hollow body hold

Three ways to build up to your first chin up

Despite the fact that I lift weights regularly, I am not what the kids call swole.

And by swole, I think I mean overly muscular or busting out of my t-shirt sleeves. I’m not sure. The further away I get from my twenties the less I understand teenager speak. By the time I understood that “dabbing” wasn’t just getting a stain out of a shirt, the phenomenon had passed.


As I was saying, despite the fact that I lift often, I don’t have much upper body strength. I have more than I did 10 years ago, but doing certain upper body movements like bench pressing and push ups are still a challenge for me.

The reason my instagram feed is filled with deadlifting videos (and Rooney) is that deadlifting came naturally to me. Like anyone else, I gravitate towards what I’m good at and avoid what comes harder. And post pictures of Rooney because Rooney.

My goal for 2019 though, is to nail my first bodyweight chin up. I set out after this same goal in 2016, but a torn labrum in my shoulder derailed my efforts and now, looking for a goal to help keep my training focused (performance goal), I’m back at it.

You are not incredibly weak if you cannot do a chin up or a push up from the floor (not from your knees). Especially as a female. Most of us do not have the natural upper body strength to do either of these exercises in the beginning, and yet we assume that we are weak if we can’t. You’re not weak, you’re human.

In most cases, these two exercises can take a lot of work - very few females (and some males) can do so without training regularly.

If you’d like to train towards doing your first unassisted chin up, here are a few exercises that can help you get there.

  1. TRX Assisted Chin Ups

If you have access to a TRX system or any other suspension training system, this exercise can be a perfect way to strengthen the lats (that area on your back, just below the shoulder blades) and using your feet as much as you need to complete the range of motion.

Coaching Tip: Complete the full range of motion at the bottom of the movement - in other words, make sure your arms are fully extended, elbows not bent, at the bottom of the movement. (*As long as your elbows and shoulders can tolerate the full extension.)

2. Hollow Body Pull Downs with Dowel Rod

I stole this exercise from Tony Gentilcore and have been incorporating it into my own workouts. The hollow body hold begins by lifting your upper back (above your shoulder blades) off of the ground and lifting your legs a few inches off of the ground at the same time. Cross one leg on top of the other, and press down as hard as you can, while resisting with the bottom leg. This will increase the tension in your body, and probably make you hate life for 30 seconds, but in a good way.

This position, as Tony says, “teaches a trainee what it means to attain full-body tension, as well as helping to drive home some context (on the floor) of what needs to happen if or when someone is ready to hang from a bar.”

So you’re not just hanging limp when you jump up on the bar to perform the chin up. You need to create tension. And if you’re wondering what that means, that’s a great question, and I’ll work on doing a post for that.

3. The Band Assisted Chin Up

And possibly the most fun of all of these.

I mean, fun is relative here, obviously.

You can loop the band vertically around the bar and put your knee or feet into the bottom of the band for assistance. But ever since I learned this variation when I completed my Certified Functional Strength Coach course, I’ve been using it often with clients and myself.

Prior to learning this exercise, I was forever putting the band around my knees or my feet and swinging around like a monkey stuck in a banana branch (I don’t think that’s a thing) - but using this version, with the band under my feet, helps me achieve full extension at the bottom - my goal is to do the chin up from a dead hang position (with my arms completely straight) and this variation helps me do that. It also helps me keep tension in my body.

You might have to experience with band height and band resistance at the beginning before figuring out where the best starting point is for you. If the band feels like it’s going to shoot you through the roof, that’s fun, but not exactly what we’re after. Experiment with the band resistance that will allow you to feel like you could barely do another two reps if you had to.

In the video below, I have two bands to create enough resistance for me to perform eight reps. When I took one of the bands off, I could get one solid rep, so I’ll continue training at this resistance until I can get at least six reps with one band.

These exercises are by no means all encompassing strategies to help you do a chin up - but they are a great place to start if doing a chin up is on your bucket list.

Questions, comments, thoughts?

I’d love to hear from you. kim@kimlloydfitness.com

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