The Shocking Truth About Chin Ups


arnold-backThe straight bar chin up with your palms facing you places too much stress on the wrists, elbows and shoulders and should be eliminated from your program.

Even if you haven’t experienced it yet chances are good that a steady diet of supinated (palms facing you) straight bar chin ups may come back to bite you in the ass… or elbow, eventually.

Pull ups (palms facing away from you) on a straight bar are a bit safer but could also be eliminated if you want to be ultra conservative or you have any shoulder problems.

The simple solution is to stick with neutral grip chin/pull ups with your palms facing each other. You can mix up the grip width and have numerous options to play with.

Another great option is a chin up or pull up done on an angled or EZ/zig zag style chin up bar.

That should be a staple in every gym and should replace the straight bar on the top of all power racks and on all wall mounted chin up bars.

These are far less stressful on the wrists, elbows and shoulders than the straight bar.

The Best Way to Do Chin Ups

The best option is chin ups performed on rings. With rings you can use any grip you want.

You can start with your palms facing away and finish with your palms facing your or you can keep a neutral grip the entire time. It’s up to you and can be dictated by what feels safest and most natural for your body.

When you’re on a fixed bar you can’t move naturally and that’s what leads to problems.

That’s why for a lot of individuals with shoulder issues, including myself, pushups on rings feel better than pushups on the ground; because you can move more freely and naturally.

If you choose to start doing your chins on rings you should be forewarned that a ten rep max may quickly become 3-4 rep max. This is normal so don’t be frustrated.

One quick solution would to attach a band to each ring and put your feet in them while doing your set. When your strength comes up get rid of the bands.

The other solution is to just do a bunch of low rep sets until you are strong enough to rep out on the rings like you can on the bar. When you do that you will end up far stronger and have more well developed stabilizer muscles than if you had just stuck with the straight bar the whole time.

What if You Only Have a Straight Bar?

It’s not the end of the world. Do pull ups (palms facing away) instead of chin ups (palms facing you) and choose the least stressful grip width (usually about shoulder width).

Another option is to do mixed grip chins with one hand facing away and the other facing you. Obviously, you’ll want to change your grip each set.

You can also do parallel grip chins by getting sideways under the bar and gripping it with one hand over the other or by placing a V-grip cable attachment over it.

But in my mind it’s worth the investment to find a gym or rack with neutral grip chin up bars or grab yourself a pair of rings.

You’ll pay far less for them than you will for the doctor’s bills later on down the line.

One final note I should make is that the amount of chins you do should be evened out with an equal amount of rowing motion exercises (face pulls, band pull aparts, inverted rows, etc.) for the upper back.

If you don’t do that you could end up with internally rotated shoulders and a host of other problems you’d want to avoid.

Chin ups are one the absolute best, most badass muscle building exercises you can do and they should be a regular part of every program.

If you can minimize the nagging injuries that may come along with them then you really have a win-win.

To order a pair of rings click HERE.

And for an awesome bodyweight only training program click HERE

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75 Responses to The Shocking Truth About Chin Ups

  1. Brandon Cook September 30, 2011 at 8:37 am #

    Couldn’t agree more! I have a power tower that allows neutral grip or wide grip… however, I find myself gravitating towards the O-rings. I love the rings because my wrists can move any way I want. You can put the rings out wider and hit the lats with wide grip pull ups or move them in shoulder width to do chins and hit the biceps harder. Sometimes I’ll start in the pull up position with palm facing away and rotate my wrists as I pull up so that when I reach the top my palms are facing towards me. Feels very natural. They are definitely more difficult on the rings, but so is every exercise. Rings rock! Good post.

  2. Cesar September 30, 2011 at 8:45 am #

    Loved this article. I will have to pick myself up a pair of rings.

    FYI, the link you posted at the end of the article for rings takes me to a page for bands.

  3. Jorge Sanchez September 30, 2011 at 8:55 am #

    Coach would you recommend for beginners (aka people who are not pull up proficient yet) or those who are not strong enough to do more than 5 pull ups the use of rings? What about some form of straps? maybe trx style, or jungle gym style, do you think it would do as good as rings? Thanks for the great content.

    • Jason Ferruggia October 1, 2011 at 5:56 am #

      @Jorge Sanchez: Stick with parallel grip chins on the bars.

      @Chris- I don’t like it. Chins are a great exercise. You need both vertical and horizontal pulling.

      @Blake- That’s a good option.

      @Marc- No problem

      @Matt- Yes, Chad is my buddy and lives a few floors below me actually.

      @julio- No it doesn’t. You can do rows and never do chins. But I wouldn’t do the opposite.

      @Kathleen- Correct, you are.

      @John- Yeah, that’s a great option.

  4. Chris September 30, 2011 at 9:41 am #

    Jason, how do you feel about permanently replacing chins/pull-ups with inverted rows done on Jungle Gym straps?

    • Jason Ferruggia April 9, 2012 at 9:53 am #

      @Chris- You should do both chins and rows

  5. andy September 30, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    got some O-rings about a year ago. love them for bw exercises. inverted rows and neutral chins in particular. i still like regular and pronated pull ups but this gives my shoulders a break from the same patern usually change grips every 6-8 weeks.

  6. Blake September 30, 2011 at 10:04 am #

    Jason Ferruggia,

    Do you think that the Perfect Pullup handles provide similar benefits compared to rings? I will appreciate your thoughts.

    • Donny September 30, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

      @Blake:

      I know I am not Jason, but Chad Waterbury recently wrote about this and said anything that allows your wrists to rotate is perfectly acceptable. They both do the same thing in terms of chin ups.

    • Jason Ferruggia April 9, 2012 at 9:54 am #

      @Blake- That would be much better.

  7. Marc September 30, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    I love the articles that provide us with advice on sparing our joints from unneccesary trauma.

    Question: If I hang rings from my power rack pull-up bar, I will have to bend my knees quite a bit to clear the floor. Do you see any problems with having to bend my knees. Will it adversely effect the exercise?

    Thanks,

    Marc

    • Niko October 4, 2011 at 4:37 am #

      @Marc:
      Marc,
      I havhe the same issue when doing chins in my home gym. I tuck my knees up in front of my body. I actually find this makes me perform chins with better form, as I can’t swing my body to get momentum. Hope this helps.
      Niko

    • Jason Ferruggia April 9, 2012 at 9:55 am #

      @Marc- No problem

  8. Matt Helphingstine September 30, 2011 at 11:25 am #

    Great post Jason, always looks forward to what you have to say.
    I just ordered a pair of these the other day, I heard about them through the Beast Skills website which is worth checking out.
    Was Chad Waterbury the coach in question that you met with? He had a similar post about this not too long ago.
    Keep up the good work.

    Thanks,
    Matt

    • Jason Ferruggia April 9, 2012 at 9:55 am #

      @Matt- Yes, Chad I discussed this issue many times

  9. Chris September 30, 2011 at 11:25 am #

    I’ve still got the old school blast straps from elitefts. Would those work???

  10. Matt Helphingstine September 30, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    As a postscript to what I previously wrote, Chad’s high frequency approach to pullups (PLP) worked wonders at improving my pullup abilities. It really opened my eyes to how the best way to get better at something is to just keep at it consistently. For me it has become a very excellent motivating factor to keep putting in time at the gym!
    The only downside is what you’ve mentioned, the elbow pain. Really looking forward to getting some rings!

  11. Dave September 30, 2011 at 11:53 am #

    I’ve been using EXF Rings for the last few months and this really hits home with me. The number of pullups I could do dropped rapidly by I’ve since worked my way back up. I like to go from pronated to supinated grip. The rings are extremely valuable for other bodyweight exercises like rows, pushups, and dips as well.

  12. Raymond- ZenMyFitness September 30, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    Unfortunately straight is all I have at the gym but I’m so use to that maybe it doesn’t matter anymore. I been doing chin consistently for over 3-4 years and don’t seem to have any problems (yet).
    I wonder if adding in handstand pushups or even shoulder presses would also help counter rotations? as shoulder rotation is an issue for me.
    When I stand straight my palms are pronated a bit ( my thumbs point in 45 deg and sometimes further)
    Raymond

  13. julio September 30, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    “One final note I should make is that the amount of chins you do should be evened out with an equal amount of rowing motion exercises for the upper back. If you don’t do that you will end up with internally rotated shoulders and a host of other problems you’d probably want to avoid.”
    Does doing more rows than chinups also give the same problems? I prefer rowing for higher reps (from 7 to 12) than chinups (mainly because the biggest DB at my gym are of 95lb. and i’m currently with the 70lb DB), found chinups allow me to pull more explosively while really heavy rows hurt my shoulders.

    • Jason Ferruggia April 9, 2012 at 9:57 am #

      @Julio- No, the inverse is not true

  14. Kathleen September 30, 2011 at 2:38 pm #

    Jason, does your objection re wrist/elbow stress hold true for barbell curls, too. Do you prefer only EZ bar curls and DB curls for this reason? Just wondering. Thanks.

  15. David September 30, 2011 at 2:39 pm #

    One thing I’ve started doing recently is using the rope cable attachment (the one that most people use for triceps pressdowns etc) and slinging it over a pull-up bar or crossbar of a cable stack. It allows for a fairly close grip chin-up with a fair degree of freedom to inwardly rotate.

  16. John Phung October 1, 2011 at 2:15 am #

    Pull ups & chinups really aggravate my golfer’s elbow.

    I’ve done O-ring chin-ups, but have switched to using a pair of D Grip cable attachments hooked up to a straight bar. Reason why is that I can attach FatGripz to the handles, whereas on the O-rings I cannot.

    • Jason Ferruggia April 9, 2012 at 9:58 am #

      @John- Good call. Fat Gripz will alleviate elbow pain

  17. Jorge October 1, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    Jason, i need your help, I’ve been doing your MGS program for 2 months now (im in beginner phase 2) and have put on 5-6 pounds but i have now hit a plateau. When deadlifting 295+ lbs, the bar starts to slip. I’m the opposite to man-hands from Seinfeld, i have girl-hands, what can i do?
    p.s. (I’m 5′ 11” , ectomorph and i weigh 150 lbs ) every other exercise is not giving me this kind of trouble.

    • Robert Wynne April 9, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

      Hey Jorge! If grip is your foremost limiting factor in the deadlift, why don’t you try hanging from a pullup bar or ring, one-handed? …If you try this, remember to keep your shoulder blades “tucked down into your back pockets” as you hold on, so that the shoulder capsule stays tight and stable. And, for god’s sake lol, don’t try to contract your biceps in this position, unless you can already do weighted chinups with at least 60-70% of your bodyweight. Good luck, brotha!

  18. Marc October 1, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    Jason, would using blast straps be the same deal as the rings?

    • Jason Ferruggia April 9, 2012 at 9:39 am #

      @Marc- Yes

    • Jason Ferruggia April 9, 2012 at 9:40 am #

      Although you can’t get the false grip on them for more advanced exercises like you can with rings.

  19. Craig L. October 1, 2011 at 9:05 pm #

    I totally agree about pull-ups on a straight bar being unnatural! Having such a low tolerance for lateral movements puts a lot of strain on the deltoids and rotator cuffs which can cause noticeable wear and tear over time. As someone who plays softball semi-competitively, my rotator cuffs are obviously something I don’t want to mess with.

    When I started feeling the effects of doing pull-ups several months ago I pretty much eliminated them from my training sessions. I will still do unweighted pull-ups for 15-20 reps as a warmup before doing lat pulldowns, but not the weighted pull-ups with 65lbs hanging from my waist like I was doing. I am not sure how to incorporate ring pull-ups into my home gym in my basement, but I like the idea.

    So far, doing lat pulldowns hasn’t been too bad, but I would much rather perform a compound body weight lift such as pull-ups. Thanks for this unique perspective on the popular pull-up exercise.

    • Jason Ferruggia April 9, 2012 at 9:59 am #

      @Craig- Thanks for sharing your experience.

  20. Mike October 2, 2011 at 5:15 pm #

    Love the rings!

  21. Sam- Look Like An Athlete October 3, 2011 at 11:40 pm #

    Hi Jason,
    You really got me thinking here. I have always noticed that I feel stress when doing chin ups on a straight bar. However, I don’t experience problems on pull ups.

    In my case I have to do a slightly wider shoulder grip chin up to release stress in the wrists but I think I will try a different bar. I have had shoulder problems from years back (a personal trainer had me do presses with poor form) and I wonder if your advice will alleviate it. I think it just might.

    -Sam

  22. Tyler Wall October 9, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    Jason, how do you feel about band pull aparts (with the right tension) as opposed to horizontal rowing to balance the pull ups? I have a TRX but don’t always have time and access to crank out some inverted rows. If I’m on the move, I can always keep a band with me and bust some pull aparts out. I thought they may be comparable, but not sure, any ideas?

    • Jason Ferruggia April 9, 2012 at 10:00 am #

      @Tyler- Love band pull aparts. Everyone should do them daily. But still get some heavier rows in there if you can.

  23. Alex Zinchenko October 13, 2011 at 4:31 am #

    Nice article, Jason. I think Chad Waterbury came up with same thoughts lately. Pull-Up is ultimate exercise by all means and safety is important. But I, personally, don’t like the trend of making all the exercises too user-friendly. Don’t you think that it’s a bit OCD? Old-timers did it all on bars and never complained. It was different mentality. They overcame difficulties instead of making everything user-friendly. Anyway, that’s just my thoughts.

    P.S. By the way, One-Arm Chin-Up you can do on any equipment (:

    - Alex Zinchenko

    • Jason Ferruggia April 9, 2012 at 10:02 am #

      @Alex- I get where you’re coming from but I think if you can eliminate unnecessary risk that’s going to keep you in the gym and healthy, it’s a good idea.

  24. Troy December 17, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

    Jason,

    I have EXF rings and enjoy them, but what brought me back to this article was thinking of other ways to do pullups.

    I just built some softball pullup grips – click on my name to see the article on the blog.

    Have you tried them?

    -Troy

  25. Till February 14, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    When ‘m doing straight bar chins I tend to mainly grab the bar with my index and middle finger, only touching the bar lightly with the rest of my hand. This allows my wrist to rotate to some extent.

  26. Gary Deagle April 9, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Back when I did weighted chinups on the straight bar every week my elbow and shoulder always had nagging pain. I just put it aside and trucked on. Since only doing neutral and mostly ring chinups the last 8 months I have not had either of those pains and attribute the elbow stuff to the chinups completely since that problem went away relatively quick after making the switch.

    Its not a glamerous change, but goes a long way towards being able to train more.

    • Jason Ferruggia April 9, 2012 at 10:03 am #

      @Gary- Absolutely. Great to hear it.

  27. Till April 9, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    Btw, what is so hard about ring chins? I find them as easy/hard as as doing them on straight bars. Ring dips are tough because you’re PUSHING the rings and you struggle to not end up in an impromptu iron cross, but chins? I don’t get it.

    • Jc January 25, 2014 at 10:37 am #

      Agreed. But if you are already proficient at chins/pulls you’ve learned how to use your core/ stabilizers to get the most out of yourself. For a beginner or someone who only does about 10 chins its a different story- it’s like throwing someone who just learned to dog paddle in pool out in the ocean!

  28. Rita April 9, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    Hi Jason, it’s an intresting article, didn’t know it! Could you please tell me what do you think about two excercises I have in my routine? I’m 25, weight: 150 lbs, I do wide grip pull-ups, palms facing away, setting 77 lbs on the machine, do 2 sets x 8 – 12 reps and neutral grip on parallel bars, setting 66 lbs, do 2 sets x 10 – 12 reps. I do it twice a week, one time I mix it with dips after each pull-up set. Thank you!

  29. Marlzuni April 9, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    It is hard for me to keeping the back arched while trying to stay steady chinning on them rings. Really. It’s like starting all over again. Never got past 4 reps without losing the arch. I have a question, what about towel chins? Is it okay to do them?

  30. Vleit April 9, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    Ever since I started fat bar chins and parallel grip stuff my lats get fried

  31. Honza April 9, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    Hi Jason,
    great advice, what do you think about using the TRX for chin ups? I made my own DIY TRX and I use the the handles (pieces of a plastic bar) pretty often, thx for answer

  32. Christian Gagnon April 9, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Jay have you had any clients develop golfers elbow (tendinitis of the inner elbow)? I have had it for about a year and I attribute it to doing close grip weighted chins with low reps. I can only do pull ups pain free and doubt I will ever again be able to do regs. Have you had any experience with this injury?

    • Jason Ferruggia April 15, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

      @Christian- Yes and yes. Avoiding straight bar chins is key here

  33. Nate April 15, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

    Jay,

    Not sure if you’re still responding to posts on this aticle, and I didn’t see a date of when the article was 1st posted. But, if you are, I’m the exact opposite of Christian Gagnon above. I developed a left elbow injury (feels like tendinitis of the inner elbow). I think it was from doing heavy, and probably, sloppy cleans. Because of the pain, I can only do supinated (palms facing) or neutral grip chin-ups. Pronated grip pull-ups hurt too bad.

    I’m interested in any advice to re-hab this type of injury.

    Love all the great info. Thanks!

  34. Calvin August 21, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    I was wondering how you feel the grip should be on inverted rows. Do you think it should be parallel too? I had shoulder problems with it before in under and overhand grip. Decreased my range of motion and started parallel inverted rows and I felt better. What do you think?

  35. EJ October 25, 2012 at 5:57 am #

    Thanks for the tips! I’ve been battling golfers elbow (because I’ve done P90x for 3+ yrs….lots of pullups/chinups). I took about 4-6 months off, with zero resistance training to give my arms some rest. The pain has nearly disappeared, but I still need to replace my bar with rings before I re-injure it. This was very helpful.

  36. Justin November 20, 2012 at 1:59 am #

    Hey I was wondering if I do just weighted false grip pullups will that definitley make my wrist stronger in that cupped position. I’m interested in competing in armwrestling and wanted to strengthen my wrist in the cupped position. I can do weighted muscleups but i much rather just so weighted pullups and dips seeratley. Thanks for any advice.

  37. Cleg Burris December 3, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    Cleg Burris here. I have read about these types of chin ups but never seen it done correctly. What I don’t understand is how if I touch my toes, it is going to engage all my abs. The hand grip is one thing but I’m also wondering about how the toe placement works out since that is often the most sore part for me anyway.

  38. Buck December 26, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

    Jason,

    Awhile back I wrote to thank you for the article on pull ups with rings or just neutral grip. I could tell then that it was alleviating my elbow pain, and 6 months later I can tell you it really does work. Recently I’ve had an issue with my shoulder, but I don’t think it had anything to do with pull ups. Since I started doing the neutral grip or the rotating movement, I haven’t had any additional pain. In fact, my elbow is not sore at all. I really appreciate great advice that I can use. Thanks again.

    Buck

  39. Nick February 8, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    you could also throw some strong towels over your straight bar and hold onto them instead of the bar when you are doing your pullups/chinups. Great alternative if you don’t want to use rings, plus it will help a TON with building your grip strength

  40. WT April 12, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    I disagree totally i’ve been doing pull ups and chin ups on on a straight bar for many years on a regular basis with and without added weight. I’ve never once suffered any of the problems mentioned in this artical infact what has happened however is that i’ve developed a reasonable V shaped back that i simply wouldn’t have got any other way.
    If anyone is serious about building a Vshaped back make pullups & chinups your bestfriend and use as many different grips as you can and believe me if you give it time you will be rewarded with a big back its that simple.

    • ej April 12, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

      WT, that may be true in your case and I wish I could say the same. I work in IT and hammer on a keyboard all day, so I already have tendinitis issues with my arms. For me, switching from a straight bar to O-rings was like night and day, as I no longer have issues with golfers elbow.

  41. Ahmed Hassan April 19, 2013 at 7:43 am #

    does holding your form on a straight bar help avoid injuries or is it just the motion you do it in with your palms facing you that cause problems over time?…

  42. kenneth raine August 1, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    Chin ups require considerable athletic ability. To exercise a muscle group to its maximum potential the limbs involved must be in a position of maximum power and leverage, This is only true of chin ups at the finish of the movement. It must occur prior to, or at mid range to be maximally effective. Chin ups because of body position cannot produce this.

  43. Steve September 19, 2013 at 11:29 pm #

    I don’t agree. Im 40 yrs old, and have been around, I NEVER met anyone with issues caused by chin ups that didn’t already have pre existing issues with elbow wrist or shoulders. Funny how rings are recommended and there’s a link conveniently provided.

  44. Dumbbell Matt October 30, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

    I’ve been doing straight bar chinups (strict) for over 20 years and never got injured.

    Actually swinging on rings seems to have more potential for injury.

    This is such a BS article, and unbelievably some of you are buying this crap.

  45. Dumbbell Matt October 30, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

    I completely disagree.

    I’ve been doing straight bar chinups of over 20 years and never was even close to an injury. Infact I do them weighted and they have strengthen my wrists progressively.

    The author may have trouble with them because his wrists disagree with the movement but to say every human on the planet should eliminate an exercise which has been performed for thousands of years just sounds crazy.

    What’s next……Straight bar barbell curls should be eliminated?

  46. Brenda Wallace November 9, 2013 at 8:33 am #

    I’ve been doing straight bar chinups and pullups on the Stud Bar pullup bar for a while and haven’t had any issues with injuries and damage. Crazy, that.

  47. Will November 19, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    I just pulled something in my left shoulder blade area. I was going to do 10 sets of 3 chin ups and got through about 7 or so sets with the 2nd/3rd rep being negatives. As I lowered myself to the bottom something tightened. I knew enough to stop right away and start massaging out the spasm. I’ve had some previous issues in the shoulder/neck area so it must’ve got aggravated.

  48. doug December 22, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

    I have a sneaky suspicion that someone has a hard time doing regular pull-ups and chin-ups. Lol. Remember, don’t give up, keep trying, and someday you will advance to the true pull-up and chin-up. Good luck.

    Darren

  49. Tony McGurk December 25, 2013 at 6:13 am #

    Hey Jason, Great article. I used to do pullups on a bar & was having major elbow tendonitis problems. Switched to rings for pulups, dips, pushups & inverted rows & all my elbow problems have disapeared. To start with my reps dropped severely, especially on the dips as I couldn’t manage more than 3 per set. Gradually building them back up. Rings are all I use now for upper body training & I love ‘em.

  50. gabe January 31, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    what if you can only do two whats the best option