Chin-ups get a bad rap as the easy way out of doing the more difficult pull-up. This might apply if you're only doing bodyweight reps, but it couldn't be further from the truth once you start adding external load.
Due to the supinated (palms facing you) grip, chin-ups allow for a greater external load AND a greater range of motion than the pull-up performed with a pronated (palms facing away from you) grip. Once you start loading the exercise, you can handle more weight, but you need to move that weight further to complete the reps.
This is where getting away from bodyweight and loading with percentage-based training comes into play.
The same rules that apply to percentage-based training for other exercises like the squat or bench press also apply to chin-ups. You first need to establish a 1RM (one rep max) of your bodyweight and hanging weight. For example, a 200-pound athlete doing a single rep with a 100-pound dumbbell around his waist would have a 1RM of 300 pounds.
That 300-pound 1RM would then be applied to the loading parameters of the training session. For example, if the goal was functional hypertrophy, you might do 5 sets of 6 reps at 80%. This 80% would be calculated from the 300 pound 1RM (bodyweight + hanging weight):
- 80% of 300 pounds = 240 pounds
- 240 pounds – 200 pounds bodyweight = 40 pounds hanging weight
You'd now do those 5 sets of 6 reps with 40 pounds of hanging weight around your waist.
Once we've established a training goal and set the loading parameters, technique needs to be dialed in. Not all chin-ups are created equally.
There may be a time and place for partial rep training, but the majority of chin-up work should be done through a full range. This means fully extended arms in the bottom (elbows locked out, ears in front of biceps) and the elbow joint closed off at the top (forearms touching biceps). When it comes to chin-ups, partial reps get partial results.
Think of the chin-up and the overhead press as the yin and yang of upper-body training. These opposite exercises complement each other and can be directly connected to a structurally balanced and healthy shoulder.
With both exercises, maintaining the proper range of motion is critical. When range of motion and technique are emphasized, gains in strength and muscle mass will follow. A strong and mobile shoulder is a healthy shoulder.
Orginally appeared on T Nation Articles