Aside from maybe throwing a tree over your head, chinups rank among the top exercises of general badassery (it’s a word, don’t challenge me).  And that’s why, whenever I ask a new 1:1 coaching client if they have any performance based goals, most of them tell me they want to be able to do their first bodyweight chinup.

So if you’re working on joining the crowd of badass women or men who want to crank out bodyweight chinups, I’m here to give you the beginner’s guide to walk you through some tips and progressions so you can hit that first one, and then walk away from the chinup bar and scream like a warrior.

*Warrior cries may vary in volume and intensity

Everything You Need To Know To Get Your First Chinup


Packing The Shoulders

Packing your shoulders is a way to keep your shoulders safe, and to help engage your lats.  In a chinup, the muscle that is primarily being targeted is the lats, so you sure as hell want to make sure those are engaged.  An unpacked shoulder is basically just your shoulder hanging out all willy nilly like a strand of cooked spaghetti.

Nobody wanted a wet noodle arm trying to get a chinup.  It’s just not going to work.

What packing your shoulders actually is, is both retracting and depressing your scapula at the same time.  In other words, sending your shoulders down and back.  Think about keeping your shoulders not shrugged, and down away from your ears.  As well as pulled back, like you’re squeezing a pencil between your shoulderblades.

Here’s a quick demonstration of what a packed vs. an unpacked shoulder looks like.


Creating Tension

One of the main components for strength is creating tension throughout your entire body to produce more strength.  Your body is a kinetic chain.  So each part of your body is a link towards the rest. So keeping all those links in the chain tight is going to help you generate more strength.

You’re going to want to create tension throughout your entire body.  So as you are in your chinup, keep everything tense.  Think about keeping your glutes squeezed tight, like you’re trying to impress someone behind you.  Your core is braced, like Mike Tyson is about to deliver a shot to the body.  Keep your quads flexed, knees locked out tight.  And of course… shoulders packed.


Chinups Vs. Pullups

Is it a chinup or a pullup? Well, they’re different.  And they’re both challenging in different ways.  A chinup has an underhand (or, supinated) grip, while the pullup has an overhand (or, pronated) grip.  Both exercises primarily target your latissimus dorsi (or as most gym bros say, your lats), and are a great exercise for buiding a strong back.

The chinup involves a lot more bicep and chest activation, while the pullup involves more lower traps.  Generally speaking, the chinup tends to be a bit easier than the pullup, so I like to start with chinups, and use pullups as a progression from that if desired.





When In Your Workout Should You Do The Chinup?

If chinups are your primary goal, they should be the very first exercise in every workout.  This goes for the variations I list later in the article as well.  This is because you want to focus all of your energy into the exercise you actually want to get better at.  If you’re placing your chinups/chinup variations later on in your workout, you will already be fatigued from the other things you are doing.  Therefore, you won’t have enough gas in the tank to be able to work efficiently at them.

For example, if you start your workout with some bicep curls, and then try to move on to your chinups, your biceps will be fatigued and it will make your chinups suffer.

Whatever your goal is for something you want to get better at, that should be first in your workout.


How To Perform Chinups, Do’s & Dont’s


– Hands shoulder width apart

– Start from the bottom, fully hanging.

– Keep everything tense

– Aim to hit your chest to be bar



– Have your hands touching each other

– Don’t jump up from the bottom position.

– Chicken neck towards the bar, or flail your entire body up.

– Aim for your nose to hit the bar

Exercises To Progress To A Chinup


Inverted Row

Consider the inverted row step one.  This is arguably one of the best exercises to work towards progressing to a chinup.  And it’s because the movement replicates that of a chinup, however it allows you to not work directly against gravity, as you are at an angle.  It also allows you to not have to pull up your entire bodyweight, since a lot of your body is being supported by the floor.

Now, don’t be fooled.  Just because this exercise is “easier”, don’t mean it’s actually easy.  They are deceptively difficult.  However, they are great for you are not quite ready for the exercises listed further below.  They can also be adjusted in difficulty according to where your strength is currently at.

How to perform the inverted row


The beginner level:

Put the bar up nice and high on the rack, put your feet flat on the floor, and bend your knees.

The intermediate level:

Keep that bar up nice and high on the rack, but this time keep your legs nice and straight (remember, total body tension we talked about earlier), and just your heels on the floor.

The advanced level:

As you get better and better at these, lower the bar on the rack.  Once you get to a point where you are nice and low on the rack, you are ready to move on.



Assisted Chinups

The next progression exercise is some type of assisted chinup.  These can be done in conjuction in your programming with inverted rows.  One day in your programming of inverted rows, and another with assisted chinups is a go-to of mine for my clients who are looking to build up to a chinup.

Whether it’s with a band or a machine doesn’t so much matter, but there are pros and cons to both.  Which of course, we will deep dive into in this section.


Machine assisted chinups

These are great because you can very easy manipulate exactly how much counterweight you are using.  Which also makes it easier to track your progress as week to week or month to month you use progressively less counterweight.  On top of that, you get an equal amount of resistance at both the top and the bottom of your chinup.  The negative part here however, is that it’s a little more difficult to generate total body tension, since most machines you have to put your knees on the machine to make it work.  So with this, you are able to create tension through the upper body, but creating tension below the waist becomes more difficult

How to perform a machine assisted chinup



Band assisted chinups

These are great in their own right as well.  The good thing here is that you are able to create more total body tension, since it exactly simulates what a chinup is.  It just gives you a little extra help to get up.

With a band however, it offers you more assistance at the bottom of your chinup, which incidentally, is the point where people generally struggle the most.  That being said, I think it’s still a great way to get some solid chinup reps in, and build confidence.

As you progress with this one, you can start using a thinner and thinner band as time goes on and you get more practice (and more strength).  Once you can do 8-10 reps with a thick band, you can move on to a thinner one.  And once you get to the thinnest band, you’re ready for the next progression.

How to perform a band assisted chinup

As far as choosing which variation goes, the most obvious component here will be accessibility.  If your gym doesn’t have an assisted chinup machine, then go for the bands.  If both are an option, you can vary it up with either both, or which method you prefer.  There is no right or wrong answer here.


Eccentric Only Chinups

These require a great deal of strength.  Once you’ve mastered either the band/machine assisted pullup, using either a thin band for 6-10 reps, or 25-35% of your bodyweight in counterweight for 6-10 reps, you’re ready to give these a shot.

This one is a great way to practice the chinup, without actually pulling yourself up.  “Eccentric” refers to the lowering portion of the chinup.  So all we are doing here, is standing on a box, a bench, someone’s head…, getting your chin over the bar, and slowly lowering.

This is a great way to train the same muscles you use in a chinup… without actually doing a full chinup.

Think of it this way.  If you’re carrying a heavy piece of furniture, you can lower that furniture down.  But, you may not be able to lift it back up again.  The eccentric chinup is the same principle.

Once you can get 5-8 of these for a slow count of 3, you’re ready to move on to the big kahuna.

How to perform an eccentric only chinup

Additional Chinup Tips & Tricks


Adding Frequency

A great way to get better at chinups, is do more of them.  Like with anything, the more you practice something, the better you get at it. This concept applies to strength training as well (as long as you’re not completely and utterly overdoing it).

One great way to add frequency, is start every workout with chinups.  Leg day?  Start with chinups, then hit your legs after.  And of course, this can be any of the chinup variations I mentioned above (assisted, inverted rows, eccentric).

I wouldn’t do any more than three sets per workout, and no more than 4 days a week.


Cluster Sets

Cluster sets involve doing a couple reps, short rest, a couple more, repeat.  This is a great way to put more intensity into your sets, by adding more demand, and getting more reps in.

So a cluster set might look like 2-2-2-2-2 for a total of ten reps, with 10 seconds in between.  Maybe a 3-3-2, for a total of eight.  There’s no hard and fast rule on how many to do, but taking that 10 second rest will absolutely help you get more in.

These work very well for any of the variations listed about, but I particularly like these for machine assisted chinups, because they will allow you to use less counterweight on the machine than you might if performing 8-10 without rest.

These are also great when you do get your bodyweight chinups, to be able to add more volume and get better at doing them.



Lose Bodyweight

Easier said than done right? But logically, losing bodyweight will mean you have less weight to pull up to the bar.  Losing weight is simple, but not easy.  As an online personal trainer who works with several clients whose goal is to lose fat, I know how frustrating and confusing it can be.  So if you’re looking for a guide on that as well, check out my article How To Lose Body Fat Forever.  Or if you’re looking for someone to take all of the guesswork out of it for you.  Apply for 1:1 coaching with me, and we can get you losing body fat, and/or improving your chinups.


Have Patience

Another one that’s easier said than done.  But it takes time.  For me, it took me at least a year to be able to get a bodyweight chinup.  And even longer to reach my goal of 10 chinups (I’m still working at it, but close).  It could take you months, it could take you years.  But remember, there is no finish line, so there’s no race.  Be patient, enjoy the process, and don’t give up.


Much Love,