I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see so many ladies working towards pulling themselves, unassisted, over a bar.
The female strength revolution is in full effect and it gets me pumped! The more requests I get for pull-up and chin-up advice from women, the happier I get.
Note from GGS: That’s exactly why we created The Modern Woman’s Guide To Strength Training—to help women of all ability levels develop their strongest and mot fabulous body!
But, let’s be honest. Pull-ups and chin-ups are hard effing work. Progress can be slow and unnoticeable, which can get quite frustrating. This frustration is furthered if you aren’t using the right progressions, tools, and technique. So, to help you achieve what I consider to be one of the most impressive strength goals—an unassisted chin-up—here are 6 tips to get you started.
I’m using an overhand grip in this photo, but beginners should start with an underhand grip.
Many gyms have the unassisted chin-up machine that uses a weight stack to counterbalance your body weight. The problem with this is that you don’t actually get the sensation of pulling yourself up against gravity. Bands are a much better alternative, but a lot of gyms don’t have them around.
Do yourself a favor and invest in one of your own; they don’t cost much and it will significantly help further your progress if you are serious about this goal. Placing your foot in the band will give you the most assistance while a knee in the band offers less assistance.
The bands offer more or less support depending on the size or thickness. It all depends on where your strength is now. If your upper body strength is pretty rockin’, go with a thinner band. If you’re just starting out, try something a little thicker. Pro tip: the thicker the band, the harder it is is to get into the starting position.
Don’t worry about taking your own stuff to the gym. I do it all the time! Once you have your band, all you need to do is loop it around the bar and make a loose knot. If you need help stepping into the band, don’t be afraid to ask. (“Yo, can I get a spot, please?”)
One of the most common mistakes I see women make is starting with an overhand grip. This is much more challenging because an overhand grip relies almost solely on the lats, while an underhand grip offers the assistance of the biceps and forearms. Once you’ve mastered the underhand (chin-up) grip, you can progress to the overhand (pull-up) grip. Another option is a neutral or parallel grip where the palms face each other. I actually find this to be the easiest.
Seriously. Hold onto that bar like you intend to crush it. Your grip signals to your shoulders that stability should be in full effect, thereby making the movement more engaged. It’s just like deadlifting; grip matters.
Your abs and butt, that is. Squeeze those babies like you’re in a plank or locking out from a deadlift or squat. Keeping your trunk engaged will make it easier to pull your body up as one unit.
Holding your breath is a very common-and counterproductive-reaction when attempting something physically challenging. However, having the proper breathing pattern can make or break a lift. As you grip the bar, take a breath in, then breathe out as you begin to pull. Don’t wait until the top of the movement to breathe.
At the top, or the bottom, hanging is a great place to be when working on chin-up strength. If you are holding at the bottom, be sure to pack your shoulders down, so that they aren’t sneaking up towards your ears. At the top, make sure your chin in over the bar, and hold as long as possible. It helps if you can get assistance over the bar, then hold on your own.
The more often you practice chin-ups, the easier it will be to accomplish your goal. You can practice as often as every day, just be conscious of frequency and volume, to protect your joints from injury.
Helping women get stronger and achieve coveted feats of strength like chin-ups is one of the things we do best. We want to help you reach your goals with a balanced, intelligent approach.
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