Back Exercise: The Wide Grip Chin Up

What is it for?

The Wide Grip Pull Up or Chin Up is another classic exercise and is a great way to develop strength to body weight ratio. I like this exercise but it is a difficult one to get completely perfect. The main muscles it works are the Latissimus Dorsi (“Lats” highlighted in yellow) which, as you can see in the diagram, are situated on your back and are very big muscles as they travel all the way from the tops of your arms down to the base of your spine. The secondary muscles it uses are the biceps (highlighted in red) these are used in close combination with the “Lats” to complete the movement. Other muscles are used as well but these two are the main ones.

Whilst it is unlikely you will need to pull yourself up or out of anything in your day-to-day lives, (you never know – .) it is a useful exercise to build strength in a pulling movement which we do use a bit more often. For example opening heavy doors and lifting objects, it is also useful to aid strength in many sports like contact sports, martial arts and combat, climbing and athletics, especially field events. It is difficult to put a number on how many Chin Ups a person should be able to complete to show a reasonable level of strength, but at the very least an able bodied person should be able to complete at least one complete pull up.


There are a few different variations of the Chin Up; we are going to focus on the wide grip version which is also the original Chin Up. For this exercise you are going to need a piece of equipment and that is a Chin Up bar. Make sure that the Chin Up bar of your choice can take your weight comfortably. My bar of choice is one at the gym that has a stand and is made solely for this purpose. You can buy bars that fit in your doorways at home, but these are not as safe as the sturdier gym ones. If you choose to use a home bar system then make sure you follow the instructions carefully and attach it correctly. If the bar is out of reach then use something to step onto to reach it rather than jumping up to grip it. It is much safer and will prevent too much pressure going through the bar.

When you’re ready, stand in front and below the bar and reach up to take a grip with the backs of your hands facing you and slightly wider than shoulder width. That is the start position. Now you have to pull yourself up (easy eh? – .). Like its name suggests, you have to go up to where your chin is above the bar. Although I feel it is better technique to focus on bringing your elbows in, once you are up in this finishing position your elbows should be as close into your body as you can get them, this will help focus getting as much movement from the “Lats” as possible also the majority of your head should be above the bar height.

Now the only way is down and thanks to gravity it is easier than going up, however don’t just drop down as is often tempting. You need to lower yourself slowly and controlled as this will use the muscle as it should be used. It will take about 1 second to 2 seconds to be considered controlled and the movement is completed when your arms are completely straight. It is tempting not to go all the way down if you are doing more than one Chin Up. The result is shorter easier movements. Don’t be tempted though as this won’t develop your strength and muscle fully.

There is one more thing that you have to take into consideration and that is your legs. There are some professionals that demand you keep your legs straight down beneath you, others state that it is best to tuck the legs behind you and others that say it is best to have them held up in front so you are almost in a seated position. In my opinion they are all right, however the most important thing is that you don’t swing your legs to aid the movement. Your legs must be completely stationary whatever position you choose. Also don’t forget to breathe out on the way up and in on the way down.

Chin up start positionFig.1 shows the starting position with the hands slightly wider than shoulder width and the arms nice and straight. I have not shown the legs in the diagram as you can hold them how you like, just remember not to swing them!

Fig.2 shows the finishing position from the back. From here you can see that the elbows are tucked into the body as much as they can be and the majority of the head is above the bar height. The legs will be the same as the start position and have not moved.

The Do’s

Breathe throughout the movement
Hands slightly wider than shoulder width
Back of your hands facing you
Make sure the bar is safe
Squeeze your elbows into your body
Slow controlled movements
Chin Up finish positionThe Don’ts

Don’t hold your breath
Don’t drop down
Don’t jump to the bar
Don’t swing your legs
In Your Program

The Chin Up is another great exercise to add to your program, however due to its high intensity it is best to carry out the exercise at the start of your program when you have most energy. Make sure you warm the muscles up first by doing very light back exercises with either a machine or dumb-bells. For a warm-up I would stretch and complete at least 2 sets of 20 at a light weight. Now you’re ready for the Chin Up. Personally I use the Chin Up as a measure of strength and progression and as thus I don’t give myself a set number of repetitions. I do as many as I can in the first set with good technique and then in the second set I try and match it and so on until I have completed 4 sets. However you can do as many sets as you like.

And Some Advice…

Not everyone is going to be able to complete a Chin Up and that is why this exercise is classed as advanced. If you cannot then don’t worry just use the gym equipment to build up to it. Ask your gym instructor which piece of equipment they have that most closely copies the movement of a Wide Grip Chin Up and start from there. Eventually you will be able to increase your strength to complete your first Chin Up.

If you have any questions on this exercise then please send them to me by leaving a comment or email me directly by going to the contact . section of the left hand menu. Good Luck!