Channel Your Inner Sarah Connor

“How the hell did you learn how to do that?”

I looked up to see a girl standing two feet in front of me. I hadn’t even noticed her walk up while I was entering the number of chin-ups I did into my phone. Normally, I don’t like interruptions, but I was happy to address this one.

Me: “Practice. And heavy weights.”

Girl: “I don’t think I could ever do that.”

Me: “You could if you really wanted to. You just have to keep trying.”

Most awkward place to do a chin-up ever.

Chin-ups are the one thing I get the most compliments on at the gym, hands down. The men congratulate me for being strong, and the women gasp and tell me that I’m awesome, but they’d never be able to do it. I call bullshit.

Just ask Sarah Connor:

Ladies, you CAN do chin-ups and pull-ups if you set your mind to it. There is nothing special about me that makes me able to do chins*, except that I’m consistent with my training. I remember a few years ago doing an unassisted chin-up seemed almost impossible, so I never bothered trying. Funny how so many of us lose the battle before even stepping into the ring.

But I still wanted to be able to do them one day, so I kept training my back (and the rest of me) with weights, going progressively heavier as time went on. I remember doing a lot of one-arm dumbbell rows and lat pulldowns. Then one day I was walking along a sidewalk marked with different fitness stops, one of them being chin/pull-up bars. On a whim, I tried to do a chin-up, and I did TWO! I was so shocked and excited that I was actually able to do them. That motivation was all the fuel I needed to start practicing chin-ups regularly.

Today I did a total of 25 chin-ups, broken up between 5 sets. I would eventually like to be able to knock out 15 of them in one rep, but all in due time. I’d also like to improve the number of pull-ups I can do.

(Chin-ups are done with your palms either facing you or facing each other if you can find a parallel bar. Pull-ups are done with palms facing out and usually in a wider grip than chin-ups.)

If you would like to be able to do chin-ups and pull-ups, please at least try! It’s not easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight, but it is SO rewarding when you finally pump out your first one. I think chins and pull-ups are two of the most rewarding exercises for women to accomplish because we have a tendency to dismiss all the potential strength our upper bodies posses.

Here are a few tips:
-Train your back with heavy weights. Use one-arm rows, barbell rows, cable rows, etc.
-Having a strong core is important. Be sure to train it with planks and compound exercises like squats, push-ups, chest presses and rows.
-Try doing band-assisted chin-ups, or if your gym has one, use the assisted pull-up machine and gradually lower the weight.
-Do inverted push-ups. These are a great way to gradually introduce your body to the movement. As you get stronger, move the bar up higher so you become more vertical.
-Make sure your muscles are firing correctly. You shouldn’t be relying on your arms to pull you up, but rather, your back. One way to test this is to hang completely limp from a bar. Your arms should be fully extended and relaxed. Now without using your arms at all, shrug. This is how the beginning of a pull up/chin up should be done. When you shrug from a dead hang, you are firing from your lats. If you can’t do this, you are probably relying too much on your arms to pull you.

And here’s a great article on learning to do chins and pull-ups, and increasing the number you can do.

*Your weight is a factor in how easy/difficult it will be for you to do chin-ups. Obviously, the heavier you are, the harder it will be. But please don’t let this discourage you! Think of it this way, even if you pump out 1 chin-up at 160+ lbs, that is an awesome one-rep max. The link I posted above says that ideally women should be 20% body fat to do chin-ups, but I am probably around 24-25% body fat and can do them no problem.

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13 Comments

  1. Otakitty

    I felt this way about push ups. The very first time I tried to do one I just flopped on the floor, it was really pathetic and I thought I could never do it.
    I think my record now is 15 push ups (REAL push ups, not on the knees girly style), but I’ve totally reverted from that to about 8…

    I don’t know where I’m at with chin ups (assisted of course), but it’s probably pretty bad too!

    Reply
    1. Allie Q (Post author)

      That’s awesome that you kept going until you were able to do a full push-up. I’m sure you can get back up to 15 (and even higher) very easily if you wanted to. Push-ups are one of those exercises that once you can do a few of them, your endurance for them increases a lot with a little practice. The hardest part really is just being able to do one without assistance from your knees. So you’ve got the hard part out of the way 🙂
      And just like with push-ups, chins ups come with practice. If you want them, you can have them!

      Reply
  2. Caitlin

    So. Awesome.

    I really want to be able to do chin-ups and pull-ups but I get so discouraged because they are so bloody hard. Your post has me all excited to keep trying, so thanks for that. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Allie Q (Post author)

      Glad I could inspire you! Seriously, just keep trucking. Maybe try to include inverted push-ups at a slightly higher incline. The article I linked at the end of the post is really informative, and worth checking out!

      Reply
  3. Conor Maguire

    I’ve had hardware for hanging a bar sitting around for months – this has gotten me to hang it up.

    Now you just have to inspire me to actually use it.

    Reply
    1. Allie Q (Post author)

      Umm, women will fawn at your feet and men will weep at the sight of your rippling muscles if you use the bar. Did that work?

      Reply
  4. amy

    I can do chin-ups! I can do five on a really good day. My bedroom had a pull-up bar installed in the doorway when I moved into my current house, and I left it there. It really is a good feeling to be able to do things that you couldn’t do before. Imagine that!!

    Another thing I can FINALLY do: push ups with my feet propped up! Wha-bam!

    Reply
    1. Allie Q (Post author)

      I feel really cheesy saying this…but…you go girl! Haha. I get so excited when women can do chin-ups. We need to start a revolution!

      Reply
  5. Brittany @ Itty Bits of Balance

    I need to dedicate my training to being able to do a chin up! Honestly, I’ve ALWAYS wanted to do one but have told myself that it’s tougher for girls.

    You’re right– no excuses!

    Reply
    1. Allie Q

      You can do it! Just practice, practice, practice.

      Reply
  6. Sable@SquatLikeALady

    I’m just gonna jump in here and say that you CAN do pull-ups AND chin-ups at a higher bf%! I am DEFINITELY well above 20%. I don’t put that much stock in bf% but I could very well be 26%+…and I can currently do 6 chin-ups at a time for at least 3 sets. Yes I’d be able to do more if I was lighter (earlier this year I did 7 per set), but don’t think your bf% is going to stop you, ladies!! 🙂

    I didn’t think I was going to be able to get chins or pull-ups the first time I tried them, either. Max was like, “You should try!” And I was like, “Why? So I can feel like crap when I don’t get ANY??” And then I got 3 chins and 1 pull-up. haha.

    Reply
    1. Allie Q

      Yeah, I definitely agree that you can do them at a higher bf%. I think the most important thing is practice.

      Reply
  7. Sophia

    Awsome Blog. What a great find. I really LOVE it.
    I have been searching for something like this for awhile. You are truly an inspiration. I am glad I found this.
    I have always had healthy eating habits but never worked out. I am a petite girl that never had a weight issue but rather I always wanted to gain strength without bulking up like Chyna. Sorry Chyna 😉
    I started perusing through your blog and reviewing the exercises and found this article. It’s my favorite. Small confession: I have been reading your blog for 2 weeks, but only decided to write today. I have been working on chin-ups and I am proud to say, by following your lead, I can now do 2 unassisted chin-ups. (I am so proud YAY) I couldn’t even pull my weight up an inch when I first started. I just hung on the bar. I was really sad.
    I noticed you haven’t posted anything in awhile. I hope you continue to write. I love your style. it’s candid & funny. I especially like the fact that you consistently claim that you are not a professional fitness guru, but let me say this “YOU ARE A MILLION TIMES BETTER THAN A LOT OF THE CLOWNS THAT CLAIM TO BE REAL TRAINERS”. I have found your exercises to be fun, challenging, requiring little or no investment to get strong. i.e., heavy boot instead of dumbells. Funny but it works.
    I still have a long journey to go. And I would be excited if you were there to guide.
    Oh and I have a question: Since I do all the exercises at home, mostly, are there some specific exercises you can show me to help me build my lats so I can get better at pull-ups. I have not been able to do even one yet. 🙁
    Any ways, GO Sarah Connor!

    Reply

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