Pull Ups and Chin Ups – Back Strength Training

pull upsPull Ups and Chin Ups are the exercises where you lift your whole body weight with just your arms (and use your back muscles). They are extremely hard to perform but are excellent for building real strength.

Before you start performing standard pull ups you will need to perform various modified and assisted pull ups to build your strength. Until you lose a lot of weight and get much stronger expect to be doing the modified versions for several months, or longer.

Pull Up Workout

Pulls ups are generally done with a wide grip with palms facing outwards. These work the back the most. Chin ups are done with a closer grip with palms facing towards you. These work the biceps most. Parallel grip pull ups can also be done with a parallel grip bar (or a ladder placed above a power cage).

Easy Modified Pull Ups

These are done with a low bar, at about hip height. You start by holding the bar above your head while seated on the floor. Lie back with your body straight and legs bent at the knee with arms stretched. Then lift yourself up until your chin reaches the bar. Aim to perform 3 sets of 5 reps. If you struggle you can raise your centre of gravity by lifting your hips upwards slightly while pulling yourself up. This is why these are the “easy modified pull ups”.

Normal Modified Pull Ups

These are the same as the easy modified pull ups, the only difference is that you keep your whole body straight so that you cannot assist the pull up by lifting your hips. If you are struggling to do this, then just do the Easy Modified Pull Ups.

Assisted Pull Ups

Assisted pull ups work the same upper body muscles as unassisted pull ups so will eventually be the main pull up exercise you perform. There are many ways to assist the pull up, including specialist cable machines in gyms and having a spotter.

The easiest and safest way is to simply assist yourself with your own legs. Place a solid weight training bench below your pull up bar (or lower the pull up bar if possible) so that you can hold the bar while standing in a squat position. Alternatively if you can find a low pull up bar (or an adjustable bar on the power rack) then you can just use the floor to assist. You then simply pull yourself up while also using your legs to push. Aim to perform 3 sets of 8 reps.

If you have a gym partner then your partner can assist you by holding your ankles (as shown in the photo). If you do chose this method you have to be able to communicate with your partner well to ensure they let go of you if your grip fails – otherwise you will land on your knees.

Each set should be hard, you should only be pushing hard enough to aid your pull up, not too hard that you are not working. At the end of this you should still feel exhausted, having worked your whole upper body.

As well as using a bench you can also use a gym ball / balance ball. Either squat on the ball or kneel.

Jump Pull Ups

These are performed by doing a small jump while holding the pull up bar to give yourself a little extra lift. Once up, do a controlled descent. See below, negatives.

Negative Pull Ups

These are simply when you only perform the lowering part of the pull up. By either jumping up or standing on a platform (bench, chair etc) start in the up position and then take your feet off the bench and do a controlled lower.

This is called a negative movement or eccentric contraction of the muscle, as you only work the muscles that control the eccentric phase. Studies have shown that muscles respond better to eccentric loading than concentric loading, so you will be strengthening these muscles faster and eventually have the strength to perform the opposite movement.

Assisted Chin Ups

These are done the same way, using your own legs to assist, but with a close grip with palms facing you.

Parallel Grip Pull Ups

Many people find parallel grip pull ups easier to perform than chin ups (palms facing you) or pull ups (palms facing out). Ideally grip parallel bars that are about 30cm (12 inches) apart and lift up so that your upper chest reaches the bar. Assist in the same way as with pull ups.

The Pull Up Training Workout

It can take months to develop the strength required to do a pull up, and if you are overweight then this will make things much harder, but just training to do pull ups with burn a lot of fat if you are also following a weight loss diet plan.

This pull up workout will help you to develop the strength required to eventually perform full unassisted pull ups:

  • Warm Up: Stand in a squat position while holding a pull up bar with a standard wide grip. Perform 20 easy pull ups by using your legs to do most of the pushing. The idea at this stage is to warm up the muscles without tiring them.
  • Modified Pull Ups: Now move into a modified pull up position (or easy modified pull up). Perform 2 sets of 5 pull ups, resting well in between each set.
  • Assisted Pull Ups: Back to the same bar/bench as the warm up, perform a 2 sets of 8 pull ups, this time using your legs less to assist. These 2 sets should leave you feeling extremely tired. They should be hard work, with the last couple of reps requiring maximum effort. The trick is to only use your legs to assist enough to help you keep moving, and not too much so that you are not working your upper body sufficiently.
  • Assisted Parallel Grip Pull Ups: After resting for a full 3 minutes you can now perform some parallel grip pull ups. These should be easier than the standard grip pull ups, although your muscles will be close to exhausted after the previous set. Perform 2 sets of 5 parallel grip pull ups using your legs only enough to keep yourself moving.
  • Assisted Chin Ups: Just perform one set of 5-8 assisted chin ups, using the same set up (bench, ball, chair, low bar etc) as with the parallel grip pull ups.
  • One Arm Dumbbell Rows: Perform 2 sets of 10 one arm dumbbell rows on each side. This is designed to work the supporting shoulder and back muscles more to aid complete develop of the back and aid your pull ups. Use a relatively low weight so that you can easily complete the sets.
  • Dumbbell Curls: Perform 10-12 dumbbell curls on each side to finish the workout. This will help with the chin ups and parallel grip pull ups.

This workout will leave you feeling exhausted. Ensure that you have adequate carbohydrates before the workout from a rich source of vegetables and pulses (not bread and pasta) to help build glycogen reserves to fuel the muscles. After the workout have a protein rich meal to provide the muscles with the proteins and essential amino acids required for repair and growth.

If you perform this workout once per week you should start to see results within a month if you are not too overweight. As you feel you are getting stronger you can start to attempt the parallel grip pull ups first – you may be surprised to find you can perform 1 or 2 unassisted at the start of the workout before your muscles become tired.

In addition to this workout you should also do an upper body push workout to balance the muscle growth, as well as leg work.

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