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Monday, April 20, 2009

My Favorite Bodyweight Exercises - Part 2

A few days ago, I posted about my #1 favorite bodyweight exercise, the push-up. I thought I'd continue this series and post about my next-favorite bodyweight exercise, the chin-up!

I'm sure you're familiar with pull-ups, but maybe you don't know the difference between a pull-up and a chin-up. Pull-ups are generally pretty hard for most people, but chin-ups (palms towards you, hands shoulder-width apart) have the advantage of allowing you to use your biceps to take a little of the work away from your back, while still being great for your back. And, always a plus, it's very cool to be able to go over to the chin-up bar and crank out a few in a row, particularly if you're a woman.

This one is a little more intimidating, and I often see women using the "assisted pull-up machine" at the gym, trying to work up to the level needed to do unassisted chin-ups. But my experience has been that there's a better way to learn how to do chin-ups. First, spend $30 for a chin-up bar for your home (some are more, some are less). Hang it in a doorway in an area of the house where you are frequently. Now here's how you practice:

Level 1: Stand on a chair so that your chin is above the bar. Grab the bar with a narrow grip (about shoulder width), palms towards you, and bend your legs so you are no longer supported by the chair. Gently and slowly lower yourself until your arms are fully extended. This is called a negative or "eccentric" chin-up. Try lowering for 3 seconds, then 5, then 7. Start with just three repetitions, and add more as you get stronger.

Level 2: Stand below your chin-up bar with your arms extended above you. Jump until you can grab the bar, and immediately pull yourself up and try to do a complete chin-up. The momentum from the jump will help with the motion. Let go and try again.

Level 3: Stand flat-footed and grab the chin-up bar above you. Bend your legs at the knees, crossing your feet behind you. Pull up to the bar, targeting your back muscles by imagining your a string coming from your elbows being pulled towards the ground. Slowly lower to the fully-extended position and try again. If you can't make it over the bar a second time, let go and repeat as "singles."

Once you are at level 3, you should not have any reservations about trying your chin-ups in the gym or in front of people. And, if your house is like mine, your chin-up bar will become your newest social conversation piece (everyone that comes into the house tries it to see if they can do one).

So on a personal note, I worked from October to December, trying to do my very first chin-up. I finally managed to do just one in December, then two around Christmas. Now it's April, and I can do four in a row, or five if I do them as singles.

Now I'm working towards that elusive goal of being able to do a pull-up! I'll be sure to let you all know when I get there so you can celebrate with me!

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