How To Learn And Clean Up Your Chin Up

Have you ever taken a critical look at how you are doing things?

Broken down every single exercise?

When you think about calisthenics, chin ups are usually one of the first exercises that come to mind.


Still, it’s not quite clear to a lot of people how to actually progress to their first chin up.

You might be one of those people.

And for the people who already have a chin up in their body weight workout backpack, they are usually missing some check points.

You might have skipped some steps to speed up the process.


Let me ask you this:

Do you know what a good chin up is?

You might think you already know.


What if I told you, chances are you don’t.

What if I told you that the chin ups you are doing right now will end up becoming weak spots down the road.

Want to know why?



5 Progressions To A Proper Chin Up


So you’ve been doing chin ups?

At least so you think.

When it comes to a chin up you need to keep a few things in mind.


Your shoulders have to be mobile enough.

Your grip has to be strong enough.

And you have to be able to activate different muscle groups. One after the other in the right sequence.


Done incorrectly and you will use momentum to lift yourself up.

Flare out your elbows which will cause tendonitis.

And you will never develop strength through the entire move.

Meaning you will have a big ‘reality check’ when you move on to muscle up exercises.


There are 5 progression which you can use to slowly build and to correct your current chin up.

Perfect each of those before you move on to the next.

No chin up will ever be the same again.

Ready to chin up?



The Passive Hang




Main goal: Developing basic shoulder strength and flexibility

Additional goal: Warming up for pulling exercises and providing decompression for the lower back


1) Start by grabbing the bar with an underhand grip at about shoulder width.

2) Allow yourself to hang completely relaxed.

3) The only thing working at this point are your lower arms and hands which you need to activate to keep hanging.

4) Hold this for time.


Mastery at 5×60 seconds


Note: While simply hanging from a bar probably isn’t the thing that makes you look cool. It’s the thing your shoulders need the most, especially if you want to prevent injuries or have a history of shoulder issues.



Active hang





Main goal: Increasing strength in the scapulae area/shoulders

Additional goal: Developing the skill to activate different parts of your shoulder, increasing the flow of blood and recovering from shoulder injuries


1) Start by grabbing the bar with an underhand grip at about shoulder width.

2) Allow yourself to hang completely relaxed.

3) From a fully relaxed position, both push your shoulders down and pull your shoulder blades together until they touch. These two things are called depression and retraction.

4) Hold this for 1-3 seconds and go back to your passive hang.

5) Repeat.


Mastery at 5×15 repetitions


Note: Most people have completely lost the ability to retract their shoulder blades, mostly because we sit behind desk and are front communicators so very little activity actually requires full retraction.

For a proper chin up this is essential however.

If you have lost this ability, I suggest you check out this video and work on your shoulder mobility first.



Chin Row






Main goal: Going through the entire chin up motion, understanding the movement and building strength for a full chin up


1) Find a lower chin up bar which allows you to place a part of your weight on the ground.

2) Start by grabbing the bar with an underhand grip at about shoulder width.

2) Allow yourself to hang completely relaxed.

3) From a fully relaxed position, both push your shoulders down and pull your shoulder blades together until they touch. These two things are called depression and retraction.

4) Activate your arms at this point and pull yourself to the bar until you chest touches the bar.

5) Hold it for 1-3 seconds and slowly lower yourself to the active hang and from the active hang go to the passive hang.

6) Repeat.


Mastery at 5×15 repetitions


Note: If you are unable to touch the bar with your chest, chances are that your retraction isn’t sufficient. I suggest you check out this video and work on your shoulder mobility first.



Chin Up Eccentric






Main goal: Conditioning the tissues in the lower arms and shoulders and building full chin up strength

Additional goal: If you are doing a full routine and are unable to do a full chin up, instead of completely stopping, transition to a chin up negative.


1) Find a bar which will allow you to jump into the highest position. Ideally a position where your chest touches the bar.

2) Start by grabbing the bar with an underhand grip at about shoulder width.

3) From full retraction and depression, slowly over a 6-10 second count lower yourself to an active hang.

4) Make sure you keep your elbows as close to your body as possible to prevent tendon issues.

5) Go from your active hang to a passive hang and fully relax.

6) Repeat by jumping into the chest to bar position again.


Mastery at 5x5x10 second repetitions


Note: Only transition to this exercise if you can complete the previous exercises with ease and have full retraction. The eccentric/negative chin up will place the biggest possible load on your body.

If you lack preparation and mobility in your shoulders you will run yourself into unnecessary injuries by compensating with your elbows. Patience is key.



Full Chin Up






Main goal: Going through the full chin up and building strength for more advanced moves

Additional goal: Feeling cool and victorious 😉


1) Start by grabbing the bar with an underhand grip at about shoulder width.

2) Allow yourself to hang completely relaxed.

3) From a fully relaxed position, both push your shoulders down and pull your shoulder blades together until they touch. These two things are called depression and retraction.

4) From your active hang initiate your arm motion explosively, keep your elbows as close to your body as possible.

5) And touch the bar with your chest. No touch, no count.

6) Hold the tension at the top position for 1-3 seconds and slowly go down over a 3-4 second count.

7) Go back to your active hang and lower yourself into a passive hang by fully relaxing.

8) Repeat.


Mastery at 5×5 repetitions


Note: If executed correctly a simple chin up will become more effective and will allow you to develop muscles and strength at a much faster pace.  Over time you will automate the different steps.

If you break down a chin up it basically comes down to the following sequence: Passive hang -> active hang -> activate arms -> chest to bar -> active hang -> passive hang.

This sequence might mean you discover that instead of 10 bad form chin ups you can only do 3 good form chin ups, but please drop the ego. That’s a big part of becoming a master at something.



You Don’t Want To Go Back To The Basics


And it sucks. I know.

You’re probably like, “Rich really!$!@$%, do you mean I have to start all over again? You’ve got to be kidding me!”

The honest answer:

Yes and no.


Yes, when you embarked on your journey, you might have accidentally taken a step in the wrong direction.

Skipped a check point.

Completely missed the sign saying: ‘quicksand ahead’.


If you realize you have, this is the time to deal with it.

The good news is, there are also a lot of things you have learned down the road.

And you still carry those is your backpack of experience.


Just realize that ‘basic’ often isn’t as basic as it sounds.

And if you are facing or stuck in a ‘quicksand’ of injuries already.

Use this blog as a rope to climb out.


Beast mode ON!



So...what's next?
Get the full step-by-step starter guide for a complete introduction into calisthenics workouts, dieting and more...
Me and spam? We're enemies.

39 thoughts on “How To Learn And Clean Up Your Chin Up

  1. Tnx Rich! Had a good read-session with this! It’s funny, couse when i had a workout today i felt my chinup’s were in bad shape. I could do them. But i had a feeling you know. I read this, it may be the technic. Tnx Bro. Keep on the good stuff!

    – Peace out

  2. Hey, so about 6 months ago, I started the System, but failed to complete it after 4 weeks through. Last week I decided to start over but this time finish (summer goals). The only problem is that I’m having a lot of trouble doing pull ups and chin ups. I’m not very strong arm wise, and I’ve been almost 4 months without arm workouts, so I was wondering if you had any advise. Should I start doing 3 Max sets of push-ups when I wake up like you suggest on the “Armstrong Pull-up” article? I’m really stuck and this was the biggest reason I quit last time: I didn’t see any strength gain after 4 weeks in my arms. Please help.

    1. Hey Michael,

      Awesome job on starting the system.

      Follow the progressions in this blog. Every detail. Start with the passive hang and build it up to a full chin up. From there do the same for pull ups.

      And most important…patience. Really, the official bar brothers have been doing this 10+ years, compare that with the 4 weeks you have been working on it ;).

      Beast mode ON!

    2. Hey Michael, I understand how you feel, as I had the same problem. I suggest to use resistance bands to assist you with your pull up. Start with bigger ones, then work yourself to smaller ones. After that, you should have gained more strength to do more pull ups.

  3. Another great article Rich. I thought I had chin-ups nailed but now I realise that I rarely actually touch my chest to the bar and my shoulder blade retraction is actually very poor, so I’ve been unknowingly cheating, but now I can work on this. Thanks!

    1. Hey Leon,

      You know what they say: “The devil is in the details.”

      I’m happy you got the point. No matter how advanced you are, the basics can always be better.

      Keep up the good work!

      Beast mode ON!

  4. Hey Rich,
    Started last Sunday with the 6month Beginner wo. It feels very good. I do the 1month cycle every second day and mix in One beginners Abs session and one beginners leg Session every other day.
    Pushups,planking and squats are no problem, neither the abs and leg Session is. Each wo I do has 4 cycles. My only worries are concerning about the pull exercises. I can’t do a single pullups or chin up. Leg raises work if I keep them bent. Following your Progression Guide for chin ups. Changed my nutrition on “when” to eat, not so much “what”, cause I already eat clean.
    Appreciate your dedication! THX!

    1. Hey Marc,

      Thanks for your message, I’m happy to read you are enjoying the routines.

      The chin ups and pull ups usually need more time, simply because in our daily life we do very little overhead pulling. Stick to the progressions, with regard to leg raises, your comment clearly indicates tight hamstrings which is very common.

      Have you received my flexibility guide already? If you haven’t let me know. I’ll send it to you via e-mail.

      Keep up the good work!

      Beast mode ON!

  5. Hey Rich,

    THX for answering. No, I didn’t receive the flexibility Guide yet. Would be a great Substitution for the daily Routine. Today, I added the fatburn wo into my Trainingsplan.
    It gets a tight schedule, last week nine wo, facing about 12 wo in week two. Feels good so far, no exhaustion yet, but the energy Level rises.

  6. Hey Rich,

    Thx for the guide! Kind of cool stuff. My daughter seein’ me doing the ostrich and Elephant walk and instantly fall in. She is 4.
    That will become my dailY morning routine after wakeup.
    On the chin ups, I do the eccentric move at the moment. After 10 days of excercising it is a huge step forward. Hanging leglever still bend, but very controlled. Gues I will make the Progression to the half leg lever next week.
    Maybe you wanna see the trainingplan I made for the first 2weeks? Thanks for the support!😊

    1. Hey Marc,

      Haha, love the story!

      Kids always learn this stuff way too fast ;).

      The eccentrics are HUGE, be aware however, because they are very taxing on your body.

      Feel free to share!

      Beast mode ON!

    1. Hey Michael,

      Great question.

      Yes the progressions are pretty much the same. The difference is in grip which is significantly more difficult.

      So I always would recommend you to start with an underhand grip.

      Beast mode ON!

      1. Thanks for the reply Rich

        Chin ups and pull ups aren’t new to me, but I’ve haven’t worked out for about 2 months now – on and off sick and also work got in the way. So I’m just looking to start up slow again and with this it looks like I could take the opportunity to clean up my pull ups and train the proper technique before going back into my usual workouts.

        I would personally prefer to do pull ups over chin ups as I feel there is more back engagement in a pull up vs arm engagement in a chin up, so I’m glad this can be applied for that as well.

        1. Hey Michael,

          I’m happy you notice the usefulness of these progressions.

          You can definitely focus on pull ups instead of chin ups, just keep in mind that the latter will make the first better and that a pull up is significantly more difficult, because getting the chest to the bar requires more shoulder retraction. With chin ups you can get away with it to some extent.

          But that’s something you will discover for yourself.

          Keep it up!

          Beast mode ON!

          1. Thanks Rich

            Just one last thing. How often would you suggest to do these? Every day or every second day? I have a friend wanting to start and I can vouch for the strain on one’s forearms and you can definitely feel it in the scapulae once you get to those movements.

          2. Hey Michael,

            I’d recommend at least 1 day in between workouts if you are a beginner. So every second day, just to give your body ample time to supercompensate.

            Haha, people underestimate the amount of strength needed for just hanging, but the surplus in strength which you develop as a result of this fairly ‘easy’ looking exercise is a surplus in strength when you build up for your chin up.

            It just needs to ‘click’, but once you understand it…gains are in sight 😛

            Beast mode ON!

  7. Just wanna share,……

    my first chin up and hanging with flexed arms for 24 secs today. The half leg lever will take some more time, but Im able to do the the knee raises very slow, controlled and can hold them for some secs. That all happend after 2 weeks of training.
    Thank you Rich for your support!!!

  8. My training plan for the past 2 weeks have been like this:

    week 1: Sun July 10 – Sun july 17
    Sun July 10 1x full body beginner wo 3 cycles
    Mo July 11 1x full body beginner wo 3 cycles
    Tue July 12 1x begiiner leg routine 3 cycles
    Wed July 13 1x full body beginner wo 3 cycles
    Thur July 14 1x Beginner ABS routine 4 cycles
    Fri July 15 1x full body beginner wo 3 cycles
    Sat Jul 16 1x beginner leg routine 4 cycles
    1x beginner chest routine 2 cycles
    1x beginner ABS routine 2 cycles
    Sun Jul 17 1xbeginner full body routine 4 cycles

    RESULT : 9 WO feeling very energized

    week 2 Jul 18-Jul 24

    Mon Jul 18 Leg routine 4 cyc
    ABS routine 4cyc
    Tue Jul 19 chest routine 3 cyc
    full body routine 3 cyc “hardest day yet”
    Wed Jul 20 Fatremoval 4 cyc
    Leg routine 4 cyc
    Thu Jul 21 Full body routine 3 cyc
    ABS routine 4 cyc
    Fri Jul 22 Full body routine 3 cyc
    Leg routine 4 cyc
    Sat Jul 23 Chest routine 4 cyc
    fatremoval 4 cyc
    Sun Jul 24 Full body routine 4 cyc
    Leg routine 4 cyc

    Result 14 wo. not sore or exhausted yet.
    Progression : 1st chinup done,…woohoo
    24sec full flexed hang
    5 slow and controlled knee raises

    What I did: writing every wo down in my diary, note the successes and progression. downloaded the madbarz app to program these excercises, which are all from the beginner wos on this site.
    Havin fun and enjoying myself. If you wanna add me on madbarz its “MarcJ”

    Thanks Rich!!!!

    1. Hey Marc,

      You are really doing an amazing job!

      Just be sure to not ‘overtrain yourself’. Rest is an essential part of training.

      It depends of course on your rate of adaptation and recovery, but for beginners this is usually one of the biggest pitfalls.

      More training doesn’t equal more strength in all situations.

      Anyways, keep up the good work!

      Beast mode ON!

  9. Hi Rich,
    Yes, muscles are build on restdays and in bed. Will keep up this til the end of month 1. As I have to return to work on August 8th, the load will decrease automatically.

    For month2 I will only add leg wo’s. Thx for the advice and your great article about “Rest” . Appreciated Mate!

  10. Hey Rich,
    Me thinking about adding the “back and biceps” wo as a negative Routine to my Plan. Will do this on the full body wo day. Do you think it works?


  11. Results of week 3:
    6% loss of bodyfat
    2,5kg decrease of total weight
    1st half legraise

    Have had 15 wo on 6 days, one restday. Have added the back and biceps wo as a negative to support my Progression of the pull exercises.
    And Tons of fun….

  12. hey i heard that calisthenics doesnt have enought exercises for leg muscle development is this true, i hope i’m wrong. So i just wanted to make sure

    1. Hey Op,

      It all depends on your goals, really. For some people sticking to ‘body weight’ is more than enough. For others who need more intensity adding some weight is definitely an option.

      This however should only be done if your technique and mobility is enough or you will head down the road of injuries pretty fast.

      So it’s not a black and white thing or a binary answer.

      Beast mode ON!

  13. Since I really have a Hard time finding a Spot with a PU bar in my area (no, not Even on a playground) I bought me some Rings and straps to further enjoy this addicting barbrother routines….. Hope this is ok?
    Otherwise you got to call me ‘Ringbrother’😜

    1. Hey Marc,

      Great job!

      Rings definitely great to add an extra layer of difficulty to your training. The lack of stability might make achieving your first chin up on rings a bit more difficult however. So this is something to take into account.

      Beast mode ON!

      1. Hey Rich,
        Just figured it out…. Looked like a drunk Ape on hot coals. But that will pass by. Feeling like going back to Square one.It is demanding. But I could train everywhere. That was my top priority.

  14. Hi Rich,

    First of all, thank you so much for everything you do!
    The guides and the website, as well as the books and emails are a great help!
    I’m kind of stuck on the Chin Up Eccentric. I can do 5 repetitions, where each repetition takes 10-12 seconds, and they feel great.
    However, i can’t complete a single chin-up. I get “stuck” halfway in the middle, and can’t pull myself up the rest of they way.
    Any advice?

    Thanks !

    1. Hey Ron,

      You are more than welcome, I’m happy to read that it has been helping you.

      Awesome job on getting up to those 5 reps. If it hasn’t been working for you yet, we need to increase the volume. So instead of just 5x10sec reps now start working on 5x5x10 second reps. Make sure you maintain proper form and be aware of how your elbows respond, we want to prevent you from getting any type of tendonitis, because it will hinder your progress.

      In addition to that you can add some greasing the groove throughout the day:

      Do this for at least 4-6 weeks and re-evaluate your strength after that.

      By then you should be far stronger than you need to be for 1 full rep of a chin up.

      Keep me posted. Keep working and I’m sure you’ll get that first chin up before you know it. But most of all…patience.

      Beast mode ON!

      1. Hi,

        I did exactly as you said, and today I got my first full chin-up, going slowly and using the whole range of motion !
        I’ll keep at it until i can get more chin-ups, and than start working on pull-ups
        Thanks so much !!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *