There’s no feeling quite like the one from pulling yourself over a chin-up bar for the very first time.
In fact, I remember the exhilarating moment that I performed my first unassisted chin-up like it was yesterday. I had been working on my chin-up progressions for almost TWO YEARS, and the day I finally got that full chest to bar chin-up from a dead hang still remains one of my proudest fitness accomplishments to date.
However, there were definitely times of frustration along the way. It seemed like my progress was taking forever and that I would never hit my goal!
I believe that part of the reason it took me so long is because I wasn’t using the right progressions, tools, and techniques to the best of my ability, and so today I want to share a few underrated tips and strategies that you can implement if your chinning journey also feels slow!
Six Things That Might Be Holding You Back From Your First Chin-Up
1. You haven’t mastered proper bodyweight position first.
Think about people you’ve seen performing chin-ups. Likely you can picture someone who looks really floppy and just kind of flails around as they propel themselves over the bar. Sure, technically these people can get themselves up there, but their body position is out of alignment and likely to cause injury.
Before trying to get yourself over the bar, it’s important to master solid bodyweight positions; positions that will teach you how to create tension in your body and keep your glutes tight, your lower back neutral, your core braced, and your neck neutral. I recommend practicing exercises like hollow body holds, hollow body rocks, planks, and pushups to really understand and feel what creating solid tension in your body feels like.
If you can’t master a solid position in these exercises on the floor, it’s going to be really tough to master a solid position in these exercises while trying to get yourself over the bar. It’s not that sexy, but start here!
2. You use an overhand grip too soon.
A common mistake I see women make once they get to the bar is starting out with an overhand grip. The overhand grip is a pull-up grip, while the underhand grip is a chin-up grip. The overhand variation tends to be more difficult because it relies almost solely on your lats, while the underhand variation relies on the assistance of both your biceps and your forearms. I recommend that beginners start with the underhand variation, or even with a neutral grip where palms face each other, and then progress to pull-ups from there!
3. Your grip is weak.
Often times a limiting factor in being able to increase your chinning strength is your grip! Even after you master one or two, adding volume is going to be tough if you have to let go of the bar right away due to your grip strength giving out. Make sure to include grip strengthening exercises like carries, hangs, deadlifts, and more into your regular routine.
4. You don’t practice often enough.
One of the reasons it took me so dang long to get an unassisted chin-up is because when I started out, I was only practicing them maybe once a week… yet complaining that I wasn’t getting anywhere closer to my goal! Really I needed to be practicing them at LEAST 3x per week, as well as including accessory work to strengthen my back. Even though I can perform unassisted chin-ups now, I can always tell when I’ve been neglecting them because I’ll barely be able to squeeze out two!
5. You only practice one variation.
Even if you are practicing your chin-ups a few times a week, another thing that could be holding you back is if you are only practicing one type of chinning progression or variation. For example, I know a lot of people who only practice band assisted chin-ups. Nothing wrong inherently wrong with this, but that could be the culprit of not making progress faster because often too many people rely on the momentum the band provides… especially at the bottom of the pull, which tends to be the hardest part of the exercise for many people. Definitely do band assisted chin-ups, but consider adding other variations as well, like negatives, kneeling, partner assists, and of course accessory work like lateral pulldowns and inverted rows. Plus, varying your progressions will automatically vary your volume, which will help protect your joints from injury.
6. Your mind isn’t in the right place.
This one is more mindset related and also twofold. Something that was actually really challenging for me in my journey, and something that actually de-railed my progress a few times, was getting too caught up in the comparison trap.
Sometimes I saw people who I knew hadn’t been strength training as long as me just walk over to the bar, only to bang out five unassisted chin ups right then and there. Or I would see people post on social media that they were “just seeing what would happen,” and look, they did three.
At one point I got so frustrated with myself that I actually stopped doing chin up work for a little bit, and it set me back, a lot! Once I got going again, I just had to keep reminding myself that my journey was mine and nobody else’s. Comparing myself to them was not going to help me in any way!
The second part of this one is having the mindset of “I can’t do it.” If you look up at a chin-up bar and think to yourself, “I’m never going to get myself up and over the bar, what’s the point of even trying” well, I hate to break it to you, but you probably aren’t going to get this chin-up. If you go into it with the mindset of “I’m doing my best and working hard, and I *CAN* do it,” it will come… a lot faster. I promise!
And there you have it, six things that may be slowing down your progress to a full unassisted chin-up! Hopefully these tips help you if you’ve been feeling in a rut with your chin-up journey.
Readers, let’s chat! Are you able to perform an unassisted chin-up? What tips do you have for getting over the bar? If you are currently working on getting that chin-up, did any of these tips resonate with you?
Interested in learning even more about how to build upper body strength and get your first chin-up (or do MORE chin-ups?!)
Then I encourage you to sign up for my FREE 5-Day Chinup Challenge!
In the challenge, I will be sharing the EXACT strategies that I use with my personal training clients to help them achieve their first unassisted chin-ups and build their chin-up strength. You’ll understand how to use different chin-up progressions in your routine, you’ll know when to do different types of accessory work, and you’ll also receive five days of FREE fitness coaching from me for any questions you might have about your personal chin-up journey, form, etc.