Why I *typically* prefer Chins Ups to Pull Ups (and how to mix w/ kettlebells)

Why I *typically* prefer Chins Ups to Pull Ups (and how to mix w/ kettlebells)

(But not always.)

I remember hanging from the “T” clothesline when I was a little guy – around 3 or 4 – and trying to do a Pull Up, because my neighbor, Todd Hoffman, who was 2 years older than me, could do one.

That was the first time.

My “love affair” with Pull Ups didn’t really start until the summer between my junior and senior year of high school though.

I’d read they were great for building “pulling strength” for wrestling, which was my sport of choice. 

And I really needed to boost my pulling strength because I’d just gotten my left arm out of a cast after badly breaking it.

So, I embarked on Pull Ups of all varieties, especially the wide-grip, behind-the-neck kind, because – Ah-nold!

By the time I was a junior in college, I’d gone from 165lbs to over 200lbs, and was still doing 4 sets of 10 reps of behind-the-neck Pull Ups every morning before I showered.

That foundation was probably one of the reasons I was able to do the Beast Tamer Challenge. (48kg Single Military Press, Pull Up w/48kg, and Pistol w/48kg.)

Nowadays?

I prefer and recommend Chin Ups (Chins) over Pull Ups for most trainees, most of the time.

Why?

#1: They’re Easier To Start

This is just time tested from the Olden Days. 

The theory is because you can keep your hands closer to the center of your body and use more of your biceps. 

#2: Too Much Daily Pronation And Davis’ Law

Pronation = Palms down.

How much time do we spend “palms down?”

  • Computer
  • Tablet
  • Smart Phone
  • Driving
  • Almost all kettlebell and barbell work

Davis’ Law is a Physiological Law that says “tissues model along lines of stress.”

So, because the muscles in the top of my forearms are continually shortened when pronated, there’s a better than good chance when I use them on things like KB Cleans and Snatches, that I’m going to overstress my elbow joint and give myself a solid case of elbow tendonitis – 

Either Golfers Elbow or Tennis Elbow.

Chin Ups help counter this because the hands are supinated (palms up) – the opposite position of pronated (palms down).

#3: Easier To “Hollow”

The Hollow Position is a fundamental position in gymnastics, and even in human development, in which you shorten the front of the torso – 

And actively (and strongly) engage the abs.

You do so by “locking” the ribcage down onto the pelvis.

It’s easier to do this when you’re in the Chin Up position than the Pull Up position.

Incidentally, this is almost the near-perfect abdominal strengthening exercise to counter and “balance” all the kettlebell lifts. (More on that some other time.)

And this makes it easier to learn how to hollow in the Pull Up, or Tactical Pull Up, which is what is used these days in the Beast Tamer Challenge.

Because of this, Chins over Pull Ups when training the Clean + Press. 

It’s simply healthier on the elbow joint(s) and the surrounding musculature.

BUT…

That’s assuming you lower yourself all the way down so your elbows are fully extended.

If you’re on a heavy “diet” of Clean and Presses, and you want to add in Chins, keep your volume low at first – 2-3 sets of 2-5 reps to make sure your elbows can handle it.

Then, slowly ratchet up from there by either adding sets, or weight.

You can also use:

[+]  A “thumbless” grip – thumb under or behind the bar

[+]  A fat bar

[+]  Both

If you find that Chins are too tough on your elbows because of all the pronation work you’ve done/exposed yourself to…

You can always use:

[+]  Gymnastic Rings or 

[+]  A “neutral” grip (like a “hammer” grip) at first…

… and build up over time to Chin Ups, as your elbows become accustomed to the load.

Then, work your way to Pull Ups.

I think some great goals for Chins are the following:

[1]  Beginner: 10 sets of 3

[2]  Intermediate: 10 sets of 5

[3]  Advanced: 10 sets of 10

… Done in 20 minutes.

I also think combining Chins with Swings is a near-perfect minimalist (non-Clean + Press) Bodyweight + Kettlebell Hybrid Workout Program…

… For those who are:

[a]  Tired of or need a break from Clean + Presses 

[b]  Can’t currently Press do to a shoulder issue/injury

[c]  Can’t currently Press the KB(s) you have

For programming, you can:

[+]  Alternate sets of Swings + Chins

[+]  Alternate “blocks” inside your programming – “Block A” = Swings, “Block B” = Chins

[+]  Alternate days of Swings + Chins

Lots of ideas there.

If you need a Swing program to combine your Chin Ups with, here are 10 you can use.

https://salutis.kartra.com/page/SWING-HARD-2 

So, that’s my “deal” with Chin Ups and Pull Ups.

Both are great exercises, but I think Chin Ups are a better starting point for anyone who’s been riding a desk for any length of time.

Stay Strong,

Geoff

P.S. If you want other ideas of how to combine bodyweight and KB exercises into a full program, I’m thinking about releasing some old programs in the “vault” that combine the two. Click here if you’re interested in learning more.

https://salutis.kartra.com/page/gBV511

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