How to Do the Pull Up and Chin Up Exercises

Build Back and Arm Strength

While most exercises in the weight trainer's toolkit involve lifting or moving external weights, some exercises use your own body weight for resistance. The pull up and chin up are great examples of this type.

Pull ups require that you lift your body up by the arms so that your chin or neck is approximately level with the bar your arms are using to pull you up.

You can hold the bar overhand (pull up) or underhand (chin up). Some trainers call both grips "chin ups," with the underhand grip called a reverse chin up.

Starting Position

The starting position for a pull up.
The starting position for a pull up. Thomas Tolstrup/Getty Images
  1. Set yourself below the bar you intend to use to pull your body up. Some gyms have machines that allow you to set a counterweight that will offset some of your own bodyweight to make it easier to perform this exercise.
  2. A standard pull up bar will usually be at a height that requires you to jump up and grasp the bar. Do this, choosing either the overhand pull up grip or the underhand chin up grip.
  3. If you prefer using the assisted equipment, position your hands on the grips of the machine after setting an appropriate counterweight.
  4. You are now ready to perform the exercise. Generally, the upward phase of the exercise begins immediately after grasping the bar.

Exercise Movement

The pull up movement.
The pull up movement. Westend61/Getty Images
  1. Your feet should be off the floor if you're using the standard pull up bar (featured in the photos); if you're using the weight machine, your knees should be resting on the pad.

    Note that when doing pull ups or chin ups (not on the weight machine), crossing the lower legs and bending at the knees can provide a more favorable bodyweight balance that gives a bit more control of your body as you perform the exercise.
  2. Pull yourself up until your chin is about level or just above the line of your hands on the bar. Pull up bars usually have wide or narrow grip positions.
  3. Lower yourself down to full stretch and repeat the movement without touching the floor.
  4. You can vary the tempo, or the time taken to do one repetition. Holding at the top or bottom, or moving slowly, will increase the work you do.
  5. Start out with 3 or 4 repetitions, rest, and then try to do another set. Build on this as strength improves.

Points to Note

The chin up grip.
The chin up grip. Westend61/Getty Images
  • The chin up grip (or reverse grip) will place more emphasis on the biceps muscles of the front of the upper arm, while the overhand pull up grip emphasizes the middle back muscles as well as the arms.
  • This exercise can be hard on the shoulder joint and muscles if done unassisted, especially with a wide grip. If you are unsure or experience discomfort, stick to the narrow to medium grip (see photo).
  • Remember, in this exercise you are pulling up your entire bodyweight. It is not a trivial exercise, and it is best to develop some strength first with the assisted machine before doing hard workouts with the standard bar.