How To Do Pull Ups and Chin Ups With Proper Form

by Caleb Lee on October 7, 2008

If you have ever wondered how to do a pull up or chin up  with correct form… or what you can do to get better at pull ups and chin ups then this article was written just for you.

If you are looking to strengthen your upper body and gain muscle mass, then this exercise is for you because it is one of the best for your upper body. Lots of guys talk about how much they can bench… or go and try to yank down a bunch of weight on the lat pulldown machine, but most guys shy away from pull ups.

Pull ups and chin ups are very hard to do.  You have to tell yourself that you are going to do it no matter how hard it is!  Pull ups are a great way to build your “never quit!” attitude.

Because you are forced to lift your own body weight when you do a pull up or a chin up if you are just a beginner, chances are that you will not even be able to do one of these exercises.  This article will show you how to do a pull-up or chin-up using the proper technique.  It will also show you how to get stronger at doing them so that you will be able to do the weighted versions.

What is a pull up or chin up?

Simply hang on a bar (or anywhere you can get some grip with just your finger tips) with straight arms and then pull yourself up until your chin is up above the bar.  The main difference in a pull up and a chin up is with the kind of grip you use.

  • A pull up is when you have your palms facing away.  This is much harder to do and does not work your biceps as much. (picture below shows pull up grip)
  • A chin up is when your palms face you.  This is much easier to do and it works your biceps more. (picture below shows chin up grip)

Here’s a (non complete) list of other pullup types:  Sternum pull ups, mixed grip pull ups, kipping pull ups, thumbless grip, palms facing each other, towel pull ups,  thick bar pull ups, horizontal pull ups, etc.  This article will deal with the basic pull up and chin up.

The video below shows me doing 1.) pull up 2.) a chin up then 3.) a sternum pull up (a pull up where you pull the bar to your sternum):

Why You Should Do Pull Ups and Chin Ups

The pull up is a major feature of the DoubleYourGains 3-5 Program because of the benefits it gives you:

  • Builds muscle – The pull up is one of the best ways to pack muscle onto your back, shoulders and arms…
  • Sport strength – Almost all sports require you to do a lot of pulling to play well, pull ups help in this regard…
  • Functional Strength – The strength you build with pull ups will carryover to every area of your life and is a type of strength you might have to use one day (hanging off a building, climbing a wall, etc)…
  • Exercise Carryover — You pressing numbers will go up as you get better at pull ups…
  • Joint and Muscle Health – Making sure you do as many pull ups as you do presses will ensure you don’t have any muscle imbalances and you’ll stay healthy…

What Equipment Do You Need?

A power rack with a pull up bar or a doorway pull up bar are your best bets.  But basically anything you can hang from and straighten your arms will do for a pull up. The doorsill frame works and is great if you are a rock climber because you build finger strength at the same time. And you can hang from the actual door in a pinch if you need to. If you’re so tall you would be standing when you hang from a doorway or door, then you can just bend your knees and hang.

“I’m Too Heavy To Do Pull Ups”

This is bullsh*t. You don’t weigh too much, you’re just not strong. You need to increase your relative strength (strength for your bodyweight). There are guys who are well over 200 pounds who can crank out pullups, even rock climbers over 200 who can do 1 FINGER pullups… stop making excuses and start doing pull ups…

What To Do If You Can’t Do 1 Pull Up

You never want to use those pull up machines that take some of the weight off of you. You want to learn to stabilize your body through space with your own muscles, so you need to do it with as little assistance as possible. Here’s some tips to help you…

  • Jumping – Grab the bar and then jump up with your legs to get your chin over the bar and then try to slowly lower yourself, you’ll feel this in no time…
  • Rubber band – You wrap one of these around the bar and stick your foot in the other end and the flexing action assists you on pulling yourself up. They come in varying strengths, more strength for heavier people, less for lighter people…
  • Try Chin Ups – Chin ups are a lot easier than pull ups, if you can do chin ups but no pull ups just alternate jumping pull ups with chin ups till you can do full pull ups and continue to alternate them…
  • Spotter Pull ups – if you have access to a spotter they can help by grabbing your hips and slightly helping your pull ups by pushing you up…
  • Kipping pull up – You can just swing your bodyweight forward to help you pull yourself up. Make sure once you can do these you switch over to strict pull ups as soon as possible…

If you’re just starting out and you can’t do even one pull up then within a month if you faithfully apply the techniques above, you’ll be doing good pull ups.

How To Do Pull ups and Chin Ups With Proper Technique

Each repetition starts from a dead hang with your elbows straight.  Each rep ends with your chin clearing the bar, here’s some other keys to success…

  • Grip – Like deadlifts, grip the bar close to your finger to minimize callus formation…
  • Breathing – Take a big breath and hold it before pulling yourself up…
  • Chest High – Keep your shoulders back and lead with your chest up…
  • Eyes – Look at your target, the bar…
  • Elbows to floor – Imagine pulling your elbows down into the floor…
  • Get Your Butt Involved – Bend your legs and cross your feet, actively flex your glutes at the same time to get them all involved, this tightens up your body and equals more strength!

How To Do Weighted Pull Ups

When you can do 10-15 reps with your bodyweight, you’ll want to start adding weight. Here’s how to do it:

  • Dumbbell between legs – just clamp down on the handle of a dumbbell with your calves and ankles, it’s great for your abs but gets tough to do this after about 40lbs though…
  • Kettlebell – hook the handle of a kettlebell with your foot and switch feet on each rep, or each set…
  • Back pack – Wear a back pack and put weights in it.
  • Chain and Belt – Wear a belt and suspend plates from a chain attached to the belt. This is the one I most commonly used, it may be good for spinal decompression too…

Common Mistakes

Most people don’t go high or low enough with each rep…

  • Not Starting Straight – In between reps, some people don’t fully lock out their arms so they’re straight. This is bad, don’t do this.
  • Shoulders Forward – This is bad for your shoulder joints and why you shouldn’t pull up to your back…
  • Using Momentum – Unless you’re doing kipping pullups you shouldn’t be swinging your legs/hips forward…
  • Not Getting Your Chin Up– You’re not done pulling till your chin clears the bar, if you’re just touching the bar to your head or nose, you’re not going high enough…
  • Getting Loose – Tension equals strength. To make pullups easier, grip the bar hard, flex your abs, bend your knees and cross your ankles as you flex your glutes and you’ll be instantly stronger. Look at how a gymnast stays stiff as a board as they lift themselves on rings…

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