of the movement before pulling yourself up.
- Keep your chest out, don’t allow your shoulders to move forward. Lead with your chest up & keep your shoulders back.
- Never look down during the movement, always look at the bar or higher up
- Keep your elbows pointing towards the floor. This will ensure you engage the back muscles more.
- Keep your legs bent and cross your feet. This helps to reduce swaying and maintain good posture.
- Aim to actually raise your chin over the bar.
If you’re struggling to complete 1 rep, try these tips below:
- Start off doing chin ups first before moving onto pull ups.
- Perform partial reps by raising yourself till your forehead\nose is parallel with the bar.
- Try ’negatives’. Use your legs to ‘jump’ yourself into the top position of the movement and lower yourself slowly to the ground. Let your feet touch the ground and repeat. The lowering part of the movement is easier to do than the raising part so you should be able to manager a rep or two
I hope this article has shown you how pull ups & chin ups are one of the best upper body strengthening exercises you can do. The lack for the need of expensive or cumbersome equipment makes this exercise the #1 choice for the home trainer looking to build strength and size.