Pull-ups and chin-ups are two of the top exercises that you can do for your upper body. However, very few people are able to excel at them, or even do any at all. The problem is not the exercise, or even you. It is how you are going about training for it. Here are some strategies that I have used during my own training and with my clients, and the results have been amazing.
1) You need to be able to learn how to pull your bodyweight. Start out by performing modified pull-ups and chin-ups in the Smith Machine or something that has a fixed bar. Obviously the higher the bar is, the easier it will be. As you become more proficient, you can lower the bar so you will be pulling more of your body weight. Eventually, you can even prop your feet up on a bench so you're performing decline modified pull-ups or chin-ups.
2) Focus on the negatives to make positive gains. Start performing regular pull-ups and chin-ups but focus on just the eccentric (lowering) component. Either jump up or pull yourself up if you are able to. Now slowly lower yourself down and take 5-10 seconds to do so. If you are able to perform regular pull-ups and chin-ups at regular speed. Once you are no longer able to pull yourself back up, just focus on the eccentric component.
3) Focus on the concentric component. If you are not able to perform unassisted pull-ups or chin-ups, jump up and pull yourself the rest of the way up. Repeat
4) Stop using the elastic band for help, or the assisted pull-up machine. The assistance both provide are not remotely similar to what you need when performing the unassisted variety. I've watched people use both and years later they're still not able to do single pull-up or chin-up. That is not necessarily a reflection of fitness level, but rather an example of ineffective training methods. If you have no aspiration to perform unassisted pull-ups or chin-ups both options are fine, but they offer very little in terms of helping you progress to being able to do proper pull-ups and chin-ups.
5) Work on your grip strength. I like to drape a sturdy towel onto the top of a squat rack and perform regular pull-ups and chin-ups, but you can simply jump up and hold onto the towel for as long as you can.
6) Stop spending the bulk of your time on machines. Being able to lift a lot of weight on a machine will offer little benefit when it comes to being able to do pull-ups and chin-ups. This also applies to exercises with free-weights. Unless you keep working on pulling your bodyweight, you will not thrive at doing pull-ups and chin-ups. While many exercises with free-weights and some with machines can be very beneficial to you strength-wise and aesthetically, they will do little good when it comes to enhancing your ability to pull your bodyweight.
7) Use full range. Skimping on your range and not fully extending your arms will cheat you out of being able to perform proper pull-ups and chin-ups. Unless you fully extend, the rep is no good...period!!
Some other useful tips:
- Start training your scapula stabilizers. The stronger they become, the better you will be at performing pull-ups and chin-ups. A few of my favourites are scapula pull-ups, prone ball Y-T-W's, scapula push-ups, and several others that target the much neglected scapula stabilizers.
- Work on your core stability (do not mistake this with core mobility). Your core is what links your upper and lower body, and a stable core will allow you to generate the power that is needed to perform pull-ups and chin-ups. A weak core = an unstable spine, hips, etc, and this will hinder your ability to perform most exercises. Some of my favourite exercises for core stability include the dead bug, ab wheel rollouts, Pallof presses, and hollow body holds.
- Strengthen your glutes. I find that having very strong glutes helps make performing pull-ups and chin-ups much easier. Strong glutes will help stabilize your hips and this will also aide you in being able to perform pull-ups and chin-ups. A few of my favourite glute strengthening exercises are barbell hip thrusts, deficit hip thrusts, and even a basic clamshell using an elastic band for resistance.
-Lower your body fat %. Obviously the less body fat you have, the easier it will be to perform pull-ups and chin-ups.
While there are other tips that will help you improve your ability to do pull-ups and chin-ups, these tips will give you a good foundation. Time to get cracking and master those pull-ups and chin-ups. Good luck!!