I work in gyms. All kinds of gyms; Gymnasiums, commercial gyms, public parks with calisthenic equipment, Pole Dance studios, Powerlifting Gyms and CrossFit Boxes. I feel it’s safe to say, I see a lot of bodies at work.
One thing I don’t see much of, is chin-ups. I see so many people try and jump straight into the pull-up. Or worse, they stay stuck on the “pull up and dip assist” machines, never to progress away from it. Let me address two core reasons why this is hurting your gains, impeding progress and actually setting you up for future injury, if it hasn’t already.
- It’s teaching you poor ‘Nervous-motor’ skills. When we do a proper pull up, we are in fact “pulling- up”. But when we do a proper chin-up, we are not drving our chins up, we are driving our elbows back and down. Proper elbow drive will teach the teres minor & major to work WITH the biceps. It will also teach posterior serratus, rhomboids, and inferior trapezius to “hold secure” your posterior shoulder girdle. It will prevent teres major & minor from shortening, leading to an inferior winging of the scapula. And most importantly to gymbro’s; it will keep your back solid during a gross majority of anterior lifts, like curls or front raises.
- When you jump straight into pull-ups, without properly training up the above mentioned systems of the chin-up, you teach your teres minor & major to recruit AS PART OF rather than WITH the Lats. What this is going to lead to down the road, if not already, is an inferior winging of the scapula. Basically, the bottom edge of your scaps (shaped like africa) will wing-out at funny angles, and you’ll start to notice pain, and diminished Range Of Motion (ROM) up in your front shoulder. the reason for this, is that the hypertrophy (gain in size) just at one portion of the teres minor & major are actually levering your humerus up into the ball & socket joint that is your shoulder Jt. you’ll know this is occuring if:
*You experience pain in the upper back or front shoulder during curls
*Pain bench pressing in the shoulders and lateral-upper back
*Pain in the arm-pit/upper back during pulldowns or Pull-ups.
If you’re interested in progressing into proper, sexy, wide-armed pull-ups or just correcting your shoulder pains; add Chin-ups into your training in place of pull-ups for a few weeks. I recommend narrow chin-ups to start, moving towards a full hang at the bottom of each rep. This will have the greatest recruitment effect on the Rhoms, lower traps, tere minor& major, and posterior serratus. As you progress, start introducing a wider grip on your chin-ups until you reach mechanically widest chin-ups. from there, simply flip the hands over into a pseudo narrow pull up and push it’s progression out wide.
If you’re just starting out, or looking to get off of the “assisted pull-up & dip” machine, give Salmon Ladders a try. This is a combination of utilization of the smith machine (for something actually useful) and Inverted Push-up.
Inverted Push-ups: get underneath a low hanging bar, Plank your back and legs, using them as the lever, and simply pull up, with a palms facing you chin-up grip. Like a push up done upside down (hence inverted)
To conduct the “Salmon Ladder” Simply go to the Smith machine, set the bar to about Knee-level. conduct 5 invert P/U, move the bar up one hook, do another 5, go up another hook and do another 5. Go up 3 hooks and back down to the original starting hook. That’s all there is to it.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them and I’ll get to them promptly.
Thank you, and may you always keep progressing!