You, Too, Can Rock a Chin-Up

>> Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Last week, I wrote about my new-found ability to do a chin-up. Ever since, I've received a number of emails asking a simple question: HOW DID YOU DO THAT?! Mind you, it's a single chin-up. But, regardless, I'm quite proud of it. So, though I'm certainly no strongwoman worthy of instructing how to perform such a feat, I do have some tips to offer. Tips that might get you closer to nudging your own chin above the bar. Or tips that might simply help you develop better upper-body strength.

We all need to start somewhere, right?

Hi. Let's be honest for a moment.

If you're anything like me (and I think many of you are, or you wouldn't keep reading) . . . you need to focus more on strengthening your upper-half. For years and years, I ran. I ran some more. I did spin classes. I walked. I ran some more. Though I did yoga from time to time, I didn't focus much on my arm strength. Ever. Or my core strength for that matter (that's a topic for another day -- Stephen has some excellent workouts that I've been neglecting).

In high school, part of those dreaded Presidential Fitness Tests involved doing a pull-up. Or maybe it was a chin-up, I can't really remember. It's irrelevant because I would never even try it. Not even the bar hang. Wow, as I wrote those sentences, I just realized that for such an over-achieving dork, I was a difficult student in gym class! And here's a fun fact: The only detention I ever received resulted from my attitude in gym class one day.

Phew. I feel . . . lighter having told you my troubled past!

Well, you're about to be schooled. So, take note!

A chin-up . . .
  • is performed with an under-handed grip. 
  • You start with your palms facing you. 
  • The action works your biceps more. 
  • Generally, it's an easier way to lift your body.
A pull-up . . .
  • is performed with an overhand grip. 
  • You start with your palms facing away from you. 
  • The action works more on your back versus your biceps. 
  • You guessed it, this is much harder.

Now that you know all there is to know. You can get yourself a bar and do one. It's that easy!


Yes. You may want to go out there and see what you can do. Test your "starting ability" . . . so go ahead. If you don't have your own at-home bar (you can get one here), head to the gym. A playground. Anywhere you can find something solid to hang from.

Test yourself. (It's more than OK to fail miserably.)

If you just hang there for a second . . . and then leave hanging again, but this time it's your head in shame (like I did so many times), follow these tips. My method isn't scientific. It isn't clinically proven. It's not even particularly formal in any way. But it's how I magically found myself on the positive side of the bar last week. And every day since.

(((Yeah. I've been doing chin-ups every day now. Not more than one. But one on several occasions per day. Averaging around 4 to 5 each day. I'm not bragging. I'm just letting you know that even the most hopeless of you has, well, HOPE. You really can do it with some practice and determination!)))

1.) Start on the ground. What I used to do instead of the bar in high school was the alternative test for arm strength: Push-ups. I was fierce at them. 25 was the target to hit. And I hit 25 every year. During college, I tried to maintain my ability to do 25 push-ups. And I did practice them off and on. I'd do a couple sets every day for several weeks. Then forget about it for months. Then start up again.

After college, I upped my practice and they became a regular habit. But I never really pushed past the 25 mark. Within the past year or two, I decided to change that. I began the intense, 6-week 100 push-ups program. I never finished it. I didn't even follow the workouts for a terribly long period of time. What it DID get me doing is 3 sets of push-ups in a row. I did what felt OK for my body, and this summer I was up to doing 3 sets -- 50, 65, and 45. One night per week, I'd just do as many as I humanly could. I got up to 80.

If you can't imagine doing a single push-up, don't worry. But I do I suggest starting with your arm strength on the ground versus skipping to the bar. Check out the One Hundred Push-Ups site and build your strength. Take some yoga classes and really focus on the arm strength poses. Get comfortable working your arms. Lifting, even.

Once you're more comfortable, move along and try step 2.

2.) Think negatively. Not about your ability to progress. I'm talking NEGATIVE chin-ups. They work the same muscles, just in a different, more manageable way. Before you know it, your arms will be buff. Capable. Eager.
  • Hang for 30 seconds (or more, if you can) like you just pulled yourself up (so in the top position with your chin above the bar). Stand on a chair or, if you have an at-home bar, jump to get into position.
  • Then slowly lower yourself down. S.L.O.W.L.Y.
  • Do this five times. Twice a day (or more, if you feel comfortable).
IMPORTANT: Lower yourself in a slow and controlled way. You're building strength. As I mentioned above, you use the same muscles on the way down that you use on the way up. This will help teach you muscles how to coordinate with each other.

3.) Forge ahead. When you feel comfortable with your level of strength. Or perhaps if you're just feeling crazy one day . . . try to do a chin-up again. Maybe it won't happen at first. So, you can keep following up with steps 1 and 2. But keep trying. Don't hurt yourself and, of course, listen to the signals your arms are giving you. But try again. And again. And one more time.

The day I did the magical chin-up . . . I didn't know that would be the day to changed everything. I tried it once because Stephen had set the bar up in our kitchen hallway. FAIL. I tried again on my way to bake something. FAIL #2. And then I tried again on my way inside after a run. That's when it all clicked.

I did it! Woah. I. DID. IT!

Since I was able to do it the one time, I've kept trying. I still do my push-ups, but now several times a day, I'll try do to a chin-up. Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don't. But with each time my chin rises above the bar, I'm getting stronger. More able. I'm gaining more confidence, too. And it feels great.

4.) Think holistically. I attribute my ability -- in part -- to my general fitness. Without running, my body wouldn't be as toned overall. My core strength wouldn't be there either. Even though I need to work on it quite a bit. When I do my chin-ups, I can feel my whole body working. Not just my arms. Just something to keep in mind.

One last tip: I don't know if it's endorphins or what . . . but I seem to have more success trying chin-ups after a run. I'll come inside and try right away, while my head is still buzzing from all that activity. Usually I can do one. If I've just gotten up from a couch session, not so much. It may be pure coincidence, but it's worth a try.

As far as moving past just one, I don't have the ability yet. I'm going to keep trying my several times a day method. I'll still incorporate the negative chin-ups. And I'll even just try to do two. A couple times a day. Just try. If you have any tips and/or experiences to share, we'd love to hear 'em. Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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