Tip: The Chin-Up for Newbies AND Pros

It's the perfect variation for beginners and even hardcore lifters looking for an even greater challenge. Check it out.


Kneeling chin-ups are a unique exercise suitable for beginners and experienced meatheads alike. They can help you get your first ever chin-up, or they can be used as a masochistic tool for hardcore lifters. Here's what they look like:

As the name implies, they're just chin-ups done from your knees. While it sounds simple enough, you need to know why they're awesome and how to make the most out of them.

Do Them For Mastery

When you start chin-ups from your knees, the floor acts as a depth gauge. Setting the bar at the right height is an important part of that.

As a variation for beginners, or those looking to groove a good chin-up pattern, you can start with the bar lower and work within a reduced range of motion. As your strength and technique improves, you can start with a higher bar and straighter arms.

Even complete beginners are able to do these with the bar set as low as forehead height. Chin-ups are far easier at the top than in the middle. This allows a beginner to actually pull his or her chin over the bar. It's a massive boost in confidence.

The next week they'd do them with the bar one notch higher, and before you know it they'll be able to start from a full hang.

Eliminate Shoulder Pain

Some folks experience shoulder pain triggered by the full hang position during chin-ups. They often just hang passively on their shoulders at the bottom of each rep, losing muscle engagement as their shoulders beat their ears to death.

Kneeling chin-ups will help you knock this habit out.

They eliminate unintended swinging and kipping. Even if your goal is to do kipping pull-ups for, say, a CrossFit competition, then you still need to get damn good at strict chins and pull-ups first.

To build considerable size and strength, you don't want to be kipping or swinging. You want to maintain the highest amount of tension for the duration of the set and actually feel the chin-up working the muscles.

Use kneeling chin-ups to focus on the correct set-up and execution before loading or using more advanced variations. Master the mechanics before loading, then dominate the load before progressing!

Make Them Harder

Try kneeling chin-ups from a dead-stop. In the basic variation, you'll do "touch-and-go" reps. There, you'll lightly touch your knees to the floor before pulling yourself back up again.

If you want to make them even harder, lower yourself down, hold the bottom for a count of "two Mississippis" without losing tension, then pull yourself back up again. Two (real) seconds is just long enough to eliminate some elastic energy and force you to overcome dead weight.

If you're really hardcore, then you can do kneeling chin-ups with a heavy medicine ball or sandbag crushed between your thighs. You could try a drop set with that too, starting out with the weight between your thighs then releasing it mid-set.


Replace your regular chin-ups or pulldowns with kneeling chin-ups. You can do them in a rack, Smith machine, or using Olympic rings. Go with as hardcore a modification as you'd like (partial, full, dead-stop, loaded), and try one of the following protocols:

To build chin-up strength or suck less at them: Do 3-6 sets of 3-6 reps. You can also break these down and use cluster sets. Try 6 reps done as 3 sets of 2 with 5-10 seconds between each.

To grow your back and bi's: Pick a variation that'll allow you to get 8-10 reps. Try to add an extra rep or two each week. Pick a harder variation when they get too easy.

To challenge yourself even more: Start with a medicine ball or sandbag crushed between your thighs. Do as many as you can (ideally 8-10 to start). Drop the weight then do as many as you can again. Then (optional), do the eccentric/lowering portion only for as many reps as you can to finish. To do this, you'll stand up using both your legs with your hands still on the bar, then lower down in 2-4 seconds with your feet off the floor.

Gareth Sapstead is a leading strength and physique coach from the UK. He specializes in problem solving and breakthrough training techniques.

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