Pull ups and chin ups are sometimes confused as being the same exercise when in fact there is a subtle difference. Pull ups are done with your palms facing away from you and chin ups are done with palms towards you which makes chin ups slightly easier to perform than pull ups.
Either exercise can be done on a fixed bar and are great exercises for building strength into your grip, including your fingers and hands, your forearms, upper arms, shoulders, upper back and even your abdominal muscles.
Unlike pull downs on a lat pull down machine, pull ups require balance so utilise more muscles and are more beneficial.
To perform a chin up, place your hands on a bar and hang with your arms fully stretched. Using the strength in your arms and back try to pull yourself up so that your chin reaches the bar, at this point lower yourself back down again in a controlled manner until your arms are fully stretched again.
If you are unable to perform a single chin up then ask someone to spot you. You need a friend to support your legs when you attempt to pull yourself up and ask them to assist you while you pull. After a while, your spotter will assist less and less until you can perform an unassisted chin up.
To add interest into a pull up routine, you can add variations which will work the muscles slightly differently and stress the muscles in a different way. Other variations will make the exercises much harder and can be used as a training goal, such as one-arm pull ups.
Wide grip pull ups put more stress into the upper back muscles but require more strength and are slightly more difficult. Instead of the usual shoulder width apart grip, try moving your hands further out on the bar.
Reverse grip pull ups are great for variation and will hit the arm muscles in a slightly different way and refers to having one grip with your palm facing away from you and having your palm facing towards you on the other hand. Once you have performed a set, swap your grips around.
A great way to build extra strength into your grip is to place a towel over the bar and grip the towel instead of the bar to perform your pull ups. You will need extra strength in your crushing grip to remain on the towel without slipping off it.
Single arm pull ups
It is a great measure of strength if you are able to perform a single arm pull up but a skill that requires a lot of effort to achieve. It is virtually impossible to jump from regular pull-ups using 2 hands to single arm so a progression is needed.
A good method is to begin doing with pull ups using a towel. The towel is placed over the bar and while one hand grips the bar in the normal way, the other hand grips the towel just below the bar. When doing pull ups in this way, the hand still on the bar is doing slightly more work than the other.
As you progress, the hand is placed further and further lower down the towel each time until it reaches the bottom of the towel, by which time the hand on the bar is doing most of the work. In time, single arm pull ups will become possible.
Pull ups and chin ups will compliment any training routine, or can be used as the main exercise in your training plan as the exercise hits many muscles in the upper body. A good way to start is to set yourself a weekly target and try to perform that many reps in the week.
Before you start, test your maximum by performing a single set and do as many as you can and this will give you your benchmark start point.
Now you can set your weekly target and a good place to start is to try and achieve 60 reps in a week. This can be done over as many sessions as you need but frequency will increase your strength quicker so 10 reps spread over 6 sessions will be more beneficial than 20 reps over just 3 sessions.
The following week, try to aim for 75 reps and increase each week there after and then, after a month, test yourself on your maximum as you did at the start and you should see a dramatic increase in your strength.