You can ace this: Chin ups, Part I


Hi everyone! I’m super excited to launch our new real [FIT] life fitness series, You can ace this.


The whole purpose of this series will be to teach you how to master exercises you never thought you could do. Seriously, rock star lifts and super impressive feats that can make you feel like a badass in the gym.


This will also be a lesson in progressions. Learning how to use various exercises as building blocks to gradually build up the necessary strength, coordination, proprioception, and even confidence to be able to tackle what we’ll refer to as that final Pinnacle exercise.


The first feature exercise for this month is the chin up. I’ve written about my own journey to acing chin ups.  It took me about three years to be able to master body weight chin ups for reps. During all of that time, I used almost all of the progressions we’re going to talk about in this months series.


All of the exercises you’ll learn about can also be challenging unto themselves. So, while you’re working your way to mastering that final pinnacle exercise, you’re getting a great workout along the way.



Some of these may seem like simple or boring exercises but I highly encourage you to read and learn about each one. As a trainer, I frequently work with new clients who were previously training on their own, and they are often surprised to find that they were making some key mistakes, unknowingly, in the way they were performing even some of what seem to be the most basic exercises.


In addition, it’s important to know what you should be focusing on when performing each exercise so that you:

a) get optimal results  

b) don’t get injured

and c) so that you know how this particular movement is meant to help you get to your end goal.


In this months series that end goal would be a kick ass chin up or one of the other variations taught which will eventually get you to be able to perform a chin up with just your body weight. 


Chin ups are an amazing total body exercise. They work everything, you can do them anywhere, and they are also considered to be one of the true signs of real fitness. Chin ups work your core, biceps and back.


So let’s get started.


The two exercises we are going to focus on today are Lat pulldowns and TRX pull ups.


Remember, there is no necessary timeline in which you have to master these exercises. Doing them correctly is far more important than what variation you are working on. Having patience and staying consistent with your efforts will give you far better results long term.


Kneeling lat pulldowns


I know what you’re thinking.


A pulldown?? I thought we were learning how to pull UP. 


We are. Which is precisely why lat pull downs are a valuable starting exercise.


Many people have a habit of elevating their shoulders and scapulae (shoulder blades) during pushing and pulling movements. It’s very important to first learn to keep the shoulders down and the shoulder blades firmly rooted on your back, before moving on to more difficult pulling exercises. Lat pulldowns are also a great back strengthener and in order to perform chin ups, you need a really strong back.


(If you are training at a gym with a cable set up you can do these with the long bar attachment. Hook it up in the area where people usually do cable triceps pushdowns. This way the bar will be higher above you when you kneel below it.)


If you don’t have access to a cable system, resistance bands work well also, as shown in the photo above. It’s just important that you continue to increase the resistance of the bands as you get stronger.


Here is a quick how to video and some written guidelines:



1. Kneel on the floor, glutes engaged, abs braced, chest high.

2. Take hold of the resistance band (or bar) palms facing forward

3. Pull down with the arms, further drawing your shoulder blades together and down. If using a bar, the bar should stop at the middle of your chest. Keep your shoulders down as you pull

4. With control, fully extend the arms back overhead, while still keeping your shoulders down

5. Keep your glutes engaged throughout

6. Keep your abs braced and keep your head and spine in neutral alignment (make sure your back does not excessively arch)

7. If you’re using a band, pull the bands apart from one another as you pull downward and make sure the palms stay facing forward.

8. Really focus on using the muscles in your back as you pull.


TRX pull ups

TRX pulls are a favorite of many of my clients. I first learned about them from Tony Gentilcore, at last years Fitness Summit. As soon as I saw them I knew they were precisely the exercise many of my clients needed to bridge the gap between lat pull downs and band assisted pull ups. (We’ll get to those in a future segment)


Our real [FIT] life’rs like these because they immediately feel their core activating. I like them because they are another useful exercise to help master keeping those shoulders down, while you pull up.


There are some ways to make this easier and then progressively make it harder. I talk about that more below.



1. Fasten a TRX or other brand suspension trainer overhead. The higher the handles are, the more difficult this will be, so progress gradually.

2. Kneel on the floor DIRECTLY under the bar, looking upward

3. Kneel high, thighs and hips fully extended. Don’t sit your hips back on your heels.

4. Wrap your hands around the TRX handles

5. Keep your ankles bent and toes pressing into the floor

6. Set your shoulders back and down

7. Brace your abs and engage your glutes

8. Pull with your arms, bringing your elbows to your ribs, lifting your knees and torso off of the floor, toes remaining on the ground.

9. Make sure your shoulders stay back and down. Make sure the shoulders don’t shrug upward. Keep your head, neck, and upper back as still as possible. Try not to tense up in your neck.

10. Pull your body directly upward toward the bar overhead as you keep your chest lifted. Lower back down and repeat.

11. Focus on engaging the muscles in your back when you do these.


(In the beginning, use your feet for assistance by pushing the floor away with your toes. Over time use the upper body more and the feet less. You can eventually have your toes face down flat on the floor, so you are no longer able to dig your toes into the ground.)


Here is a brief how to video: 


That’s it for this week!


Next week we add in some more fun progressions.


Please let me know if you have any questions, by writing in the comment section.


Now get out there!


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Jeannine Trimboli, CEO, real [FIT] life