Tony Gentilcore

Because heavy things won't lift themselves

Chin-Up Progressions for Women (The One Rep Hump) – Part II

Eason chin-up

Okay, before I continue with second part of this post, two things need to happen:

1.  If you haven’t already, you need to check out PART I. I’m not going to sit here and say it’s the best thing ever written on the internet (although it’s pretty close), but it definitely sets the tone for the entire piece as a whole, and well, not reading part I before reading part II is kind of like watching The Empire Strikes Back before A New Hope.  It’s just crazy talk!

2.  And since that was an obvious attempt at a segue for me to briefly talk about the Oscars last night, I’m rolling with it.

  • It was great to have Billy Crystal back hosting.  The man is a class-act. Sure, there were some awkward silences when a joke or two (or seventeen) didn’t work; but whatever.  I was entertained, and that’s all that matters.
  • Angelina needs to eat something for the love of god! In fact, while watching the show, both Lisa and myself commented on how Skeletor skinny many of the women appeared.  Granted, she’s now spewing out nonsensical dieting tips like eating apples only grown underneath rainbows or anything like that, so who am I to judge? But is it any wonder why there’s an on going image war in our society on what’s the ideal “look” for women to aspire for?
  • I was really happy to see that Hugo won for Best Cinematography as well as Art Direction.
  • J-Jo was bringing it last night.  Like whoa!

  • In general, 2011 was a pretty weak year for movies.  I mean, sure, The Artist was a good film, and I’m “okay” with it winning for Best Picture, etc.  But lets be honest:  come this time next year, NO ONE is going to remember that it won, and it’s certainly not going to linger in people’s minds.  When they showed one of the numerous montages of past films, I couldn’t help but feel that NONE of the films that were nominated for Best Picture this year would ever be included in such a montage alongside classics (and not necessarily Best Picture winners) like GoodFellas, The Godfather, Jaws, Shawshank Redemption, Forrest Gump, so on and so forth.  Here’s hoping that 2012 is a little more spectacular.

Okay, on to matters at hand:  how to rock your first chin-up.  Unfortunately, not every woman is like Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 busting out chin-ups in a psyche ward.

Then again, not everyone banged a dude from the future and is preparing for the end of the world run by machines. To each his own, I suppose.

Nevertheless, the point here isn’t to necessarily compare yourself to John Connor’s mom (although that’s pretty badass), but rather to show you some strategies you can implement to help take yourself from from Point A (you want me to do what now?)…………

……to Point B (I can do a chin-up, bitches!).

As you may recall, in part one, I went out of my way to suggest that having a little attitude is a good thing, as well as described some unique TRX progressions one can use to help “grease” more of a vertical pulling motion.

Of course, this begs the question:  what happens if you don’t have access to a TRX unit?

Well, you could always purchase one (hint hint, wink wink). For what it would cost to buy a knock-off Coach bag, you can get a TRX.

Just sayin……

In addition, you could also try these other modalities that we like to use with our female clients at Cressey Performance.

Eccentric Only Chin-Ups

Put in simple terms, the eccentric (or the yielding/lowering portion of the movement) is a fantastic way to help build specific strength within that ROM.

Getting geeky for a second, in terms of the actual mechanism, the muscle lengthens while under tension due to the opposing force (body weight) being greater than the force produced by the muscle. Unlike a concentric contraction, where the joint is pulled in the direction of the muscle contraction, in an eccentric contraction the muscle acts to decelerate the joint at the end of a movement.

What’s more, and this is pretty cool:  the body is a shit ton (<– that’s a lot) STRONGER eccentrically than it is concentrically.  Put another way, it’s much easier to lower yourself (controlled) from the chin-up bar than it is to lift yourself from a dead-hang, where you have to “overcome”  the weight of your own body.

Depending on one’s height, you may have to play around with how high of a box you use to stand on to jump to the bar.  A little piece of advice, however:  set the box a little more forward so that when you do jump up, the body won’t sway back and forth as much.

From there, the concept is pretty self-explanatory.

  • Jump up to the bar so that your sternum touches the bar.  Remember, too, to keep your shoulder blades together AND depressed (shoulder blades in the back pocket)No shrugging.
  • As controlled as possible, lower yourself until your arms come just short of locking out. The “controlled” part is what’s important.  This shouldn’t be a dive bomb towards the floor, but rather a nice 5+ second descent.  Don’t worry if you can’t get a full five seconds – again, it’s the controlled part that’s important.
  • Hop down, jump back up to the bar, and repeat.

Now, of course, how many reps one can do is going to be highly individual.  Grip strength is going to be a limiting factor, not to mention one’s strength levels from the get go.

To that end, I like to use several options.

1.  For the stronger females (one’s who can easily control the eccentric), I’ll shoot for straight sets.  Typically sets of 5-6 reps.  Eight if I really feel like being a masochistic bastard.

2.  Another option I like is to shoot for a specific number of repetitions.  For instance, I may say in their program “25 reps.  Get it done.  No complaining.” Which, if that’s the case, they have to hit that number regardless of how many sets it takes.  If I’m feeling really ambitious, I’ll go as high as 40-50 and I’ll just pair their chin-ups with something else (preferably with a exercise that won’t challenge the grip).

A1.  Chin-Ups (50 reps) – sets of five
A2.  Goblet Squats (x8), Push-Ups (x8) – alternate between sets of chin-ups.

***Meaning, they’ll perform a set of five eccentric chin-ups, and pair it with a goblet squat.  On their next set of chins, they’ll perform a set of push-ups.  From there, they’ll alternate back and forth until all required reps are completed.

3.  For those who are a bit weaker and can’t really perform five (controlled) reps, I’ll utilize more of a rest/pause approach.

So, in this case, I’ll still have them perform sets of 3-5, but with a little “break” in between each rep.  It may look something like this:

Perform 1 Rep
Rest 10-20 seconds
Perform 1 Rep
Rest 10-20 seconds
Perform 1 Rep
Rest 10-20 seconds
Perform 1 Rep
Rest 10-20 seconds (most likely give Tony the look of death)
Perform 1 Rep
Rest 2-3 minutes (flip Tony the bird)

4.  Another point to consider – and this is something that a female reader brought up in the comments section on Friday – is the whole “embarrassment factor.”  Understandably, some females are just intimidated and feel like the spotlight is directly on them when performing anything in the weight room.

As such, sometimes it’s more prudent to give them “homework” and have them perform “x” number of eccentric only reps throughout the day…….on their own……at their own discretion…..in the comfort of their own home.

I’m completely cool with that.

That said, go HERE and buy an Iron Gym.

With this option, again, the objective is to shoot for “x” number of reps throughout the day – 5, 10, till you can’t feel the left side if your face, whatever.  So, whether you allot a specific time to train, or you just happen to walk past the bar on your way to blow dry your hair, and you want to bang out a rep or two, it’s your call. The bar is there and no one is watching.  Have at it!

I’ve used this “homework” approach with several of our female clients, and they LOVE it.

Okay, that should keep the palette wet until tomorrow where I’ll discuss a handful of other options I like to use to get over that one rep hump.  Till then, as always, feel free to share your thoughts below.

Did I just blow your mind? Make (or ruin) your day? Leave a comment, then share this with EVERYBODY.
  • http://beheavy.wordpress.com/ Dana

    Hi Tony, I’m just getting back into training after 6+ weeks out for injury and surgery. I was up to 10 chinups or 1 plus 30lbs before I was hurt. I’m afraid to find out what I’m down to now, but they’re one of my favorite things to do, so I’d like to work on getting back up there. Do you have any recommendations for rebuilding in a case like this? Thanks!

    • Anonymous

      Dana –

      Well, coming off an injury can throw a monkey wrench into things for sure – hopefully it wasn’t anything too serious. That being the case, assuming you’ve got the “thumbs up” from your doctor, and it wasn’t anything to do with your shoulder, I’d start conservatively and just try to do EASY reps, like sets of five, to see where you’re at.

      Really, in the end, you’re just going to have patient and understand that part of the healing process is not to jump the gun and throw yourself in the training gauntlet too soon. I have no doubts you’ll get back to where you were in no time flat.

      Sorry for the vague answer, but not knowing the actual injury, it’s hard to give any set recommendations.

  • Sue

    I’m in the beginning stages of working up to do a pull-up. Hopefully someone will by me an iron gym for my birthday…

    • Anonymous

      Which would obviously be the best b-day present ever! Outside of a million dollars of course….;o)

  • Lauren L

    I love that I can come here to get my chin up progressions and Oscar commentary in one place!

    • Anonymous

      haha. I know…..kind of a weird combination.

  • Emily

    This is exactly how I taught myself to do a chin up. I worked the negatives. I definitely put my time in with this! Thanks for the post!

  • http://www.carascravings.com Cara

    I don’t know if I told you this last week, but buying a chin-up bar for my home has been great. By doing chin-ups (almost) every day, I’ve gone from being able to 5-6 reps (where I was stuck for a good year, I think) to 7, even 8 sometimes now!

    • Anonymous

      Reps, reps, and more reps. Nothing too scientific about it……;o)

  • David H

    Tony,
    I wish you would have made these posts gender neutral, so I wouldn’t feel so pissed that I can’t execute a pull-up. : )

    Great information. When I try a pull-up, following strict form, I get about half-way up, then I can’t pull any higher. Is that an indicator of a specific weakness that I need to work on, or do I just need to work the progressions?

    • Anonymous

      Work the progressions…….;o)

  • Shannan

    Tony,

    Awesome. What frequency of chins per week do u prescribe?

    • Anonymous

      For someone who can’t do any? I’d tell them to shoot for 5-10 per day. You have to remember that if someone can’t do ONE pull-up, it’s essentially a max effort lift and it’s going to be pretty taxing on the CNS. To that end, I’d recommend spreading those reps out throughout the day. One major mistake I see a lot of trainees make is that they only perform chin/pull-ups once, maybe twice, per week. That’s just not a whole lot of exposure.

  • Will

    Great blog posts Tony and nicely timed as I’ve currently started my girlfriend on eccentric chins. Do you know what the transfer is between negative only vs. concentric chins i.e. how many eccentric only chins at a given tempo before one is strong enough to complete a concentric chin up?

    Thanks

    • Anonymous

      Eccentric = you can handle larger weights, which bodes well for adaptation.

      As far as there being any set number of eccentric reps under any given tempo before it translates to a concentric chin-up? I honestly have no idea. She just needs to get her reps in…..;o)

  • Alicia

    Women, men, kids, visiting relatives, hell, even the occasional home repair man can benefit from an iron gym stuck in some unused doorway of your house.  My entire family have always been pretty active but none of us have ever lifted regularly in a gym setting.  As our teen boys develop into superhuman monsters from football, lacrosse and wrestling (most of the ‘monster’ developed on the wrestling mat) we often have quick, mini challenges right in the house.  Who gets the last homemade cookie?  Whoever can bust out the most pistol squats.  Who has to take out the trash?  Whoever does the least number of elevated 3-point push ups, etc.

    I grabbed an iron gym at a yard sale, re-wrapped the aging handles with duct tape and got after it.  It is so much fun to have that thing close by and many an arguement has been settled in shaky, muscle-withering pull-up contests.  As the lone female in the house I am the weakest member (and because of this always taking out the $%^%& trash) but still able to bust out a respectable set in my own right. 

    The iron gym is an easy piece of equipment to use for those who do not lift in gyms or for those a bit intimidated to try pull ups in public.  And to that latter group I say, hold the faith and none of the fear – focus calmly on the very best rep(s) you can execute and let any judgement from others roll right off your back.  Any criticism offered by others is only yours if you accept it.  Your pull up strength will soon mirror the strength in character that it took to try them out in the first place. 

    • Anonymous

      FANTASTIC Alicia – thanks for that!!!!!!!

  • kia tillman

    Hi Tony! Thanks so much for this info. I received the Iron Gym for Christmas and have been practicing the flexed arm hang (I want to get my HKC). Do you think I would make faster pull-up progress with regular practice using a resistance band as opposed to eccentric chin-ups?

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  • galapogos

    Given that eccentric exercises causes the most DOMS, wouldn’t 25-50 reps of these totally kill the biceps and lats for female trainees and possibly cause their next few training sessions to be sub-optimal?

    • Anonymous

      I might have worded it wrong, but I don’t think I implied that I expect someone who can’t do a chin-up to do 50 (eccentric) in one day.

      Rather, if one starts to groove technique by inserting 8-12+ per day (spread out), then by the end of the week they would have amassed 25-50.

      • galapogos

         Thanks. That sounds a lot more reasonable.

        • Anonymous

          haha. No worries. Now I feel like I need to go back and re-word something. I hope everyone reading hasn’t been under the same impression that I was recommending 25-50 reps per day!

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  • J Allen

    hi Tony, thanks a ton for this article. I am trying to figure out how to work my way up to doing a chin up. I am a 30yr f, 5’4, 123 lbs, and never have weight trained before. I am in my 5th week of SS and I am ready to try chinups as my accessory w/o, but have been unable to. I carry most of my weight below belt, so I honestly never thought I could do one. Tomorrow I am going to try your program and I hope it will get me to eventually do some real chinups. And to all you fellows out there who see us ladies in the weight room- please PLEASE don’t try to break the ice by making some lame joke about us “wanting to beat up somebody” so that’s why we are in there. Or by reminding us that the “bar alone weighs 45lbs, you know”. I am the only woman I have ever seen in the weight room at the gym I go to. We are intimidated enough! A simple nod of acknowledgment will do, and then we will feel a bit more comfortable. But, thanks again for the article!!!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Dually noted J Allen – and you couldn’t be more spot on. Let me know how your progress goes! Happy lifting!

  • Sapphire

    Hi Tony, love these progressions but I really need to ask – How many of each progression step should I be able to do before moving up to the next progression please?? ie when you can do 1 set of 10 then move up to next level of progression until you can do a set of 10 ???

    • TonyGentilcore

      Hmmm, that’s a good question.I’d say if you can bang out a solid set of 5-8 reps, for multiple sets, you’re “clear” to move on to the next progression.

  • Paul Bruce

    Hey Tony,

    Hope I’m not violating any rules here. But men might need help to progress through chin-ups, too! ;)

    I can do a couple of chin-ups, but frankly the form is horrible. I can’t properly depress my scapula at the top, so I figure I should regress.

    Do you prefer the TRX-progression or the eccentric/isometric progression? With the latter, you can maintain the hip extension, but with the former, you START with greater ROM. Do you have a preference with your programming? If one has a suspension trainer, or can do something similar (maybe pulling yourself up with a smith-machine bar), do you recommend those progressions?

    • TonyGentilcore

      Not breaking any rules at all Paul……;o) And, understandably, I realize that men need help in this department too.

      I guess it all depends on where you’re at. It sounds like you CAN do a few reps of chins/pullups, they’re just not “crisp.” If that’s the case then I’d lean more towards the holds and eccentric variations. The TRX variations would be for someone who legit couldn’t even get one, or even budge.

      Hope that helps.

      • Paul Bruce

        As per usual, you’re the best! Thanks, Tony!