One of my favourite exercises is without a doubt the chin-up. It’s such a great test of strength. You know if you can bang out five, ten or even fifteen reps that your strength when compared to your bodyweight is great.
It trains so effectively the big and undervalued Latissimus Dorsi muscle that feeds from the lower back to the underarm area. It’s equally great for the arms.
The thing is how many people can actually do them. It’s one of the few exercises that requires you to lift your entire bodyweight and it also targets a pulling movement that, in general, is not as strong as a pushing movement.
So, the only people that gain anything from this great exercise are those that are already pretty damn strong to begin with.
There is a solution. Here are three methods that allow you to still gain the benefits of chin-ups but can’t yet do them without assistance.
1) Spotter – using a friend to assist you through the movement. Grab the bars shoulder width apart and have your training partner support you under the ribs. Perform a chin-up and have your partner take up whatever slack is required for you to complete a full rep. They may be able to assist you less on the way down as this tends to be a stronger phase of the movement. This option has the added bonus of being a great shoulder workout for your partner.
2) Eccentric – eccentric training simply refers to the muscle lengthening phase of an exercise. In the case of the chin-up it’s the down phase. To do an eccentric rep of a chin-up you can do two things. Firstly, you can jump and pull to get your chin-up above the bar and then slowly lower or you can use a step or a lower bar. Start with your chin above the bar, bend your knees and perform only the down phase. Doing this type of workout will eventually have you strong enough to do the whole, up and down, movement by yourself.
3) Powerbands – I saved the best to last. I recently found a product that I absolutely love. It’s called a powerband and can be bought in Australia from www.kettlebells.com.au. It’s like a normal exercise band except that it’s in a loop. You attach it the bar and then pull it down low enough to allow you to feed one foot into it like a stirrup. You then straighten your leg so that the band is being pulled from the bar to near to the ground where your foot. You now perform a chin-up and the band assists you. So, you may go from not being able to do any to doing eight reps. Whilst the first couple of reps may feel easy you’ll soon fatigue like you would without the band. The bands also come in four strengths so once you master one band (i.e. can do three sets of fifteen) you are ready to buy the next band and increase the challenge. If you progressively work yourself through each band you’ll eventually have developed the strength to do them unassisted.