October 5, 2021

Chin-Ups Are a Challenge—Here’s How to Do Them

Nearly anyone can do some body-weight exercises. This is because there are no weights involved, and most people have enough strength to do some body-weight exercises. Think of push-ups and sit-ups or lunges. Most people can do at least a few reps when they are beginners, and more if they become advanced. And then there are the chin-ups.

Chin-ups can be difficult and not everyone can do them. It is not easy to lift your entire body by your arms. Even though they have been working out for years, many people never manage to pull up a single chin-up. It is normal to be unable to hold your arms up for very long or lift your whole body with the strength you have.

This tutorial is for those who have the strength and endurance to lift themselves off the bar. Learn everything you need about chin-ups from their benefits to how to properly do them.


  • Katie Kollath, ACE-certified personal coach and co-founder of Barpath Fitness, is Katie Kollath.
  • Josh Honore, a NASM-certified personal trainer and XPRO of STRIDE and Row House Go.

What Is a Chin-Up?

A chin-up is not a weighted exercise, but it requires some equipment. To perform a chin-up, you will need a bar (also known as a pull up bar). Kollath describes chin-ups, which are a “test of true body weight strength”, because you must be strong to perform one. This move will require you to pull your entire body upwards using the strength of your arms. This is a difficult maneuver, even if your weight is low. Chin-ups are definitely an advanced move. This is not because they are difficult, but because you need to have a lot of strength to lift yourself up using your upper body.

Benefits of Chin-Ups

These require strength, but chin-ups will also strengthen you. Honore says that chin-ups are great for strengthening your upper back, biceps and grip strength. Multiple muscles can be used simultaneously, including your back muscles and biceps. Honore notes that it is slightly easier to do pull-ups than chin-ups. This means there’s a better chance to do more. Honore says that chin-ups can improve posture and make it easier to do other movements such as rowing, yoga inversions, and moving heavy furniture.

Proper Chin-Up Form

You should first ensure that you have enough strength to do chin-ups. You could be injured. These are the steps you need to take in order to properly chin-up.

  1. Pull-up bars are great for this. Kollath advises that you should have your palms facing you, and your arms shoulder-width apart.
  2. Engage your core and upper back. Kollath suggests that you pinch the shoulder blades backward and down. Kollath also suggests that you keep your hips below you to prevent your scapula retraction.
  3. Continue to hold onto the bar and raise your chest toward it. Honore advises us to lift our chests up so that the bar is above our chins.
  4. Slowly lower your body until you return to the starting position.

How to Modify Chin-Ups

It’s common to need a simpler place to begin this exercise because of its difficulty. These modifications can be made to help you achieve chin-ups.

  • You can hang from the bar. Kollath recommends that you “work your ways up until you can hang for 60 seconds.”
  • To help you with the move, use a box or another piece of equipment such as a stool. Kollath suggests that you start at the top and hold there for at least 20 seconds.
  • You might consider a band for help.
  • Start in a pull-up position with a step stool and then lower yourself slowly. Kollath recommends that you “work your ways up to being capable of lowering for 10 seconds.”

Chin-Ups vs. Pull-Ups

A chin-up and pull-up are almost identical. Your hands position is the only difference. Honore explains that chin-ups are done with your hands facing forward (palms facing in our direction) and that this helps to recruit more lats, biceps, and pull-ups. Kollath, on the other hand, says that pull-ups are performed with the hands facing inward (palms facing you). Kollath says that both pull-ups as well as chin-ups can be used to strengthen the upper back and upper body. The chin-ups are easier than pull-ups because they use the elbows more and have more leverage.

Safety Considerations

Anyone who isn’t working to build strength in their upper bodies should not attempt chin-ups. Chin-ups should not be attempted by anyone with injuries to their elbows, shoulders, wrists or upper back. Josh advises that pregnant women should not attempt this exercise if they aren’t accompanied by a doctor.

The Takeaway

Although chin-ups can be done with any body weight, they are more challenging than other exercises such as sit-ups and lunges. A pull-up bar is used to raise your body with your arms, back and upper-body muscles. Although chin-ups look very similar to pull ups, they have a different hand position. Pull-ups are performed with your hands facing you. This makes it a bit easier than a chin up. Chin-ups are something you should try if you haven’t done any strength training. Also, don’t attempt them if your upper back, shoulders, wrists or elbows have been injured.