Keep your chin up!

No, this isn't me; I slurped it from the Web.

Chin ups and pull ups; thought by many to be the holy grail of fitness. Lifting your own body weight, against gravity, using only your back and biceps. Excellent for building strength and burning fat, in particular, that difficult-to-budge fat around your middle.

This week, I started Phase 2 of The New Rules of Lifting for Abs. Workout B includes mixed-grip chin ups. (Instead of gripping the bar with both palms facing in, one palm faces out, thereby forcing the core to work harder to keep the body facing forward). Three to four sets of 8 mixed-grip chin ups, to be exact.

How did I fare? 3, 1 and 5 assisted (I couldn’t face not being able to do a single rep in my final set so I placed my foot, very lightly against the wall and gave myself a little help; this is widely accepted way to improve your chin up, or pull up, strength). Not great, but on the upside, lots of room for improvement!

Chin ups are not a beginner’s exercise. A moderate level of strength and experience with weight training is required. Men can typically begin adding chin ups to their training program sooner than women (can’t get around biology). Want to learn to do chin ups and impress your friends?

Rather than starting out at the chin up bar, we’ll begin at the Smith or assisted squat rack. Place the bar at approximately the level of your hip. Lie down under the bar and reach up to grab it, palms facing in (towards your face). Your arms should be in a straight line, with shoulders directly under elbows and wrists. Extend your legs (if this is too hard, your can begin by bending your knees and placing your feet flat on the floor). Engage your abdominals and pull your torso (shoulders to knees) off the floor, so you’re hanging from the bar.

Take a deep breath in, retract your shoulder blades and using your back and biceps, pullĀ your chest towards the bar. Exhale as you pull up. Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position. That’s 1 rep.

In the beginning, aim for 2 sets of 3-5 reps, resting for 60 s between sets. Once you’re able to do 2 sets of 8-10 reps you’re ready to move on (if you started with legs bent, progress to the straight leg version described above).

Come on over to the chin up bar! Place a bench or step below it. The bench should be high enough that you can reach the bar. Standing on the bench, reach up to the bar, palms facing in and attempt to pull yourself up. Use your legs as little as possible to assist. Again, aim for 2 sets of 3-5 reps with 60 s rest between sets. Get yourself up to 2 sets of 8-10 before you move on.

Ready for the next progression? Get rid of the bench. Jump up, grab the bar using a palms-in grip and place one foot against the wall at about waist height. Bend your knee, so that you’re still hanging directly under the bar. Using your leg as little as possible (but you will use it by pushing slightly into the wall with your food), attempt to pull yourself up. (Alternately, if you have a training partner, you can simply bend both knees and have them hold your ankles while you pull up, see photo to the left). Once again, you’re aiming for 2 sets of 3-5 reps with appropriate rest between.

Now you’re ready to go it alone (for 1 rep, anyways!). Jump up, grab the bar, starting from the bottom of the range of motion (arms fully extended), cross your ankles and up you go. You’ll likely only be able to do 1 completely unassisted chin up the first time. That’s fine. Place your foot against the wall and continue your set. Your goal here is to eventually be able to do both sets (as many as you can) completely unassisted.

In order to help develop the muscles you need to perform unassisted chin ups (and pull ups), you should make sure you’re including bicep curls and bent over rows in your workouts. Use dumbbells, barbells, cable and pulley machines, whatever you have available.

Putting it all together? Start your workout with chin ups. Give your back and biceps a break by working another muscle group for a bit (legs, core, chest; you choose), then finish with isolation exercises for back and biceps (rows, curls, lat pullovers and pull downs). Take a day off between strength workouts; your chin ups won’t get better if you attempt them daily.

My goal? To be able to do 3 sets of 5-6 unassisted chins by June 15th (my estimated date of completion of this phase of the program).

Let me know how you’re doing, and of course, keep your chin up!