How to do a Chin Up & Pull Up Properly: The Problem and Solution
When it comes to training the upper body, we really have one goal in mind. It’s not to build pecs that dance or biceps that stretch shirts, the goal with your upper body training for athletes of any sport is to improve the stability and control of your scapula and the shoulder joint, to avoid dislocations and avoid joint wear and tear due to misalignment.
There are not many exercises better than a wide grip overhead chin up. They engage the scapula muscles, and because they’re working when your overhead, chins are improving control and stability when the shoulders in an inherently vulnerable position.
But chin ups can easily be done wrong.
As you chin up and pull your body up towards the bar, your scaps should slide down and back towards each other. The problem we see most often is the shoulder blade doesn’t move at all, and the pull up becomes this awkward bicep curl motion. Or, as the athlete is finishing up the chin up, instead of keeping the thoracic spine extended, the chinner (chinnie, chinist ?) rounds over through the shoulder and ends up finishing the movement with their pec, not with the scapular retraction. The exact opposite of what we’re looking for.
One of the ways we clean up a messy chin pattern is with a reverse shrug. It’s a great way to isolate just the scapular depression component, and really get the athlete to use the right muscles at the right time and get their joint sequencing dialed in.
Start hanging from a bar ideally on an assisted chin machine (you can also do reverse shrugs on a lat pull down). Begin by letting the shoulders completely relax so they raise up next to your ears, from here keeping the elbows straight engage your lower trap and lat muscles to depress the shoulders blades and pull the shoulders down and away from the ears, lifting your chest. It often helps to think about lifting the ribs and body up into the shoulder blades as opposed to the shoulders down
The reason we use this assisted chin rather than a body weight chin is it’s easier to learn the movement under less load making it easy to groove the correct patterning, muscle activation and then dial in load gradually.