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I can't do a single decent chin-up, are there any easy alternatives that I could build up in quantity as a forerunner to being able to do chin-ups?

Alternatively are there are any weights exercises that could help achieve this?

Are there any online resources that outline a program for beginners to learn chin-ups and increase the number? Maybe something similar to hundredpushups.com that I can follow daily (I know they are working on a program called 25 pullups).

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If you have another question relating to the topic or if the answers there don't satisfy your needs, feel free to ask another slightly different question to cover a more specific question. –  Nathan Wheeler Mar 24 '11 at 21:20

6 Answers 6

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Do "negative chin ups": Jump/hop/use a chair/whatever to get to the top of the bar and make it down as slow as you can. Rest for a minute, repeat 5 - 8 times, 3 times a week. You'll be ready in less than 10 days.

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Won't that risk injury doing the jump part if the bar is off the ground? –  xiaohouzi79 Mar 7 '11 at 9:13
    
@xiao what I suggest is like a small hop, just to get you to the second part of the chin-up. If you really only have access to a very high bar, you can use a chair or assistance from a partner. This exercise (called negative chin-up) is one of the best ( if not the best) way to get you started with chinups/pullups. Using some common sense to adapt to your needs, it should be risk free. –  Eelvex Mar 7 '11 at 9:53
    
Doing negative chin ups means your muscles are doing an eccentric contraction, which happens to be much stronger than a concentric contraction, because rather than needing to shorten against the load, you're slowing elongating the muscle from a shortened position. I reckon it's beneficial because while it's 'easier' you're at least able to do it and possibly even repeat it. –  Ivo Flipse Mar 7 '11 at 10:14

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This is an example of a Weight-Assist Machine. The woman in the photo is using it for dips, but this particular machine also supports Chin-Ups. Some Gyms and Fitness Centers have these. The one where I work out has one, and with it, I'm able to get 10 reps instead of my normal 3.

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And if you don't have access to such a machine, get a gym partner to assist you. And if your gym as a little bouldering cave (mine has, and I love it!) do some climbing there. –  Lagerbaer Aug 6 '11 at 1:21

If you have access to a gym, try (in order of preference):

  • Assisted pull-up machine - generally there is a platform with an adjustable counterweight under the pullup bar that you kneel on
  • Band-assisted pull-up using an elastic band - tie to the pullup bar, and then stand in the other end with one or both feet
  • Lat pulldowns
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In addition to the assisted pull-up machine already mentioned...

If doing them with palms facing towards you with a shoulder-width grip: Work your biceps, forearms, and triceps [even though triceps are a pushing muscle, these will just help in strengthening your arms]

If doing them with palms out with a wide grip: Work your forearms, lats, biceps, triceps.

Don't cheat so you can up your number. Stay in good form.

If you have some pounds to lose, do cardio. Working your muscles and losing the amount of pounds you need to pull up will get you to your goal faster.

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Palms facing toward you = chin ups, palms facing away = pull ups. –  Evan Plaice Mar 22 '11 at 2:00

Any exercises that work your lats and biceps should be about equally as effective if you do them correctly and in sufficient quantity/sets. After about a month or so of steady training you should be able to start doing regular pull-ups without assistance, if only a few. Just keep working at it.

One of my personal favorites is just getting on a chair or jumping to get up to the bar, then lowering yourself as slowly as possible back down (Negatives). This way you are using the actual weight you'll be working with later with exactly the same grip and position.

Check out this article courtesy of @Barbie: StrongLifts

It has some great pointers to help you build the strength and endurance to be able to do more pull-ups or chin-ups, and it also supports that within four weeks you should be able to do at least a few if you train steadily. StrongLifts' advice is to:

  • Avoid machines
  • Use Resistance Bands
  • Do Chin-Ups instead of pull-ups
  • Get a human assistant
  • Use Hip Momentum
  • Do Negatives
  • Hang a bar and use it once every time you pass it
  • Do multiple sets of low reps
  • Use the Armstrong Pull-Up Program
  • Don't give up.
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I think working on heavy rows is the most beneficial, but anything that works the lats will do - go heavy and don't get caught in the routine of doing everything but pullups...try every other day - pull ups, chin ups, neutrals...once you do one, you can do three –  Meade Rubenstein Mar 24 '11 at 19:36
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Regarding assisted pull-ups machines: I personally have not had much luck with them. I suspect the support under the feet/knees changes the muscle contraction pattern enough that it doesn't translate well into unassisted pull-ups. This link Stronglifts blog post about improving your pull-ups supports that suspicion and has some additional tips. –  Barbie Mar 24 '11 at 19:38
    
Thanks @Barbie for the tip, removed my assumption from the answer and added the StrongLifts link. Very good read. –  Nathan Wheeler Mar 24 '11 at 19:52
    
I remember someone telling me that ring rows are ineffective if you pull too much with your arms, as your back is much stronger and should be principal in doing pullups. Any weight to this? –  Phil Quinn Mar 24 '11 at 19:55
    
Ring rows will certainly help move you toward pull-ups, but the angle of incline definitely changes how the muscles are activated, and as with any other of the possible exercises will help you get there but won't necessarily work the same muscles in the same order or intensity. I would definitely shoot for something closer to Negatives or using the Resistance Bands if given the choice. –  Nathan Wheeler Mar 24 '11 at 19:59

These are exact words from Arnold Schwarzenegger in the July 2007 Muscle and Fitness:

[...] you can build up to doing full-range-of-motion chins for many reps. Start with the lat pulldown machine. Over time, increase the weight until you're doing pulldowns with your equivalent bodyweight for about eight reps. Then, leave the machine and to free-hanging chins.

I'm up to about 210 lbs for roughly 6 reps. I weigh about 215, so I'm slowly, but surely getting there.
The only other advice I can tell you is to just get in the gym and focus like a pro: No chit-chat, texting, no more than 1 minute rest between reps.

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