If you asked me for a list of my favourite exercises, I think they would all be upper body bodyweight exercises. I think chin ups, push ups and dips are super badass and getting your first one of any of these exercises is an incredibly empowering goal to achieve.
However, I understand it can be quite overwhelming to set this type of goal if you find it difficult to hang from a bar or are struggling with a high incline push up. So this is why, today, I am making a case for bodybuilding, because in order to do bodyweight exercises, you may need to spend some time building your body first. I’m going to use a chin up as an example because I’ve posted about isolation exercises for push ups before.
I see a lot of chin up tutorials and the ‘beginner’ progressions are usually banded chin ups or eccentrics (performing the lowering phase of the chin up), however, for beginners, these progressions may not be right for you just yet.
I think banded chin ups are a great way to practice the skill of doing a chin up - you get to do the full movement, including the scapulae movement before and after your pull and being able to perform the full range of motion. However, they are not my go-to tool for building strength. Bands give you the most assistance at the beginning of the chin up, which is where you most likely need to spend time building strength.
For beginners who start doing eccentric chin ups to build their strength, the main problem I see is a lack of strength to do the lowering phase slowly. In order to build that eccentric strength, you need to be able to slow down and what I normally see are people ‘bouncing’ out of the eccentric (the first rep on my Instagram post is an example of this) and this could potentially injure your rotator cuffs.
So, where do you start then?
Let’s break the chin up down. It requires grip, bicep, core and back strength as well as scapular control. Yes, it’s a lot. That’s why they are so hard, but imagine that feeling you’ll have when you get your first one and you realise that it was all your hard work, commitment and discipline that got you there!
Have I convinced you of the both the necessity and beauty of body building and isolation exercises now?
Yes? Great! Here is a body building cheat sheet to get your foundation strong and ready to start working those more intermediate chin up progressions. Each exercise links to a youtube video with cues.
If you‘re wondering how many times a week you should work on your chin up strength and how many sets and reps you should do, I’ve created a $10 pull up guide! There is an intermediate program and a beginner program.