Chin-ups and pull-ups are hard exercises to carry out correctly, and present a high degree of challenge to the average calisthenics beginner. It will be some time until you need a greater challenge than the basic form of both of these exercises, possibly many months. Your whole body weight is lifted using the muscles of your arms, shoulders, and middle back, while the legs should not provide any “lift” or “boosting” at all. Using your legs makes the whole exercise pointless.
Ten to twelve repetitions, as noted in the previous article, with the chin raised above the bar and with the chest eventually touching it at the summit of each chin-up or pull-up, is the immediate goal you should be looking at. However, if you have mastered this regimen (and it is much harder to do so than it sounds on paper – take your time and build your strength up gradually rather than risking sprains), you may want something more out of your chin-ups and pull-ups.
Advanced chin-ups and pull-ups fall into two categories:
Those meant to increase the already considerable effort necessary to raise your whole body weight several feet straight up into the air using only your upper body muscles, and those intended to develop specific muscle groups.
These goals are not necessarily mutually exclusive – those targeted to certain muscle groups will build your overall pull-up strength more than ordinary pull-ups will, for example. However, you should still pick the specific types that will produce the results you want fastest, and add other kinds later if you feel like expanding your range of exercises further.
Interestingly, you can use pull-ups to improve your grip strength and forearm development at the same time as you perform the standard, heavy exercise involved in these full-body lifts. To carry out these double purpose pull-ups, find a particularly thick pull-up bar and install it at the same height as your standard bar. The bar should be thick enough so that you need to grasp it very hard to keep your fingers from sliding off – ideally, it should not be possible to touch your fingers and thumbs together when your hand is wrapped around the bar.
If you are unable to find a thick chin-up bar, you may be able to add commercially produced “thick” or “fat” handgrips to your ordinary bar, or even modify it yourself, though be careful to make your modifications sturdy enough not to break when stressed by your weight. Falling from your chin-up bar because of handgrip breakage could injure you badly.
Pull-ups and chin-ups performed in this fashion will force you to grip hard, building your hand and wrist strength. You will also notice that your forearms bulk out fairly fast. This is an excellent way to build gripping strength and forearm power while maintaining your normal pull-up exercise regimen.
Pull-ups and chin-ups are among the most demanding calisthenics anyway, but with these variants, you can turn the pressure on your muscles up a few notches and develop them even further. The simplest way to do this is to stop using your thumbs to grasp the bar – pull yourself up while holding on with your fingers only, hooked over the top of the bar.
Horizontal pull-ups involve keeping your body horizontal in the air while pulling up or chinning up. You will still start from a “dead hang”, with your arms supporting your weight at full stretch, but you will need to raise your feet somehow to the level of your shoulders so that your whole body is parallel to the ground. This is not necessarily harder than ordinary pull-ups or chin-ups, but will use somewhat different muscles. Note that you cannot raise your head above the bar with this method, and success is measured purely by touching your chest to the bar.
Finally, you may eventually be capable of performing one-armed pull-ups and chin-ups with alternate arms.
This is a remarkable feat of strength and is only possible when you have reached the peak of physical development, if ever.