Many of you know that it took me almost TWO YEARS to do a chin-up.
You see, being a fitness professional doesn’t automatically mean you can nail a difficult exercise like chin-ups on the first try.
Being a fitness professional doesn’t mean you are immune from self-doubt or the comparison trap in your fitness.
Being a fitness professional doesn’t mean you don’t have to work as hard in the gym as everyone else!
Looking back, I realize I was misguided in the strategies I was using and wasting a LOT of time getting nowhere at all.
I realized at first that I was practicing my chin-ups with a more difficult grip than need be.
I also only did one variation over and over again without ever switching things up! Practicing ONLY with a band assist was one of my top mistakes, and it’s one of the top mistakes I see people in the gym making too.
And it wasn’t until I upped my practice game on a weekly basis that I saw significant gains in getting over that bar. Practicing maybe once a week just was NOT going to cut it.
Plus, I had it in my mind for a looooong time that I’d never be able to do one! Talk about a mental block.
Chin-ups are now one of my favorite moves to do and one of my favorite moves to teach. But it’s precisely because of the hard work and journey behind them that I love them so much.
And as a fitness professional, I am not alone in this! Many of my fellow coaches, trainers, and instructors feel the same way, so here I’ve asked ten of my favorite fit pros – many of whom are rockstar friends – to share their personal experiences with chin-ups. Grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and read about these girls’ badass stories and tips for you if you are just starting out on your chin-up journey!
10 Fit Pros Share Their Secrets for Chin-up Success
Becky Williams of B. Kinetic Fitness
Pulling your own body weight over the bar is an amazing feeling. It makes you feel like a total badass.
There can be a mental block attached to the movement, though. So many of us females grew up being told that girls can’t do pull-ups. That we’re just inherently weaker than men, especially in the upper body. Thus, we don’t even try going after that goal. Even as a life-long athlete, I believed that for the longest time. In the back of my mind was the embarrassing experience of failing the flexed arm hang during the Presidential Fitness Test in grade school.
But it’s a movement that’s totally doable if given the proper training. As I improved my strength and overall fitness over time and become a personal trainer 10 years ago, I decided to go after the elusive chin-up. When I finally pulled myself up over that bar for the first time, a feeling of pride and excitement washed over me. And I haven’t been the same since. Accomplishing that gave me the confidence to chase other strength and fitness goals with an attitude of “Can I do that?” rather than “I could never do that.”
Some of my favorite ways to train for chin-ups and pull-ups include inverted rows, dead hangs, scap pull-ups, and negatives!
Candace Smith of Beauty of Strength with Candace
“The pull – up is arguably the Ultimate Measure of upper body strength.” -Unknown
Practice, practice, practice, I can’t say this enough. The more you do something, the better you will get at it. On the road to your first Chin-up remember that it’s about Progress, not Perfection.
I remember the first time I got my pull-up! It was amazing, it was empowering, and I felt strong! All the hard work, patience, and dedication paid off. It only go better from there! Pull-ups are my favorite thing to do, and I love teaching women how to get their first one!
My advice in getting your first one is to first off stop saying you can’t do them. You can do them! You can really do anything you put your mind to. If Chin-ups are something you want to achieve, you surely can reach that goal. The time, patience, dedication, and hard work is so rewarding when you get that first one; you are going to feel like a total badass chick – not that you aren’t already!
Then, to help build your strength, do assisted pull ups, use slow negative reps, do jumping pull ups, partner assisted pull-ups, and inverted rows.
Finally, getting better at chin-ups is a skill that you have to do consistently. It’s not a one and done type thing. You must do them often So, go on ahead with your bad self and start working on your pull-up game, I have complete faith in you that you will be able to do them. You must believe in yourself because you can!
Carolyn Banner of Body By Banner
For me, chin ups are a great reminder of one of the things I love most about fitness: the joy of seeing our hard work and focus pay off. We only get stronger and perfect our form through hard work, focus and consistency and chin ups are such a perfect example of this in practice.
I would say that I am still at the beginning of my journey with chin ups but am amazed with how powerful they make me feel- and how sore my abs can get from doing them! They really do require much more than pure arm strength.
My number one tip for working on chin ups or pull ups is to always challenge yourself with the most difficult version first, even if that only means doing one rep unassisted or with the least amount of assistance. Progress comes when we push ourselves outside our comfort zone and do the hard work, rather than settling for what we’ve already mastered. For me that means starting with 1, maybe 2, unassisted chin ups and then moving on to 3-5 sets of 5 reps using a band or a box.
Chrissy King of Chrissy King Fitness
I remember the day I got my first unassisted pull-up. I felt like a such a freaking badass. I grew up believing that I just wasn’t strong, nor was I meant to be. In fact, it was the running joke in my family that I was a huge weakling. And I kind of get it because there was a time in my adult life when carrying a case of water in the house was a huge struggle for me.
Strength training changed that for me, and I realized I was strong and totally capable. Even though I was deadlifting impressive weight, the fact that I couldn’t do chin ups still bothered me. I had grown up with the belief that women couldn’t do chin ups because we just weren’t strong enough. But after I saw women doing them, I knew that wasn’t true, and I knew I had to achieve this ability for myself.
There’s only way to get your first chin up, and that’s to keep practicing frequently so that’s what I did. I’ll be honest, it took me longer than most to get my first chin up, but it was totally worth it!
These days I can sling a case of paper own my shoulder with the best of them, carry all my groceries in the house at one time, and deadlift and squat hundreds of pounds. Despite all those things which I consider amazing for this former weakling, my ability to do knock out chin ups still holds a special place in my heart. It’s a reminder that strength is empowering and strength is for everyone.
If you are questioning if you can achieve chin ups, the answer is yes you can. The more you practice, the easier it will get so my advice is to practice often but vary the volume so you don’t overdo it. Once you get the first unassisted chin up, you will be on a quest for more!
Hilary Glaus of The Health-usiast
I don’t remember nailing my first chin up, but I do remember the time I installed my chin-up bar in my apartment.
I remember thinking: “This is legit.” For me, having a chin up bar in my apartment was a long time coming: it represented how far I’ve come in my fitness journey, as well as what I hoped to accomplish in the future.
Chin ups are one of the most empowering lifts for women by virtue of the fact that they defy what women are capable of. No one expects a woman to be able to do a chin up, and there’s nothing like proving people wrong to make you feel like a total badass!
My #1 tip for beginners just starting out is to not only get more comfortable being on the bar (practicing dead hangs, hollow holds, and negatives), but to prioritize improving grip strength.
Once you nail your first chin up and want to start working on multiples, the limiting factor is often grip strength. In other words, you may have the strength to continue but if you can’t hold onto the bar, you’re not going to be very successful!
Exercises like farmer carries and deadlift variations (suitcase deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts), as well as bar hanging practice will help you progress much quicker and more efficiently in your chin-up practice!
Kate Hoerner of Kate Hoerner Fitness
Ah, chin-ups. I have a love-hate relationship with these guys. They are incredibly challenging, but SO empowering. If you’ve ever tried to work on your chin-ups, you know what I’m talking about!
If you’re new to the move, I always suggest starting with a neutral grip like the one I have in this photo (palms facing towards each other). This grip eases the strain on the shoulders and rotator cuffs.
I also have my clients start with jumping pull-ups and negative pull-ups until they get strong enough to lift themselves. Adding in a band is always an option as well, but it can be difficult to recruit the right muscles when using a band.
Monique Magno of Burpees to Bubbly
For a long time, I wouldn’t try an unassisted chin-up because I was afraid that people would be watching and I would be so embarrassed if I couldn’t do it.
Finally, I was at the gym on a Friday night and the gym was empty so I brought a step over and decided I’d give it a try. It wasn’t pretty, but I didn’t care because not only had I just gotten over my fear of trying something that scared me, but I found out that I was stronger than I thought! It was the most incredible feeling, and it got me thinking “what else am I holding back on out of fear?” And at that moment, my whole mentality about working out changed, and I started to break through self-imposed barriers of “I can’t'” and “I’m scared.”
Over the years I’ve practiced and practiced and practiced and while I am still not at my goal of 10 unassisted chin-ups, most days I’m halfway there 😉 I love the challenge that chin-ups give me and I love how I can feel every muscle that’s working to get me up over the bar.
Rachel Flanagan of Rachel Flanagan Fitness
My favorite thing about pull ups is how it can make a woman’s confidence soar.
Watching a woman do her first unassisted pull up is always a treat — it’s like watching a baby take their first steps. She’ll come down from the bar with a huge smile on her face. She’ll then look up at the bar and usually say, “WHOA. I never thought I’d be able to do that.” It’s one of my favorite parts of my job!
Steph Rondeau of I Train, Therefore I Eat
There are many people out there who think that women can’t do pull ups just because we are women. And that is why I find it so empowering to lift my bodyweight up to that bar, as if I’m saying with all my might, “Oh yeah? Watch me!”
For those just starting out, my biggest tip is just to spend more time at the bar (the pull up bar, that is!)
Spend time doing dead hangs, working on your grip, holding at the top position, doing assisted reps. The more you do these things, you’ll end up doing full, unassisted pull ups before you know it.
Sylvie Tetrault of Sylvie Tetrault
For me, pull-ups are my most liberating lift, ever since I hung from the bar unable to complete even one pull up during my first week of fitness testing for my varsity rugby team, I set out to make it my mission to get over that bar. Pulls-ups became my ultimate test of upper body strength.
My top ways to increase your pull-up game fast include constant practice (this doesn’t just mean once a week!), to focus on variety by trying different grips and variations, and doing some extra grip exercises.
You also want to do the small things! A big movement like a pull-up requires a lot of muscles to work together in order to get you over that bar.
The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to practice consistently in order to excel at pull-ups. Do something every day to put you in a better position to get over that bar. I can honestly say that there is no other exercise that has made me feel stronger, empowered, and unstoppable!
Convinced you should start working on chin-ups and pull-ups yet?! 😉
Then I encourage you to sign up for my FREE 5-Day Chinup Challenge that kicks off on Monday, October 16th!
I’ve designed #OverTheBar to help women understand the exact ways they can increase their upper body strength and build up to a chin-up.
When you join the challenge, you will get:
>> DAILY VIDEO TUTORIALS explaining different chin-up variations and progressions that will help you build your upper body strength.
>> DAILY LIVE DISCUSSIONS covering supplemental topics like grip strength, accessory work, mindset, exactly how to incorporate chin-up practice into your workout routines, and more.
>> DAILY FITNESS COACHING in a private Facebook group where you can upload pictures or videos of yourself practicing the daily progressions and get coaching cues and feedback from me.
>> CONNECTION WITH OTHER WOMEN who also want to see what their bodies are capable of and are working toward that first chin-up just like you!