Chin-ups and pull-ups are NOT “basically the same thing.” Fine, they are, but the technique differences are more than just flipping around your hands.
Chin-ups are done with your hands gripping the bar upside down, palms facing your face. This grip rotates your shoulders out of their strongest position. We’ll come back to that in a second.
Pull-ups, on the other hand, are done overhand. You should close your grip around the bar if you can. If not, an open grip will have to do, but it’s not ideal. Your shoulders will be seated back the way they should be.
Having the right grip isn’t the whole shebang to knocking out pull-ups like a boss. There’s that whole back strength thingy too.
If you’re still having trouble foisting yourself up to the bar, then you may be cheating the movement too much, breaking your chain. You’re simply pulling beyond your scope of ability.
You are cheating.
“Cheating is good.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
Cheating is fine, so long as you can first play by the rules. If you’ve never done a strict pull-up, you don’t get to cheat until you do so.
I know cheating is sort of acceptable in the CrossFit world. Kipping pull-ups, where an exerciser swings the body to create momentum are the gold standard in CrossFit pull-up bragging rights.
Before this blog sounds all anti-CrossFit, it deserves to be said that kipping is fine. A version of kipping is what everyone falls on when they fatigue.
BUT! If you can’t pull yourself up without a kip, consider if you were hanging from a cliff for your life. With nobody there to help, and a cliff that won’t allow you to kip, how would you survive?
Totally legit question.
Your movement chain is broken.
You ability to effectively move your body or external weight from a dead stop is dependent on your ability to create tension.
Think of tension like the foundation of a house. If it’s loose, the house crumbles. The same happens with your body.
What is that tension? Your rib cage should not be poking out. Your abs and glutes should be flexed, and you should even be tensing your legs all the way to your toes.
You don’t have to stay rigid, but the muscles should stay flexed, like hard-rubber.
You are not strong enough.
Duh? I know, I know, but there are some things you should try before jumping headfirst into a strict pull-up.
A really solid technique for building your pull-up strength is doing negatives. The beauty of negatives is that you need nothing more than a sturdy pull-up bar and two arms.
Jump up to grab that bar, but in the to position with your chin over the bar. Create tension as mentioned, then lower yourself slowly, resisting gravity. Jump back up; repeat.
Do this until you can no longer reasonably lower yourself without dropping like a stone. Try to increase the number of negatives you can do, until you can do twenty or so.
Then, on a different day, try to do a strict pull-up. If you can’t still, then try to get thirty negatives.
If you have a large band you can throw over the bar to decrease your bodyweight, then you can also use this method to build your strength.
You’ll find instructions here, but if you don’t have time, do this: Loop the band over the bar. Put one foot in the band. Grab that bar, then pull yourself up as many times as you can.
Eventually, try it without the band. You’ll get there.