Hey all and welcome to the wide world of pull up world domination!
Today we are discussing what is good about pull ups and chin ups and the benefits they create - soon you too will be doing pull ups every day, just like us!
First up, there are two ways we can play this game. We can look at what advantages pull ups offer, or we can look at what makes pull ups and chin ups better than their alternatives. For the sake of a well-rounded argument, let's do both.
Let’s begin with what makes a chin up and a pull up a phenomenal upper body exercise. The first and most overlooked benefit of chin ups and/or pull ups is that they get you moving and get your blood flowing throughout your entire upper body. Burning calories, releasing neurochemicals that make you feel good, providing you with a sense that you have improved in some tangible way, moving joints through their ranges of motion and making you stronger can’t be overlooked. We often forget this in our search for "the best exercise ever invented" and if we forget this, it may keep us on the exercise and self-improvement train for longer and even make the trip more enjoyable. Simply put, incorporating pull ups into your daily training will help you achieve and surpass your fitness goals.
Alright, rant over.
Other than that extensive reason above, chin ups and pull ups are great exercises for several different reasons:
- You are moving your body rather than moving a bar, which creates more kinaesthetic (body) awareness.
- It is a closed chain exercise, meaning more force production, stability in the used joints and likely athletic cross-over.
- More muscles are used in order to create stability at the shoulder joint, so (marginally) more calories burnt.
- More core (rectus abdominis) activation due to increased body rigidity needed to perform pull ups.
Let's look at these in a little more detail.
1. Moving your body rather than the bar.
Now this one may not seem super impressive or important but I'll take you through why this is a massive plus for chin ups. In moving the bar we learn to be more efficient at that pattern over time, which is great, but in moving our bodies through space we create movement and body maps that make us more fluent in all movements. Stop and compare the two for a moment. Option 1 makes you better at option 1, whether it is a squat, bench press or other. Option 2 makes you better at option 2 AND at moving your body in general. This means that for children and adolescents, as well as beginners, chin ups, push ups and similar exercises are steady investments in building strength for the future of your exercising lifetime. You'll move better, end up with lower likelihood of injury and better kinaesthetic awareness. Pretty good deal, am I right?
2. It is a closed chain, compound exercise, meaning more force, joint stability and athletic cross over.
Compare a lat pull down and a chin up. The difference? In lat pull downs, the hands move towards the body, in chin ups, the hands stay in the same spot and the body moves towards and away from the hands. Lat pull downs are considered an open-chain movement as the hands are what move, where pull ups and chin ups are closed-chain movements.
Now that we have established what the term "closed-chain" means, we can explain the benefits. In moving the body through space (closed-chain movements) we have lots of options. We could perform a chin up and end up with our head in front of the bar and our hands. Or we could end up with our head behind them. Or closer to one hand or other. To find the most efficient way to complete this pattern (the goal of any movement, as that is how we do the most work the easiest way possible) we need to use a mixture of back, shoulders, pecs, biceps and triceps (the list does do on!) to stabilize us as we complete the movement. Free stability gains never hurt anyone!
Another benefit to the stabilization is that in using a broader range of muscles, we can produce more total force in a chin up vs a latpull down or the like. This additional force does a couple of things. One- it means we are training more muscles at the same time, making it a time-effective option. Two- it means we are able to provide a greater stimulus per repetition than alternatives.
Finally, there is more athletic cross-over in doing a chin up than a lat pull down because we are moving our body rather than a bar, are more stable and are integrating more muscles into every movement. When integrating multiple muscle groups in to a single exercise, as we do in a pull-up, we build functional strength and reduce our risk of injury. This is what happens in sports- integration, not isolation.
3. More muscles used, more calories burnt.
Here, we circle back to more muscles used per movement and the point I made about time efficiency. If we are using more muscles, than we are using more energy to do so. That makes this point incredibly simple- more muscles used, more calories burned per unit of movement and time.
Workouts are also much more efficient, and you get much more bang per rep when your muscle recruitment patterns are such that you activate different muscle groups to complete each range of motion. This is also useful because it teaches your muscles to work together and improve your athletic prowess and performance, all while burning through more calories at a faster rate.
4. More core activation due to body rigidity.
What's easier to move- assuming all else is the same- a plank of wood, or a bin bag full of water? (I am not answering this because you are all smart people and I wouldn't want to insult your intelligence). It is for this reason that EMGs note a higher core activation in pull ups than most other pull down variations. If your body is stiff when you perform a chin up it is much easier to move it through space than if it is not. As such chin ups and their closed-chain counterparts often create this effect, which explains why calisthenic and gymnastic athletes often have ripped cores.
Think you need some help increasing the quality and/or quantity of your pullups? It turns out [cough cough] we sell assisted pullup band kits that are packaged complete with pull-up resistance bands and a handy training guide that charts your progress.
Let's get you doing pull ups!
In case this a new concept to you, pullup assist bands help offset part of your body weight by offering assistance throughout your range of motion. This gentle nudge both helps you lock in correct form as well as increases the amount of reps you can perform prior to burn-out or exhaustion. These extra reps are critical for incremental strength gains because they allow you to push yourself just a little further each time.
Let’s take a quick look at what is needed to ratchet up the amount of pullups you can do and maintain forward momentum:
- Eye of the tiger:
In order to complete a rep [or complete more reps than previously done] you have to believe that you can do them. If you are wavering in confidence and open up the possibility of doubt, there is a good chance that your autonomic nervous system will kick to thwart your efforts and you won’t make it up to the bar. Slap yourself in the face, take a deep breath, flex in the mirror, or do whatever you need to do to get your into a positive mindset that will enable you to break through your plateaus.
- Gear up with the right training accessories:
Pull up bar: Obviously in order to do pullups you’ll need a pull up bar. You can find them at most gyms and a lot of parks. Ideally, the pullup bar is high enough that you don’t hit your feet on the ground when you lower yourself. In the event you decide you need an in-home removable door pull-up bar, it turns out we carry a sturdy bar in our webshop and can get you set up.
- Pull-up counter goal log:
If you take pull-up training on a focus, you’ll find that counting your reps and sets will greatly help you mark your progress and set attainable goals. Here is a nify one that we created. Give it a try and let us know if it benefits your pull-ups training outcomes. https://www.dropbox.com/s/c6mmfvut80li893/Pull%20Up%20Goal%20Log.xlsx?dl=0
- Pullup Assistance Bands:
Full disclosure – We sell pullup bands and we’ve seen the benefits they bring (both for ourselves and our clients). No hard sell here but we do recommend using them to increase your intensity, time under tension, and logged reps. We typically recommend starting with two smaller bands instead of one larger band. The logic here is that two bands gives you three distinct levels of resistance; one with band #1, one with band #2, and one with band #1 & #2 when combined. This helps you increase the amount of assistance you need when starting out or fatiguing, and it helps give you a natural metric stick to measure your progress as you get stronger and use less and less elastic band assistance. In that vein, we creasted these pullup training kits for those intrepid souls that are embarking on their pull-up journey. For most people we typically recommend the black [heavy] pull up bands and the purple [robust] assisted pullup resistance band.
All things now considered; you’re ready for more chin ups now, right? See you under the bar soon. That’s the pull up bar I’m talking about : )