man doing eccentric chin ups

Chin-Ups (How to Achieve Your First Chin-Up)

When is a Chin-Up useful?

Well, Warner Bros Studios (Los Angeles) recently invited me to their studios as they were seeking advice on their latest movie ideas, TV shows and comedy*. See photo below for proof:

 

Guest pass ticket for Warner Bros Studios

Movie Consultant

And, if the movies are to be believed, at some point in your life there will come a time when you find yourself hanging from a mountain cliff, window or magic broomstick.** Inevitably, you will be faced with your arch nemesis and will be relying upon your chin-up ability to pull yourself up so you can then proceed to lay the smackdown on Evil Emperor Zurg.***

*Yes, Warner Bros invited me personally.

**Yes, marijuana is legal in California, why do you ask?

***I was also recently invited on a very special mission in Los Angeles, something to do with saving the land of Disney from Zurg. They say never meet your heroes, but it was my honour to help this hero out:

Buzz Lightyear at Disneyland

Helped Buzz take down Zurg.

What is a ‘Chin-Up’? (Outside of the Movies)

A chin-up is pretty much grabbing a bar (a bar that is hanging above your head) with an underhand grip (also called a ‘supinated grip’ if you want to sound smart) and pulling yourself up to the point at which your chin is level with, or above, the bar. Chin-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises for the upper body.

How to do a Chin-Up

  • Find a secure pull up bar (most gyms have them and pull up bars can often be found in public parks, if you partake in outdoor fitness)
  • Grasp the bar with an underhand grip and hang from the bar
  • Squeeze your glutes and abs
  • Try to pull yourself up to a point at which your chin is level with or just above the bar (don’t ‘throw’ your chin at the bar though)
  • Lower yourself down to a hanging position
  • Repeat

Should look something like this:

I Can’t do One Chin-Up!!

If you are able to do full chin-ups without any difficulty, that is fantastic, congrats, go forth on your quest. However, if you are one of the many people who have yet to conquer one full chin-up, here are a few methods that will help you with your mission…

Eccentric Chin-Ups

Chin-ups are made up of two parts:

  1. The concentric part (the part where you pull yourself up)
  2. The eccentric part (the part where you lower yourself down)

An eccentric chin-up is simply when you only perform, or emphasise, the lowering (eccentric) part of a chin-up…

Why are Eccentric Chin-Ups Useful?

Slows the Movement Down

Eccentric chin-ups slow the movement down, helping you to feel the movement and concentrate on being in control of the technique.

Stronger

The body tends to be stronger in the eccentric part of a movement than it is in the concentric part; this basically means you are generally able to lower more weight than you can lift up. Thus, whilst you may not have the strength to pull yourself up, you may have the strength to lower yourself down, and working on the latter will help with the former.

Builds Muscle

The eccentric component of an exercise is also the part of an exercise that breaks the muscle down (so that it can be built back up stronger). Eccentric chin-ups are therefore a good way to break down the muscle fibres of the arms, back and abs which helps them to grow stronger and more able to cope with the demands of a full chin-up. If you haven’t done eccentric chin-ups before, expect to be feeling your arm, back and ab muscles the next day!

How to Do Eccentric Chin-Ups

To do eccentric chin-ups, simply start at the top of a chin-up and lower yourself down as slowly as possible. Try and take 10 seconds to lower yourself down and work towards 30 seconds.

Aim to always be moving, but be moving very very slowly.

Here is an example of an eccentric chin-up:

How do I Get into the Starting Position of an Eccentric Chin-Up?

Depending on your strength levels and how close you are to being able to do a full chin-up you can either use a ‘box’ setup or a ‘jump and pull’ setup…

Box Setup

Step up on to a box to help get yourself into the top of a chin up and then lower yourself from there. The higher the step-up box you use, the closer you will be able to get to the top of a chin-up (you won’t need to do a ‘jump and pull’ from the box). See video below for demonstration:

Jump and Pull Setup

The idea is that the jump will give you a little bit of momentum and slightly shorten the range of motion you need to pull yourself through, thus making it easier to pull yourself up:

Band Assisted Chin-Ups

As I mentioned earlier, chin-ups are comprised of two parts: concentric and eccentric. We’ve just tackled the eccentric part, now we’re going to get to work on the concentric part.

Bands give you a little bit of extra help on the way up (the concentric part) which is often the difference between being able to do chin-ups as part of your training and not being able to include them at all.

The great thing about using bands is that your body stays in pretty much the same position as it would be without the band, thus not altering the movement pattern. Also, bands allow for a steady progression; start with a thick band and make your way towards using a thinner one, and then ultimately no band at all.

How to do Band Assisted Chin-Ups

Setting yourself up for a band assisted chin-up can be a little tricky at first but is fairly straight forward once you get used to it. Here is a quick rundown of how to do it:

You can also hook a band around your shin:

Quick Tips

  • Shorter and thicker bands provide more help (thus making the exercise easier)
  • Be careful when setting up; some bands are temperamental and are prone to occasionally sling-shotting themselves in to your face, which is not fun.
  • The band can be placed either underneath your foot or underneath your knee/shin.

Summary

Chin-ups are a tough exercise but a really good one for upper body strength. It’s also a pretty good feeling when you achieve your first unassisted chin-up; use the methods outlined to help get you there.

If you would like a technique session or help with your chin-ups, get in touch at jon.reid@panthera-performance.co.uk (I’d recommend getting in touch quickly before Warner Bros make me a full time consultant.)

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