Getting Your First Chin Up

by Sep 30, 2017Blog, Healthy Lifestyle, Strength and Conditioning

You walk into the gym and the first thing you see is that person on the chin up bar, knocking out reps like it’s nothing and the first thing that pops into your head is “I’ll never be able to do that”. First off, don’t worry about the person knocking out sets of 15 because they’ve been doing this longer than you have. If your focus is on a goal so far away, you’ll lose sight of the little steps in between here and there. The person who can do 15 in a row once had to just do 1 first. Forget about multiple reps and focus on just getting 1 first. In this blog, I’ll be breaking down the chin up into smaller steps, showing you the tools you can use to get there.

The warmup- this is a great time to start practicing some of the components for the chin up. I like to use bar hangs, light pull downs and the band pull apart to get people ready for any sort of pulling movements.

Time on the bar- after your warm up, it’s going to be important to get some time on the bar. Here is the format for building up over a number of weeks. Start with a box under the bar as you will need it to jump up to the top position. Your first stage is starting from the top of the chin up and just working on lowering yourself down. When you can do 3 sets of 5 reps with a 5 second lower, you will move on to the next step which is holding a pause half way down for 2 seconds. From there you will add in a pause at the top and the middle. Then you will add 3 pauses, one at the top, one just above middle and one just below. Make sure you lower ALL the way down until your arms are straight and you are at full hang.

Choosing your variations- You need to know where you are right now in relation to your first chin up. You need to find the point at which you start to struggle to get any more reps. I would recommend finding your limit for 3 reps. If you train at a commercial gym, having an assisted chin up machine is your weapon of choice. If you train at a box gym, using a band assist is going to be your go to.

Drill the skill- in this section you will be going for ‘sub-maximal’ reps of whatever chin up variation you need to use. This means stopping before your form breaks down. Whatever variation you choose, you will pick a weight or band which allows you to get 5+ reps and perform 4 sets to the point when form begins to break, then take 2-3 minutes rest. You want to be as fresh as possible for the next set. Record how many reps you get for each set. Once you are hitting 8 reps for every set, it’s time to lighten the band/assist and repeat.

Assistance movements– All done for 3-4×8-12:

Lat Pull down 1&1 /2 reps (10-12)– increasing weight on the machine is the goal here, but form comes first. Pull down to your collar bones and maintain a slow and controlled tempo throughout.

Bodyweight row with slow eccentric (10-12)– getting horizontal under the bar/trx is the aim, perform with a slow lowering phase and make sure to really squeeze your back on the way up.

Rack Pull Ups (8-10)-all reps with feet on the floor under control is the aim, then start using one foot on the way up, then no feet on the way down with pauses just like the full chin ups. Set the bar at shoulder height so you can get a full stretch at the bottom and keep your feet right under the bar. Your path should be in a straight line so hands, hips and heels need to be lined up. These should feel the same as your pull downs, so use your legs as much as you need to at the start.

Conditioning- This is where you will really work on pushing to fatigue, especially with grip strength. This is an area which for most people I find to be a big limiting factor. Alternate between these two for 10-12 reps for each exercise and max holds for the bar hang/row hold.

Hanging Leg Raise to Bar Hang

TRX Row to TRX Face Pull to TRX Row hold

The goal here is to see the hold increasing each time you do it. Don’t worry about adding extra reps, just add more time in the hold.


Let’s put this together in a 4 week block, working on chin up strength 3 times per week:

Session 1:


A) Chin Up Lowers x 3 sets

B) Chin Up variation ‘submax’ work x4 sets

C) 1&1/2 Lat Pull down 4×10-12

D) Hanging Leg Raise to bar hang 3×10-12/max

Session 2:


A) Chin Up Lowers x 3 sets

B) Chin Up variation ‘submax’ work x4 sets

C) Bodyweight Row with slow eccentric 3×10-12 reps

D) Bodyweight Row to Face Pull to Bodyweight Row Hold 3×10/10/max

Session 3:


A) Chin Up Lowers x 3 sets

B) Chin Up variation ‘submax’ work x4 sets

C) Rack Pull Ups 4×8-10

D) Hanging Leg Raise to Bar Hang 3×10-12/max

How to assess after 4 weeks:

Look at chin up lowers- how many reps are you doing for 5 seconds lowering each session? If you can do all reps then move onto pause, if not then stay on lowers.

Submax work- how many quality reps are you doing? If its 8 then take away some assistance, if not then leave it where it’s at.

Assistance work- are your weights moving up? Are you able to get right under the bar so you’re horizontal on your rows? Are you doing all Rack Pull Ups with ease?

Let us know how you get on by tagging us in your social media posts with the hashtags #StormStrong #TeamStorm

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