Strong arms give us the strength to lift, pull, throw, push and climb. Upper body muscle is the new sexy! The chin-up, also referred to as the pull-up, is one of the best upper body exercises and compound movements The problem is most people can’t perform a full chin-up without assistance.  

Here’s a step-by-step progression to completing this challenging, but very effective exercise:

Reclined Pull-ups

Instead of pulling yourself straight up and down, position yourself in a reclined position so the load you’re lifting is reduced.

You can accomplish this by using a TRX strap or setting yourself up underneath a barbell on a squat rack.

You’ll strengthen the same muscles involved with the pulling action, but it is more manageable. 

Assisted Pull-ups

Most gyms offer a Gravitron or other Assisted Chin-up machines enabling most people to incorporate chin-ups into their workout routine because the machines offer assistance.

The model at your gym may be either a stand-up or kneel model and it may either be computerized or involve only a weight stack.

The instructions on the front of the machine will clearly demonstrate how to complete the set-up process.

You can also accomplish an assisted pull-up by using long resistance bands that attach to the top of the pull-up bar and extend down and wrap under your feet. The resistance bands will provide additional assistance to help you pull your body weight upwards.

You can also accomplish assistance with the help of a workout buddy. They can help support you manually through the range of motion. This approach is a bit more risky, however, because you need to assure your partner is strong enough to provide you the assistance you need. 

Body Weight Hangs

To increase your body’s ability to manage your total body weight, practice just hanging from the bar with your arms extended.

Build up to 30-60 seconds of hanging.

You can also try the arm hang with arms bent at 90 degrees.

Start with just a few seconds and build your endurance. 

Jumping Pull-ups

Pulling up is the hardest phase of this movement, so one approach to progressing is to position a bench or step under the chin up bar. Use your legs to jump up, but then slowly lower down using the strength of your upper body only. This will allow you to strengthen your upper body during the eccentric, negative, lowering phase until you develop the strength to also lift your body weight upwards. 

Full Pull-ups

Once you can lift and lower your entire body weight, start with a couple reps and build from there.

Here’s a few tips:

Pull-up machines or bars often allow you to choose between 3-4 different grips – a wide grip, a mid-grip, a narrow grip and a reverse mid-grip. We recommend to our clients that they use all the various grips to challenge their muscles with a slightly different stimulus with each set.  

As you pull with your arms, your body will lift upwards.

Stop once your chin has cleared the bar.

Slowly return to the starting position.

Attempt to achieve full range of motion without locking out your elbows. 

Try to focus on pulling with the muscles in your back rather than your arms. 

Maintain control and keep your abdominals active to brace your spine.

Try to minimize momentum and always keep tension on the muscles .

Start with 8-12 reps, 1-3 sets, 2 times per week.

Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan, holds a master's degree in exercise physiology and has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for more than 33 years. She has received numerous industry awards including 2010 CanFitPro International Presenter of the Year, 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, 1998 CanFitPro Fitness Presenter of the Year and 2005/2006 ACE Fitness Educator of the Year - Runner up. She is a fitness trainer, fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals including "Go For Fit - the Winning Way to Fat Loss" and "Fit over Forty" and the featured presenter in various fitness DVDs. She has presented hundreds of workshops to thousands of fitness leaders throughout Canada, Australia, Mexico, Jamaica, New Zealand, Germany, England, Spain, South America, Asia and the U.S. She is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver, the founder of WHY Racing Events & WHY Community, participates in various community fundraisers and can be found running, biking, or hiking around the community. Find more information at

Scroll to top