Body Mechanics: The Pull-Up and Chin Up

Welcome back to Body Mechanics. Today we are going to cover an exercise that I must admit to being my favorite. We are going to look at the exercises that target the back, and has a few different variations as well. Each variation has its benefits, and depending on your goals, should be used accordingly. They are the wide-grip pull-up, the pull-up, and the chin up. Yes, they are all body weight exercises, but they will challenge you no matter what your training experience is. The trick is to know which variation to use.

I am a firm believer in doing these exercises after a major lift for your back, such as a barbell row. That particular exercise will be the topic for a future article, I assure you. I know what you’re thinking-if it is not one of your primary lifts, why should it be discussed before the row? Allow me to explain.

These exercises force the shoulders to work a lot harder in completing the movement, and this obviously has benefits. Anytime we train our smaller muscles, our body as a whole becomes stronger, and therefore our bigger lifts will subsequently improve as well.

Also, our core is forced to engage isometrically, once again making our smaller synergistic muscles that much stronger, which in turn will make us stronger. Other muscles involved included in the pull-up and the chin up include the rhomboids, traps, deltoids, and biceps.

The wide-grip pullup is the hardest of the three. This is because our body works in levers, and mostly in third class levers. We know that the further away we are from a load, the harder it is to move the weight. With that said our wide-grip pull-up uses the widest grip, thus it is the hardest exercise to complete. Aside from the mechanics of the movement, it actually emphasizes the lats pretty intensely, and gets very little help from the biceps in the raising motion.

The standard pull-up is also a great variation, and targets the same muscles. However, because the grip is shorter (shoulder width), it makes the exercise much easier. Similar to the widegrip pull-up it targets the muscles of the back. The pull-up can also be performed with a supinated grip, which forces the biceps to work harder, making the exercise quite a bit easier to peform, and will allow for a easier time through the full range of motion

The chin up is performed in a similar manner to the previous exercises, the difference being that the grip has the hands extremely close together, typically just inches apart. There are also bars that protrude outward that essentially mimic the chin up, and make it even easier by rotating the wrists 90 degrees.

The mechanics for all of the exercises are similar, the only thing that changes is the hand position and our grip.

  • Jump up and grab the bar
  • Start with your grip wider than shoulder width apart in a pronated grip
  • Let your body hang and have your arms fully extended-this is the starting position
  • Lift your weight up to the bar until your chin is over the bar
  • Envision touching the bar with your chest
  • Lower yourself back down. That concludes one repetition

There isn’t a great risk of injury associated with any of these exercises in terms of technique. Either you are able to complete it, or you’re not. However, I would stay clear of these exercises if you have previous shoulder injuries such as shoulder impingement, or dislocated shoulders, or even lower back injuries. The chance of re-aggravating these injuries is high.

Remember the goal is to get better with every set, rep and breathe! See you next week when we will move on to the Bulgarian split squat, as per request. If you have a suggestion for an exercise you would like discussed please, leave us a reply or you can email the suggestions to me directly jc.flo.fitness@gmail.com -I’m always happy to help.

Happy Lifting!

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