Chin Up Proper Form Breakdown
Detailed Guide On How To Do A Proper Chin Up
By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, & PES, PN-L1
When it comes to chin up proper form, most people are so eager to do them that their form is less than ideal.
Ok, I’ll say it…their form sucks.
There’s a good chuck of the population that can’t do a chin up, a small portion that can do chin ups but have awful form, and there’s the 1% that has perfected it.
You’re going to become part of the 1%.
This is your step by step guide for having proper form on your chin up.
- Proper Chin Up Form Phase 1: Rows & Hangs
- Chin Up Form Phase 2
- Learn How To Do A Banded Chin Up In Phase 3
- Perfect Chin Up Form In Phase 4
- Master Proper Chin Up Form
- Frequently Asked Questions
Let's get started!
Proper Chin Up Form Phase 1 - Perfecting Rows & Hangs
I know what you are thinking, “I’m here for chin up proper form, why are you telling me to do inverted rows?”
Well, like I said in the intro, most people can’t do a proper chin up, so the first movement you need to master is the inverted row.
The inverted row can be performed on a squat rack or Smith machine.
The benefit of starting here is that it takes the vertical motion of a chin up and puts you in a more horizontal motion (making it easier), but you still work the same muscles.
It also will allow you to start the mind muscle connection of feeling your lats which will help you when you start on the pull-up bar.
Here’s how to do the inverted row:
- Line yourself up so when you pull yourself up, the bar hits your mid chest.
- Your grip should be underhand and shoulder width apart.
- Keep a straight line from your shoulders to your toes (don’t sag your butt down or overarch your back).
- When you pull yourself up to the bar, hold for a half second and then control yourself back to the starting position.
Once you are able to do 3 rounds of 8 - 10 reps with perfect form, lower the bar closer to the ground and continue working towards 3 rounds of 8 - 10.
You’ll eventually reach a point when your body is parallel with the ground and you can’t go any further down (view pictures below). When 8 - 10 reps can be done at this point (along with phase 1b and 1c complete), you’re ready to move on.
Perform inverted rows 2 - 3 times per week for 3 sets of 8 - 10 reps.
Chin up proper form is going to require grip strength. You’ll be working on improving that by doing hangs in addition to your inverted rows.
These are simple to do but hard to execute for the allotted time.
Here are your main cues to remember for proper chin up form on hangs:
- For overhand grip, take a slightly wider than shoulder width grip. For underhand grip, keep your hands shoulder width.
- Exhale as you hang (you’ll feel your upper chest being stretched).
- Keep your core engaged. Don’t let your lower back excessively arch.
Perform 2 sets of hangs 3 times per week. During your warm up, use an overhand grip for your first set. At the end of your workout, do your chin up (underhand grip) for your second set. Work towards 30 - 45 seconds.
The last part of phase 1 chin up proper form is building the strength at the top of your chin up.
I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of people doing “chin ups” and their chin isn’t even getting above the bar.
That ain’t a real chin up!
To build that top end strength, add a platform below you and jump so your chin is above the bar.
HOLD yourself there as long as you can without protruding your neck forward and/or rocking yourself back and forth.
Perform 1 set of hangs 3 times per week. The goal is to keep your chin above the bar for 20 - 30 seconds.
If you are able to do 3 sets of 8 - 10 at the lowest setting for your inverted rows, a dead hang for at least 30 seconds, and an isometric hold for at least 20 seconds, head to phase 2.
You’ve made it to your first actual chin up variation!
For this phase, you are going to perfect the lowering portion of the chin up.
To do this follow these cues:
- Start on a platform or box.
- Using proper chin up grip position (shoulder width), bend your knees and jump to the point where your chin is above the bar. This jump should be easy and not feel like you are doing an actual chin up to get yourself up.
- Once your chin is above the bar, hold for 1 second. You should be good at this since you can now do 20 - 30 second holds!
- From there, slowly lower yourself taking 3 - 5 seconds until your arms are locked out.
- Plant your feet on the box, platform, or ground. That completes one rep.
On your quest for chin up perfect form, you’re now going to have the strength to hold yourself up and lower yourself with control, which is something most people don’t have.
Perform eccentric only chin ups 2 to 3 times per week for 3 sets of 3 - 5 reps. Each rep should include a 1 second pause at the top, followed by a 3 - 5 second eccentric.
The final phase before you are a master of chin ups is doing them with bands.
Using a band for your chin ups is going to provide assistance and act as if you weigh less than you actually do.
I like to have my clients progress through 3 different bands (heavy, medium, micro) but use whatever you have access to.
To perform band assisted chin ups:
- Wrap the band around the pull up bar and stretch the band so you can place your foot down onto it.
- Grab the bar with your underhand grip (use a step or platform if you can’t reach).
- This next part is important. DON’T jump on your first rep. Slowly raise your feet so they are floating and begin your first rep.
- Pull yourself up, slightly pause at the top, and control yourself back to the start position.
- When you are pulling yourself up, think of it as if you are trying to get your chest to the bar versus trying to get your chin over. This is going to help prevent you from straining your neck to finish the rep.
Once you can do 3 sets of 5 - 10 reps with perfect form, switch to a lighter band. Once you are able to do all the sets and reps with the thinnest band, you’re ready for phase 4. Practice 3 sets of 5 - 10 reps 2 - 3 times per week.
Congratulations, you’ve arrived at phase 4.
I can guarantee you this…
If you can do 3 sets of 5 - 10 reps with the thinnest band, you can 100% do an unassisted chin up with perfect form.
I don’t have to teach you chin up proper form here because you already know how to do everything!
You’ve build your strength, you’ve perfected your holds and eccentrics, and you can safely do band assisted chin ups without yanking your body or cheating the reps.
You’re ready to rock!
Test your strength and see how many chin ups you can do with perfect form.
To increase your total reps, you want to practice increasing your total volume.
For example, let’s say you can do 3 reps with perfect form.
Instead of doing 3 reps every workout and pushing yourself to failure, start by doing multiple sets of 1.
What sounds better…A workout where you do 1 set of 3 pull-ups and can’t do anymore or 10 sets of 1 rep?
By doing sub maximal sets, you are going to be able to do way more volume, which will increase strength and allow you to do more than 3 (from the example) the next time you see how many you can do!
There you have it! The complete chin up proper form guide to go from zero to hero with your chin ups or go from the generic group of people with lousy form to the 1% that can do chin ups effectively.
If you wanted to watch this in video format, here’s the link for the video from the introduction.
If you want additional back workouts to strengthen the muscle that will help improve your chin up form, check out these articles:
Frequently Asked Questions
Which Grip Is Appropriate For Chin-Ups?
A chin-up will be done with an underhand grip, meaning your palms are facing your body as you grip the bar.
Traditionally this is the only grip position that will be for a chin-up. If you took an overhand grip, that would become a pull-up.
If you have a pull-up bar where your palms face each other when you grip the bar, that is a neutral grip pull-up.
Although they work slightly different muscles, do the one you enjoy doing and stick with it as you learn how to do them.
Are Chin-Ups Or Pull-Ups Easier?
Generally chin-ups are easier than pull-ups since you get the advantage of having your biceps help with the movement.
Although they might be easier, there is no wrong choice in deciding which one to do.
Choose based on what you enjoy more and what feels good on your wrists and shoulders.