Chin-Ups: A love-hate relationship

This is a blog I did several months ago, but decided to edit it, and bring it back. Several of our athletes are learning why chin-ups are a love-hate relationship! 

When it comes to strength and conditioning, we all know upper body strength is important. However, when we think of training the upper body typically exercises like bench press, military press, and biceps curl come to mind. However, one of the most underused exercises in strength and conditioning is actually one of the most beneficial exercises for you. Meet the chin-up:

Chin-ups have a love-hate relationships with the most lifters. For something as simple as pulling your body up, they are physically demanding and leave you exhausted. They are hated and dreaded because of the challenge, however you love the results you see in strength, and muscular development from performing them.

Chin-ups involve the sternal portion of the pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi, teres major, posterior deltoid, rhomboids, trapezius, and elbow flexors. For those who haven’t had an anatomy course, that is pretty much your whole upper-body! Working all these muscles with one simple exercise makes it one of the most beneficial exercises when trying to develop upper body strength. It is typically used in athletic testing as an upper body tester, as the bench press is not accurate, nor safe for young athletes.

The average male can do 1 chin-up. The average female can do zero chin-ups. What does that mean? We need to do more chin-ups! I am not saying that they need to be done everyday, but they for sure needed to be added to your periodized program if they are not already. Relevant body strength is always important, as it may be cool that a football player can bench 300lbs, but if he can’t pull his chin over the bar once, something needs to change.

Here is an example of a week long routine of a football player here at Spruling Training Systems.

Monday: Upper body Lift
Tuesday: Lower body Lift
Wednesday: Speed and Agility work
Thursday: Upper body Lift
Friday: Lower body lift
Saturday: Aerobic Conditioning
Sunday: Off

He completes chin-ups on Monday as part of his upper body lift. Currently he is in his off-season program, with a focus on strength.  He is doing 4 sets of 6-8 reps. However, as he gets closer to the preseason, we will transition to power. As a result, the reps will drop to 3-5, but we will add an external load to make it more challenging.

The bottom line is, everybody can benefit from chin-ups. Of course if you have elbow or any upperbody musculoskeletal injuries you should get clearance first, but the average young athlete or adult should have no problem putting them in your program.

As far as technique goes, that is the benefit of the exercise, the technique is simple. Start from a dead hang with a supinated, or neutral grip on the bar, and pull your body up until your chin  goes over the bar. Than slowly lower yourself ALL the way down to the dead hang, and repeat. Like I said, depending on your goals and where you are in your program will determine how much volume (setsxreps) you will do. For those who struggle to complete the chin-up you may tie a band atop the chin-up bar and place your knee in the band. This will give you a little extra boost up. Eventually you can switch to a thinner band, and ultimately eliminate the band.

Chin-ups will always be a love-hate relationship for everybody, but they produce some amazing results. When prescribed correctly, with the appropriate volume, they can be a great asset to an athlete’s program.

If you’re not sure how to structure your program to include chin-ups, and not able to join us at STS,  I suggest you take advantage of a great service offered by Spurling Training Systems. Online Coaching includes a monthly exercise prescription, weekly check-ins, unlimited questions, and full use of our video library. Check it out here: STS Online Coaching

Get out and enjoy this great weekend, and Happy Father’s Day to all the dads!


Doug Spurling, CSCS, NSCA-CPT
Spurling Training Systems, LLC
1 Colonel Gelardi Drive #105
Kennebunk, ME 04043


About Spurling Training Systems

At Spurling Training Systems, our focus is on providing a superior athletic conditioning experience. The combination of expert training, time spent understanding your specific goals and customized program development is what makes Spurling Training Systems a unique and effective training experience for athletes of all ages, levels and abilities. Doug is the founder and owner of Spurling Training Systems. He graduated from University of New England with a Bachelor of Science in Applied Exercise Science. He has several years of experience as both a personal trainer for general fitness and a strength and conditioning coach for athletes. His certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) include Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Certified Personal Trainer (CPT).
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