Chin Ups for Injury. Prevention, Mass, & Strength

If there is one movement that almost all people neglect its pulling (Vertical/Horizontal) exercises.  Whether it’s pulling exercises for the lower body or upper body, we need it due the adaptations made from poor gym methodologies and posture.  The charts below, I took from an article written from Eric Cressey called “Shoulder Savers” which is a three-part series that all people should read, but it is to demonstrate the imbalances that gym-goers have due to their training.  Here are the 3 basic pairs of movement patterns.

Scapular Retraction/Protraction
Scapular Retraction Scapular Protraction
All Rowing* All Bench Pressing
Rear Delt Fly All Flyes
Prone Trap Raise Variations***(you could count as scapular depression too) Dips
Face Pulls

*Exclude Upright Rows….always.

Scapular Depression/Elevation
Scapular Depression Scapular Elevation
Scapular Wall Slides Shrugs
Prone Trap Raise Variations Upright Rows
Behind-the-Neck Band Pulldowns Cleans and Snatches
Prone Cobras to 10&2 (held for time) Seated DB Cleans
Straight Arm Lat Pulldowns (strict!)/ (I’ll add chins up since this blog post is about that)* Cuban Presses
Humeral External Rotation/Internal Rotation
Humeral External Rotation Humeral Internal Rotation
All External Rotation Variations Bench Pressing, Pushups
Seated DB Cleans Pullups, Pulldowns
Cuban Presses Front Raises
Rear Delt Flyes Dips
Prone Trap Raises Overhead Pressing
Prone Cobras (held for time) All Internal Rotation Variations

All the exercises on the left are often overlooked by most people, and if they have performed them it usually is nowhere near the same volume as the right column exercises.  If you also notice, there is enough work here that you should not have a “shoulder day” for your workouts due overuse/injuries that usually happen to this joint. 

Anyway, chin ups would fall under the scapular retraction/depression chart.  The chin-up is almost never seen in commercial gyms because everyone is over by the lat pulldown machine.  Why? Because they are easier.  I understand that if you cannot do a proper chin-up that lat pulldowns are best, for now. If you want to get stronger, get bigger, or even burn some body fat then doing chin ups should be a staple in your program.  Chin-ups are an amazing way to develop those qualities because of their involvement in forearm, biceps, lats, traps, & shoulders.  Here’s a video by Mike Robertson on proper chin up technique.

Chin ups or Pull ups?

The answer…it depends.  Mike Reinold had a great blog post about the differences between the two.  The main points were

  • Chin-ups are probably better for aesthetic reasons since it involves higher EMG activity in the lats, biceps, and pectoralis major.
  • For poor posture and shoulder function, the pull-up may be better due to lower pec major activity  and increased lower trap activity. Both common goals when dealing with Janda’s Upper Crossed Syndrome.
  • Lower Trapezius importance: Due to the overactivity of the upper traps and poor thoracic spine extensibility we have weak/inhibited lower traps = scapular instability.

3 Parts to the Trapezius: Upper, Middle, Lower fibers

Who says girls cannot do chin-ups? These are band-resisted which is a great way to start if you cannot do full chin ups with good form.

Insane strength with perfect form by Ben Bruno

Categories: Injury Prevention, Strength Training

Tags: , , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Hi Matt, I was doing a weight assisted chin up yesterday morning and felt a pop in my shoulder??? I know you can’t assess what might have gone wrong thru the Net, but is there a common shoulder injury that comes from chin ups? I had a long head bicep tendonectomy last December, but I don’t sense anything wrong with the bicep. I feel like it’s in the rotator. Thanks for listening!

    • Hey Mark,
      glad you reached out! I would definitely recommend going to see a doctor first..but things that you could do in the mean for the shoulder popping it would be hard to tell but have you ever done a shoulder mobility test which the FMS (functional movement screen) assesses? Sometimes just a simple one as that can tell a lot about your shoulder & t-spine which can have a direct impact on your shoulder funcion. Also, do you do any soft-tissue work for your lats, pecs, rotator cuff? If not, then I highly advise spending some time on the lats. What was the grip that you were using ..overhand, neutral (palms facing) or underhand? See if you lay down on the ground. feet underneath your butt, and simply raise your arm overhead to touch the floor, see how far you can do it without letting your rib cage pop up to the ceiling. If you are limited then think of everytime you do something overhead. make sure that you can incorporate some t-spine rotation/extension exercises into your warm-up and that you know how to fully retract (squeeze shoulder blades back and down) with rowing exercises. A big thing is to just do things correctly in the mean time until you would find out what actually happened..hopefully this makes sense and helps..let me know if you need any other questions answered. and if you want you can take video of the exercises you do just so that I can help with your form..sorry for the long winded answer!


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