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4 Dumbest Chin-Up Mistakes Sabotaging Your Back Growth

by Danica Dalao 17 Apr 2020 0 Comments

Welcome back to my DUMBEST MISTAKES series! In these videos I pick apart common exercises to help you not only understand how to do them properly, but what mistakes specifically you need to look out for and today we’re going to be covering CHIN-UPS.  Now chin-ups are great to have in your exercise arsenal because they involve shoulder extension and elbow flexion which means that if done properly, they will effectively target your lats and biceps for muscle growth. In fact, most people would see more gains in your biceps if you started to incorporate more chin-ups in your back workouts, especially WEIGHTED chin-ups.

But what if you can’t do even 1 chin-up right now?  Does this mean chin-ups aren’t for you? Absolutely not and I have a video called pull-up progressions for beginners that you can check out and even though the title says “pull-ups”, the same techniques apply to chin-ups as well. 

But the other half of the equation is what if you CAN do 8 to 10 chin-ups with bodyweight or even weighted, but you have plateaued and can’t seem to progress anymore? Well, these 4 mistakes I’m about to show you could be responsible for restricting your true potential and after we fix them, I guarantee that you’ll be able to add 2 – 3 more chin-ups to your working sets! 

Mistake #1 – Obsessing With Getting Your Chin Over The Bar

I know it’s called a chin-up, but not a chin-over! You do NOT necessarily have to get your chin over the bar and if you’re currently unable to do so, that’s perfectly fine and I’ll explain why.  The main goal of this movement is to hammer your lats and your lats will be worked throughout the entire range of motion. But during the top portion of the movement your biceps will actually be emphasized a bit more than your lats. Now the exact opposite holds true for the starting position of the chin-up which is why a “full lockout” or a “dead hang” is so important. When you dead-hang from the bar and initiate the movement, your biceps are not in an optimal position to pull, which means your lats will engage MORE while being fully stretched to get your body moving upwards and therein lies the first mistake. 

Most people are so concerned with being able to complete the top portion of the movement that they SKIP the dead-hang at the bottom by performing half-reps and thus miss out on huge amounts of muscle and strength gaining potential.

So, what does proper form look like? Well, proper form begins with a dead-hang on EVERY REP. With your arms fully locked out, depress your shoulder blades by using your lower traps and lats and THEN start bending at the elbows and pulling with your arms and lats together. Next, bring yourself as high up as you can without obsessing over getting your chin above the bar. OF course, it would be best to go as high as you can and work your biceps as hard as you can at the top of the movement. But the main focus here is back development and I would rather you guys lose a couple of inches at the top, but be able to progress with more weight or reps.

Mistake #2 – Using Momentum To Perform More Reps!

Now I’m not talking about my CHEAT & RECOVER technique here. I am talking about using momentum or kipping on every single rep because that is the only way you are able to perform even one repetition. But first you need to decide on your goal. So, why are you performing chin-ups? Is it because you want a bigger back, or is it because you want to be able to do more repetitions? If it’s the former, then you need to tone down the kipping and cheating and focus on proper form to make sure the right muscles are activated during the movement.  

Mind-Muscle Connection plays a crucial role in mastering any exercise, especially before applying advanced techniques like heavy negatives.  So the best way to master the chin-up is to use to utilize an explosive concentric phase followed by a slow and controlled negative and then a brief pause during the stretch portion of the movement which is the dead-hang. This is why you should check out my pull-ups progressions video, because if you’re thinking right now that how can you utilize this tip if you can’t do a lot of reps and don’t have access to a pull-up assist machine, well, that is where BANDS come in. Just find the right one that gives you just enough help to complete your reps. 

Oh and one more thing. Even though I’m saying “be explosive” on the concentric phase, you’ll notice that I’m still not going SUPER fast.  But fast enough to remain in control and ensure the right muscles are activating. 

Mistake #3 – Not Bracing Your Core AKA Flapping All Over The Place

Rocking back and forth during reps is VERY common and easy to fix. But the REASON why it’s a mistake is because you’re “leaking” all kinds of energy that could be going toward more reps. Your body is basically working overtime allocating energy trying to keep your body from swaying back and forth when it should be focusing only on activating the muscles it needs to go up and down.

So, what’s the solution? Well it’s actually quite simple.  All you need to do is flex! But not just your core. You want to activate your ABS, lower back, lats, glutes, quads and even you’re hamstrings. The tighter and stiffer your body is, they less swaying that will occur as you perform your reps. But by activate, I don’t necessarily mean squeeze all these muscles groups as hard as you can. I mean just engage them ENOUGH in order to keep your body stabilized and in one place. 

Mistake #4 – Never Progressing With The Movement!

Now this one is for those of you who’ve been stuck at 5 or 6 repetitions for a while and you just can’t seem to increase your reps. The solution may be that you simply need to overload the movement and there are a few different ways you can achieve this. 

The first thing you should try are WEIGHTED CHIN-UPS. If you’re currently only working with your bodyweight, try adding an extra 10lbs. You’ll find that your reps will be cut by one or two but after a week or two of doing this, when you return back to bodyweight chin-ups, you’ll suddenly be able to squeeze out 2 or 3 extra reps. I would even recommend getting as many complete reps in as you can and then finish off each set with 2 – 3 jumping negatives. Anything you can do to get your body to feel the strain of MORE WEIGHT will help you progress faster with the movement while building more strength and muscle.

A different strategy you can do to progress with the chin-up is to simply increase the volume of your chin-ups throughout the week. For example, if your program currently has you performing chin-ups once a week, try adding in a second day. By doubling or even tripling your chin-up volume, your body will have no other option but to adapt and grow in size and strength.  You could even get a chin-up bar for home and try hitting 4 sets of 5 – 10 reps every other morning. The only way you’ll know what you can handle, is to apply yourself. So don’t hold back, and push your limits!


As for sets and reps and when to incorporate chin-ups into your current training program, I would make sure that they are at least the first or second exercise you’re performing for your back. As you’ve seen throughout the article, you can easily progress with this movement by increasing your volume and overloading with more weight. For muscle gain I would stick within the 6 to 8 rep range and you guys know I like to keep things simple and because the chin-up heavily targets the back and biceps I would push for at least 5 to 8 sets utilizing all the tips given here. Whether it’s jumping negatives or using bands for assistance, each and every single one of you can complete 5 – 8 sets of this movement. You just have to GRIND and PUSH HARD for it!

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