3 Exercises to Begin Working on Strict Pull Ups and Chin Ups

*written by Wes Hendricks, DC


In this article, you'll learn my 3 favorite exercises to start working athletes towards their first strict chin-up. Or if you have a chin-up, improve the weak links along your kinetic chain. These exercises also work for pull ups, but I prefer getting people strong chin-ups first.

The three exercises are:

  • Passive Hanging 
  • Hanging Scapula Retraction 
  • Chin-up isometrics 

When approaching developing the correct strength for chin-ups there are a few principles I follow, one of them is to solidify the starting and ending position of a movement prior to working through an actual range of motion. This holds true for just about all bodyweight movements, not just chin-ups.

With regards to the chin-up, we are considering the starting position as hanging from a pull-up bar, unsupported with elbows locked out.

Our finishing position is at the top with your chin over the bar.

I prefer to begin athletes with isometrics as they're a great way to ease them into a new movement.

The two main movements we will cover for our starting positions are passive hanging and hanging scapular retractions

Passive hanging is just what it sounds like, hanging passively or relaxed from a pull-up bar. You want your shoulders relaxed, shrugging into your ears, getting a comfortable stretch from head to toe. 

Mobility restrictions can often limit our strength, so the more access we have to our shoulder mobility the better we are able to display strengths in those ranges. 

Exercise 1 - Passive Hanging

Hanging addresses another major issue athletes run into, grip strength. Increasing your grip strength not only can transfer to better pull-up strength, but full body strength.

Here are the basics of how to do/coach this:

  • Grab onto a pull up bar at about shoulder width
  • Slowly remove your feet from the ground
  • Hold for the specified amount of time

The most common error is not wrapping your thumb around the bar.

Exercise 2 - Hanging Scapular Retractions

Hanging scapular retractions address the initial movement that needs to occur at the scapula prior to breaking at the elbow in order to load the upper back muscles for the pull-up, opposed to placing all of the load on the elbow joint.

Here are the basics of how to do/coach this:

  • Grab onto a pull up bar at about shoulder width
  • Slowly remove your feet from the ground
  • With your elbows locked out, pull your shoulders and shoulder blades down and back
  • Hold for 3 seconds
  • Slowly lower and repeat for specified number of reps

Typically we do this in sets of 4-6 reps.

The biggest mistakes when doing this is are:

  • Bending your elbows
  • Using momentum

Exercise 3 - Chin over bar hold

The chin over bar hold is going to help you solidify the top position of a pull up/chin up. 

Here are the basics of how to do/coach this:

  • Stand on a box or bench as it’s easier to get into the starting position this way
  • Establish a supinated grip on the pull up bar with fingers and thumbs wrapped
  • Start the movement by removing your feet from the ground/box/bench and getting your chin over the bar
  • Hold for the specified amount of time
    • While holding, think of these two cues:
      • Pushing your chest towards the sky
      • Driving your elbows down into your pockets

Typically we do these in 10-30" holds

The most common errors are:

  • Letting the elbows drift out in front of you
  • Not getting your chin over the bar
  • Letting your chin to touch the bar

About the Author

Wes Hendricks, DC, is a sports chiropractor and bodyweight training coach.

He is the author of our Pull Up Development Program, Handstand Development Program, and Muscle Up Development Program.

He is the founder of REBUILD and works with athletes all over the world helping them develop their bodyweight skills and reclaim their physical health.

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