You can ace this. Chin ups, Part II



Welcome back to our new real [FIT] life 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.”


This month’s featured exercise is the Chin up. Last week, in Part I, we learned about Lat pulldowns and TRX pull ups. Both exercises help train many of the fundamental skills needed to be able to eventually perform a body weight chin up. In addition, they are great training choices regardless, for building upper body strength and core strength. If you missed those and want to learn about them, you can click here.


This week we are going to learn about inverted rows, another great back and core strengthener, and band assisted chin ups. If it weren’t for band assisted chin ups, I probably never would have gotten to the point where I could get myself over the bar. And the first time I did, you bet I felt like a superstar!


Inverted Rows



Like lat pulldowns, inverted rows are another exercise that may not seem to belong in a chin up series. Inverted rows are a great training choice for strengthening the back, biceps, and core. They’re also another great opportunity to practice pulling while you’re in a more stable position. You can use these to further practice keeping your shoulders back and down, and your back engaged.


Some people feel nervous at first when they try these. If you do, that’s okay. Allow yourself as much time as you need to get accustomed to doing them as you build strength and confidence. It is important, however, that you not let your fear negatively affect your form when doing the exercise. 


A great place to do these is in a lifting rack, or a smith rack. Start with the bar at a higher setting and over time, as you get stronger, your form improves, and you feel more comfortable with leaning back, you can gradually lower the level of the bar, to once again make them slightly harder.



A common tendency with these is for people to let the shoulders shrug up to their ears as they pull, and for the low back to arch and the hips to drop back toward the wall or floor.


Here are some tips for really solid looking inverted rows.


1. Place the bar at a level that allows you to perform all of your reps with solid form

2. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, walk your feet forward, and lean your torso back. Your body should be in one line from head to toe. Arms are fully extended, glutes tight, shoulders back, shoulder blades drawing onto your back, and chest high.

3. Bending your elbows out to the side, pull your whole body to the bar, your chest (top of the rib cage) should touch the bar. 

4. With control, extend your arms and lower back to start position.

5. Be careful when your lower to start position, that your torso and glutes stays tight. Your hips should not drop at any time.

6. To modify further, you can bend your knees, and place your feet flat on the floor. As you get stronger, extend your legs and feet further out away from you. Another option, once your legs are fully extended, is to place your heels on the floor, toes upward. Keep the legs tight at all times.


Here is a video of Stephanie performing elevated inverted rows:


Notice in the video how she maintains excellent control throughout the movement. Chest stays high, arms and hips stay tight, back stays engaged.


Once the elevated variation has progressed lower, gradually getting closer to the floor,  the bent knee variation may come in handy. Here is what that looks like:


Stay at the level you are training until you can perform them with the legs fully extended, which again makes them harder. Here is the video:



One last variation is the inverted row with the TRX. This variation requires even greater stabilization and integration, so if you have yet to master an inverted row, face up, with a bar, I suggest you set this aside for a future challenge.


I’m purposely showing you all of these variations. Almost every new client that I start working with uses every single one of these variations and progresses over time. How quickly they progress varies. If you cannot keep your shoulders down, your chest lifted, and your hips in place performing rows elevated, it’s most likely that you are not ready to select a variation lower towards the floor.


Take the time to be able to do these correctly and you’ll see much better results, long term, in strength and performance.



As I mentioned above, band assisted chin ups were a staple for me for a long time. I started out using a variety of bands, grouped together, to give me more support as I pulled up.  As I got stronger, I gradually took away some of the bands so that my body was doing more of the pulling. Then I progressed to bands with less resistance. It took a long time for me to be able to knock out chin ups without any bands at all, but guess what? They are so hard even with the bands, you are still getting an incredible workout. It’s all good.


I recommend buying a set of bands at Rogue or Rubberbanditz. The more you weigh, the more resistant the bands will need to be in the beginning. Get a variety of them. You may also need someone to help you get into and out of the bands when you set up.


Here are the how to’s:


1. Tie a band or set of bands to a high bar. If needed, place a low stool or box under the bar and stand on it.

2. Place one knee in the band, pushing down into it. Grab a hold of the bar with an underhand grip, palms facing you. Take a moment to draw your shoulders back and down and make sure your back muscles are engaged and tight.

3. Bend both knees and cross your ankles, keeping your knees beneath you, legs, glutes and abs engaged.

4. Make sure your arms are fully extended before pulling up.

5. Focus on pulling your elbows to your ribs, and your chest to the bar.

6. Lower with control, keeping your shoulders down away from your ears and your back engaged. Really resist the urge to shrug your shoulders up as you pull. Focus on using your back.

7. Repeat and pull. When you cannot get your chest to the bar anymore, you’re done for that set.

8. When you take your knee out of the band, use care so that the band does not snap back at you.


Here is a how to video:


In the video, I put my foot in the band and keep my legs extended. With thicker bands this may not be possible and you will probably need to put your knee in the band with ankles crossed as shown in the photo above, with Carol, and here, with Claire.


Really focus on explosiveness and power before taking any bands away to make it harder again.


That’s it for this week! Next week we add in some more fun progressions.


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.


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