What Muscles Do Chin Ups Work?

Chin ups work basically the same muscles and muscle groups that pull ups work. Namely the big back muscles of the latissimus dorsi and the biceps in the upper arm

There are others that come into play as the chin up movement involves shoulder extension and elbow flexion. As well as the muscles used to grip the bar itself.

Some people find that doing chin ups can be harder than doing pull ups. This is because you have to hold your arms at different angles with each exercise that some aren’t used to.

Secondary Muscles Worked by Chin Ups

So these secondary muscles will include the rhomboids and middle trapezius in the back. The rear delts as well as a couple of the rotator cuff muscles in the shoulders. And lastly the muscles that flex the elbow and gripping muscles of the forearm.

This doesn’t take into consideration your lower trunk also. The muscles targeted there depend on which position you keep your legs in. Generally, if your legs are in back of you then you are recruiting your low back extensor muscles. However, if you keep your legs in front, then you’re going to bring in your abdominals.

The chin up differs from the pull up because you use an underhand grip doing it and an overhand grip for the pull up. Take a look at the difference in the videos below.


How To Do Pull-ups and Chin-ups With Proper Technique 
Unfortunately Pull-ups & Chin-ups are hard. Very hard. If you’re a beginner, chances are you can’t do 1 Pull-up or Chin-up. This article will not only teach you how to do Pull-ups & Chin-ups with proper technique…




Build Muscle Without Weights:Anatomical Directions!

For anyone who wants to start, or is already doing, a regular exercise program, it’s always good to understand what you are doing and why you are doing it more fully. When you’re looking to build muscle without weights you will need to know how to target specific muscles and get the most out of your exercises. This series of posts will cover some of the basics about muscles and how they work.

The human body is composed of 0f approximately 640 skeletal muscles distributed over either side (left and right). This means for the most part, there are 320 pairs of muscles from head to toe. Left and right biceps, triceps, and deltoids. Left and right frontalis, external obturator, and even flexor hallucis longus.

We emphasize skeletal muscle because this is the primary type of muscle that is directly affected by exercising. The heart muscle that is similar to skeletal muscle in structure, is indirectly affected by exercising but, unlike the muscles of the skeleton, you can’t voluntarily control it and make it contract or relax. But, when you do a biceps curl, you are using volitional control over the biceps to make it contract and bend your elbow.

When you hear some people talking about “flexing-flexion” or “extending-extension”, anatomically, this refers to the movement of the muscle as it positions the joint. While these are relative concepts, they are fairly consistent. In general, flexion refers to the “bending” a joint and the moving of 2 body parts together. Extension is the opposite. When you extend, you straighten the joint and move the body parts away from each other.

Using the example of the elbow again, when you flex, you bend the elbow bringing the lower arm closer to the upper arm. When you extend the elbow, you straighten the arm and move the lower arm away from the upper arm. It’s helps avoid confusion and you can avoid potential embarrassment when you use the terms properly.

There are a couple of other movements that come in handy when you are discussing fitness, exercising, and muscles. One is “adduction” and the other is “abduction”. Because they sound so similar, many people just say the first two letters and then the rest of the word. A-D duction, or A-B duction. It’s a lot easier that way.

Anyway, A-D duction is where a body part is brought toward the midline of the body. Such as in cable cross overs. A-B duction is when the body part is moving away from the body as in lateral raises for the delts.

Two other terms that are used alot in the medical and health care fields can also help to identify certain muscles or describe certain movements. These terms are “agonist” and “antagonist”.

The agonist is the muscle that is contracting. The antagonist is the muscle that is opposing the contraction. Looking at the elbow again. When you bend the elbow, the biceps is the agonist and the triceps is the antagonist. Conversely, when extending the arm, the roles of the muscles are reversed.

Understanding these terms and what they actually mean will help you in your pursuit to build muscle without weights, or, with weights. They are used frequently in fitness and body building articles, books, and seminars and it’s really helpful to be able to visualize a particular movement when reading so you can reproduce it later in your workout routine.

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Wrist Strengthening Exercises – Pronation/Supination

At one time or another you may have heard someone ask about wrist strengthening exercises. Typically they say something like “I can’t workout that hard because I have weak wrists”, or, “My wrists are weak because every time I put pressure on my wrists, they hurt”.  And, so, they are looking for some way to “strengthen” their wrists.

I wrote a previous post on wrist exercises and described a little in general about the wrist anatomy (how it’s put together). For review, the wrist is made up of 8 bones that are attached to each other by ligaments and not muscles. These bones then attach to the hand and also the forearm by ligaments to give the wrist stability. Unless these ligaments are stretched or torn, the wrist itself is probably as “strong” as it can be.

A lot of times people mistake having pain in the wrists while working out as having weak wrists. In many cases (if not the majority) this isn’t the issue at all. Many times, this pain is caused by lifting too heavy on tight or weak forearm muscles. Translation: The forearms need to catch up with the rest of your upper body.

So, What Can I Do To Strengthen My Wrists?

In the previous post I emphasized stretching the muscles and tissues that cross the wrist joint into the hand. In this post I will suggest a couple of exercises that should be included in any “wrist strengthening” program. But, you should keep in mind, while they may be “lifting” exercises, their main purpose is to stretch the forearms and wrists.


Most of the muscles that cross this joint start either on the outside, or inside of the elbow joint. Others that have an impact on the wrist attach at the forearm. The majority of all of these go into the hand.

For a graphic illustration of this, que up “Terminator 2” and watch the scene where Arnold peels back the skin on his left forearm revealing  his endoskeleton. If you remember him flexing his mechanical fingers, then, you have an idea of what these muscles do. (I wanted to embed the scene but youtube disabled the code).

There are basically 6 motions that take place at the wrist and move the wrist in different planes. Flexion and Extension. Ulnar and Radial Deviation. And Supination and Pronation. Working the forearm muscles in any of these motions will help strengthen the wrists and give you more control and less wrist and hand pain during your workouts.

We’ll take a look at the last two. The movements call for isolation of the elbow joint. So, supination and pronation is done with the elbow flexed at 90 degrees resting on your knee or a stable surface. The exercise can be done with something as simple as a length of pipe, a hammer, golf club, even a walking stick, etc.

When done properly, the movement mimicks “windshield wipers” on a automobile. The rate is steady and you want to maximize the total available range of motion on either end.


At the end ranges you will have significantly less strength than you do in the mid ranges. You have to keep this in mind because you could seriously strain these muscles if you lift too heavily. And, if you do that, your subsequent workouts will be limited to your lower body and abs for a long time. Don’t take a chance.

Wrist Strengthening – Supination

Supination has its origin from the Latin “sup-i-na-re” which means “to lay on the back”.  To supinate your hand or wrist means to turn it on it’s back. Or, palm up toward the sky. While this may sound a little “egg headish”, it’s really a motion that you do throughout the day. For instance, turning the key to your car’s ignition, or, turning a door knob.

A good exercise to target the supinating muscles is shown in the picture to yourwrist-strengthening-supination right. While it shows the hand in the “palm down” position, the resistance is coming from the muscles that flip the hand over on it’s back. This can be done with any type of object where the resistance is on the “thumb side” of the hand. Start out with 1-2 lbs. and no more than 3-4 lbs. at the most is really necessary with this exercise.

Wrist Strengthening – Pronation

Pronation is the Latin brother of the above, coming from “pro-na-re” which means “to bend forwarwrist-strengthening-pronationd”. Turning your palm down will be pronation. You can figure out how you do this one throughout the day.

In this photo, we see another workout without a traditional weight. Its possible to do these two movements with just about anything you can get a grip on as you can see.

While the picture shows the palm up in the supinated position, the stress and resistance is one the pronating muscles which will concentrically pull the wrench back over into the pronated position. Or, conversely, eccentrically allow greater supination thereby stretching the pronator muscles.

Since these are more for stretching than for strengthening doing 5-10 slow reps is all you need in one session. And you probably don’t need more than 2 sessions per week.

Doing them for a warm up or cool down is probably going to be specific to the individual. I don’t think that there is one “right way”. Pay attention to how they affect your workout and plan accordingly. Over working these small muscles will lead to a tendinitis which may be a bear to treat so all the over achievers need to approach them with caution.

Working in this way will add another dimension to your wrist strengthening routine and help keep your forearms and wrists conditioned for days when you are lifting heavier.

Give them a try and let me know what you think.

Photo At Top

Creative Commons License photo credit: Andrew Mason

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Wrist Strengthening Exercises – Flexibility

A component of  good wrist strengthening exercises is wrist flexibility. Any bodyweight workout will undoubtedly have a push up routine as an essential part. And, while push up benefits most of the upper body, they can put a lot of stress on wrists. Check out the previous post on weak wrist exercises.

As I pointed out in the previous post, when doing most supported body weight exercises on an outstretched hand, the wrist actually bears a good percentage of the body’s weight. If the joint is unstable, out of position, or is not as flexible as it could, or should, be, it could slow your upper body workout routine to a crawl.

The wrist is a small but pretty complex joint. The joint itself has a total of 15 bones that work together to form the joint. 5 of them are actually the hand bones, and 2 others are the arm bones. So, that leaves 8 small bones that actually fill the space between the forearm and hand. The wrist is so complex that any injury to the smallest part can actually lead to some serious dysfunction and nagging pain.

As far as muscles go, there are several muscles that cross the wrist on the front and back sides and then a few on the “sides” of the wrist. But, in general they are divided in to two groups.

First there are the flexors that start on the inside of the upper forearm. These run down the inside of the forearm and cross the wrist on the “palmar” side of the hand. They are responsible for curling your fingers and grabbing/holding on to things, like dumbbells.

The other group is call the extensors. These start on the outside of the elbow, travel down the outside of the forearm and cross the back of the wrist. They are responsible for bending the wrist backward in the “talk to the hand” position. They also are the important in things like twisting motions and gripping motions like the handshake and using scissors.

Keeping both groups of muscles limber and flexible are essential in progressing to upper body body weight workout routine. Whether you are doing regular push ups, handstand push ups, planks, mountain climbers, etc, having flexible wrists is essential.

I found this video that walks through the general positions of wrist stretches. Naturally, you will want to modify them to your personal preferences. There is no magic number of stretches that should be done. But, I have encouraged my patients to “get into a routine” (like brushing your teeth) of doing these stretches to optimize your ability to get the most out of your exercise program.

Keeping your wrists flexible and conditioned is extremely important as you progress with a bodyweight workout routine. This video outlines the general positions that are important in a wrist stretching program. However, once you actually get the hang, and feel of stretching your wrists, you can modify these principles in many different ways to fit your location, your position, and the props that you may have at hand to help.

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Building Muscle Without Weights

parkour: strength, originally uploaded by zenobia_joy.

Strength training without weights is one of the most widely use methods of what’s be coined “functional” exercising. Functional exercises are frequently bodyweight exercises or those that use objects other than traditional weights to challenge the body through a series of tasks. Many like them because they provide a more wholistic fitness experience.

These body weight exercises not only improve all around musculo-skeletal health, but also tend to produce lean, dense muscle when done consistently. This is what gives the person a slimmer, more fit appearance.

Those who spend most of their time in the gym may not believe that constistently doing a workout without weights can produce marked changes in muscle and strength. There is sometimes a “health club bias” for whatever reason. I would simply point to any gymnast, olympic or otherwise, to make my point.

Many ask “how can you do real strength training without using weights? The reason that this takes place has to do more with your brain than it does with whether you use your gym membership or not.

It has been shown that strength gains and muscle growth are dependent on a variety of neurological adaptations which take place as you challenge your body with new and interesting physical tasks. This is especially true when you are just starting out in an exercise program.

On the physical side, these changes include developing greater connections between your brain and muscles, the development of reflex movements, and once the movement is learned the body can devote more energy to building the muscle mass, thus larger muscles. On the cognitive side, it’s a little more involved.

It’s the same concept as learning a new dance step or even learning how to throw a frisbee. What happens during the initial phase is that your mind and body are attempting to learn how to control your muscles to accomplish the desired movement. Whether that is some new dance move, throwing a ball straight, or doing a walking lunge without falling over. This is active participation. This is you actively learning how to perform the exercise.

In your brain, the pre-frontal and motor cortices, and the cerebellum (not to mention other areas) go into overdrive laying the strong neurological infrastructure necessary to support an increase in muscle growth that comes with a regular weight lifting routine.

All of this takes mental focus, determination and repetition prior to muscle growth, in order to fully coordinate the muscles. I suspect that this is the principle behind success with the P90X program and others like it. However, I haven’t read any studies about that program specifically. But, in the end, this is how you learn to do the exercise.

One training suggestion would be to focus on, not just doing the movement, but how you’re doing the movement. Feel your body parts going through the entire range. Get in touch with other areas of your body that, although aren’t the prime movers, are still working just the same. How are they working? What are they doing? Are you working too much? Too little? Feel your body and what it’s doing so you learn to control it faster.

Learning to do any exercise, rather than just doing it, will increase your ability to build muscle without weights and you will undoubtably see more gains with your routine.

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