by Craig Weller
At a gym a while ago I overheard someone talking about chin ups say, "Oh, you're doing them chest to bar…"
It occurred to me then that for many people, a chin up means just that: A movement finished by elevating the chin over a bar. Actually touching ones chest to the bar is an entirely separate concept, and is even categorized by a different name.
The problem here is that this chin-over-the-bar-only idea is the upper body equivalent of the quarter squat. It robs you of most of the benefits to be had from doing the actual movement
A chin up (or a pull up) is one of the most effective upper body exercises one can do and it's got significant carry-over to real world movements. It develops everything from hand and forearm strength through the biceps and long head of the triceps to the lats and upper back.
In order for this to happen though, the movement must be performed correctly, and in order for the movement to be performed correctly, it must be finished with a solid retraction and depression of the scapulae.
If this does not happen, the musculature of the upper back is neglected, including the middle and lower traps and the rhomboids. This will eventually lead to faulty movement patterns, scapular dysfunction and weakness and muscle imbalance in the upper back.
Generally, the scapulae are properly "set" when they are locked down and in as far as they will go at the end range of the chin up. The elbows will stop just behind the ribs. If all you're doing is tipping your chin over the bar at the top, your scapulae will be unable to retract fully, your elbows will still be out in front of your body, your shoulders pitched forward in their capsules and you won't be finishing the movement.
It's been said before by a number of strength coaches, but the chin up should really be called the "chest up." This is because when properly performed, the movement is finished when the chest touches the bar, the elbows are just behind the ribs and the scapulae are solidly squeezed down and back.
Example of a chin up finishing when the chest touches the bar
If all your chin ups and pull ups have been measured by simply touching your chin over the bar, it's time for a change. Start thinking of them as chest ups, get your scaps to function, develop some real strength and muscle mass in your upper back and keep your shoulders healthy.
This exclusive article (and others) can be found in the latest Wannabebig Serious About Muscle Newsletter - August 4th, 2010
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