Today I want to share a chin-up variation that I’ve been using a lot the past three months with my clients: kneeling chin-ups.
As the name suggests, it’s just chin-ups done starting from the knees. Here’s a video of my client Ryan doing a set.
I first experimented with these because I was training a very tall basketball in a gym where the chin-up bar was too short for him to be able to do chin-ups with a full range of motion. I had him start from the floor on his knees and set the bar in a power rack to a level that allowed him to get a full range of motion. It allowed him to do chin-ups, but even more than that, I started to like the way the chin-ups looked even better than when he did them normally. So I started doing it with both myself and some more of my clients, and I really like it as a variation for guys that can already do 6-8 regular chin-ups.
The most obvious benefit of this exercise is that it allows taller guys to do chin-ups with a full range of motion. However, it also addresses some of the problems that I often see with chin-ups.
Any trainer or strength coach will tell you that getting clients to go all the way down on chin-ups is an ongoing battle. If you’re lucky your clients will give you a few good reps, but they’ll almost inevitably start cutting them short as the set goes on. When you start on your knees, the floor serves as a depth gauge, similar to the idea of squatting to a box. If you set the bar up initially so that you start in a position where your arms are straight, then you know that if you touch your knees to the floor, you went all the down. If your knees don’t touch, you didn’t. Simple.
Some people get shoulder pain in the dead hang position of chin-ups though, so this variation allows you to achieve full extension without stressing the shoulders in the bottom position.
Beyond ensuring a full range of motion, I’ve noticed that this variation really eliminates, or at least drastically minimizes, swinging and kipping, which are pet peeves of mine. I guess you could call these “Anti Kipping Pullups”
For stronger people I like to have start each rep from a dead stop position like Ryan is doing in the video above. This makes the exercise much harder though, so I reserve it for people that can already do 10-12 regular chin-ups. As a frame of reference, guys that can do 10-12 regular chins will do about 6-7 good reps from the kneeling position from a dead stop. Otherwise, if paused chin-ups are too hard, you can still do them from the kneeling position but just lightly tap the floor each rep without pausing.
You can also do kneeling chin-ups from the rings, which I also like. Just set the rings at a position that allows full arm extension and have at it. Like this:
Give these are try, and remember that you can subscribe to my You Tube page for more video demos.
As my friends and training partners know, I’m a creature of habit and my own training tends to be pretty consistent and predictable. If you’ve trained with me at all in the past 6-7 years then you pretty much know how I train because it doesn’t change too much. I’ve found a style of training that works well for me and that I enjoy, and I’ve found exercises that work best for my body that allow me to train hard and get stronger without pissing off my injuries.
Whereas some people like to do a bunch of different exercises in a given workout, I usually do 2-3 exercises in a given workout and find that works better for me. I also tend to stick to moderate rep ranges (8-12 on upper body and 10-15 on lower body) whereas a lot of people like to go heavier in the 3-5 rep range. Different strokes for different folks, but training in moderate rep ranges allows me to get stronger without beating up my joints. I also don’t do much dedicated cardio, or conditioning, or whatever you want to call it except for a few high intensity intervals here and there to test myself, but never anything structured.
Starting two weeks ago though, I decided to try a new challenge which I must admit is way outside my comfort zone and my usual style of training.
I’ve become friends with a trainer named Peter Park who trains a lot of high level endurance athletes and is also a high level endurance athlete himself. He’s very smart on that front, and for the next 10 weeks he is going to help me improve my 2,000 meter row on the Concept 2 ergometer. For endurance type people I’m sure a 2,000 row doesn’t seem like an endurance event, but for me, it most certainly is. I’m still going to be doing my usual lifting, but I’m going to be doing three conditioning workouts a week geared towards helping my improve my performance. I’m wearing a heart rate monitor for all my workouts, and he’s teaching me about the different workout protcols. In exchange, I’m doing to help him try to increase his deadlift. We check in regularly and help each other alter the training as needed.
Truth be told, I’m not doing this to improve my conditioning or lose weight or anything like that. I’m doing it as a learning experience. I’m not afraid to admit my weaknesses and I feel that as a trainer it’s very important to always be learning and pursing more knowledge. I’ve learned a lot already, and while the training itself is well outside my comfort zone, it will make me a better, more well-rounded trainer.
The first step was establishing a baseline for the 2,000 row, which I must admit was one of the most horrible things I’ve done in the gym. I did it once with absolutely no idea of how to pace it and got 7:06, then after that I got a little better idea of how to pace myself and did it in 6:57, which was brutal. My time doesn’t hold a candle to competitive rowers, but you gotta start somewhere.
One of my best friends in college was on the crew team, so I sent him a video clip of my form and asked him for advice, and I have some work to do on that front as well.
From here I’ll be doing three workouts a week as directed. I’ve done three already, and as much as I thought I’d hate it, I’m actually enjoying it. Part of me enjoys the actual rowing, but more of me enjoys the idea of learning something new, so I’m just approaching with an open mind and I’m excited to learn some new stuff.
Here’s a video of me doing a tabata on the rower (20 seconds on, 10 seconds off for eight rounds), which was definitely tough.
I look forward to the process of trying to improve my 2,000m time and learning a lot of good info along the way. Any time you have a chance to learn something new from someone who really knows that area well, you only stand to get better and I think you should jump at it. So, I’m jumping at it.
I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.
Being tall definitely has its advantages and truth be told, I’ve often wished I was a little taller myself, but squatting is one thing where being taller is a disadvantage. Taller people tend to struggle with squats in general, and as a trainer, I struggle to teach them to squat well with good form. Shorter people tend to pick up squats relatively quickly, but for taller people it’s an ongoing battle.
The biggest thing you see with taller people is that they tend to fall forward as they squat down. And once you lose your position on the eccentric, it’s very tough—if not impossible—to get it back, leading to ugly squats that resemble more of good morning.
Generally when I’m working with taller people I’ve found front squats or goblet squats to work better than back squats.
More recently, I’ve also been using “double pause” front squats, and it’s really helped clean up the squat pattern while also giving a great training effect. Pause halfway down in the down in the quarter squat position and then pause again in the bottom position before coming back up. These are great for people who struggle to keep good posture and have a tendency to fall forward during front squats. Pausing halfway down ensures that you’re in the proper position and in control of the weight on the eccentric, and then pausing at the bottom helps to ensure that you’re not bouncing out of the hole. The pauses also make it a lot harder, meaning you won’t be using as much weight as regular front squats, so it’s easier to hold the bar while still giving your legs a great training effect.
Here is a clip of my client Ryan (who is 6’3”) knocking out a set with really nice form.
Of course these aren’t just for taller people and anyone can do them, but I’ve found them to be particularly useful for taller people both as a teaching tool and as a way to get a good training effect for the legs, as the pauses will really challenge you.
Also, if you missed it Monday, check out this simple way to add bands to front squats without a fancy rack.
Today I want to share a simple but really great way to add band tension to front squats.
Bands (and chains as well) give a unique stimulus by providing accommodating resistance, which means there’s less tension at the bottom of the squat and more tension at the top. Accommodating resistance is great for working on being fast and explosive coming out of the hole, but it can also be useful for folks with knee and/or lower back issues because it deloads the bottom portion of the rep where things can get dicey if you’re not careful.
Trouble is, not many gyms have chains lying around or a power rack with band pegs. If you have those things, consider yourself lucky and make use of them to the fullest.
If you don’t, here’s a simple way to use a basic band to create accommodating resistance, no fancy rack required.
You basically just loop the band around the bar, space it out at the top to slightly wider than shoulder width, then stand on the band and front squat as usual.
It helps to start from the bottom position with the bar on the pins of a safety rack so you don’t have to walk it out from the rack with the bands of your feet. You can do this if need be, but it’s very awkward. So I start from the bottom.
Here’s a video to show you what it looks like. I filmed myself getting ready so you can see how to set the bands up.
I’ve also utilized the bands for drop sets where I start with band-resisted front squats then remove the band(s) and continue squatting with whatever weight on had on the bar. I like these a lot because the bands reinforce the idea of being explosive out of the hole, so when you remove the bands the weight feels easier. Also just from a logistical standpoint, it’s a lot easier to remove the bands than it is to strip plates, especially if you plan on doing multiple sets and don’t want to fuss around with loading and unloading the bar (that’s one of my biggest pet peeves, personally).
Here’s what it looks like in action.
Beware: these are brutal and will torch your legs and core.
I’m often asked “How much tension do the bands add?” Truth is, I have no idea, and it’ll vary for person to person anyway based on height, stance width, etc.
I wouldn’t worry about. Just be consistent with your setup and use the same bands and you’ll be fine. As a point of reference, in the second video, I used a mini band and monster mini band in the second video and it felt like a lot of tension, especially at the top.
Give these a try and play around with different band tension and let me know what you think.
Remember too that you can subscribe to my You Tube page for more video demos.
Also, I’ve recently been using Instagram more than other forms of social media, so follow along HERE.
I’ve long been a fan of Dan John’s batwing row idea, which is essentially a chest supported row iso hold. I’ve also applied that same concept to inverted rows (see here), and now I want to share something I’ve been doing recently with unsupported one-arm dumbbell rows that I really, really like.
Doing an iso hold with unsupported dumbbell rows changes it from more of an upper back exercise to a really tough full body challenge.
Get in a split stance with a stable base and hinge forward at the hips until just before the point where your stomach rests on the front leg. From there, grab a dumbbell in opposite hand of the front leg and row it up to your side until the dumbbell is touching your shirt. Hold that position for as long as possible.
Keep your torso steady and do not allow yourself to move up or down or rotate side-to-side. Your torso should be just above parallel to the floor with your shoulders square. Also make sure to keep the dumbbell pressed against your shirt. This ensures that you’re getting sufficient range of motion while avoiding anterior humeral glide that can result from pulling back too far. The set ends when you can no longer hold the dumbbell tight to your body or when you lose your starting torso position. In the video above, I have a bar set up in the rack so you can see my body position in relation to the bar to see if I move at all.
Start by choosing a weight you can hold for 20 seconds and build up to 45 seconds. From there, increase the weight and continue shooting for 45 seconds. Push yourself, but not at the expense of good form. Here I’m using 75 pounds. As you can see from the video if you look closely, this is more than just a back exercise and my entire body is shaking as I try to stay steady—core and legs included. You’ll feel these just about everywhere, but especially the back, forearms, abs, and glutes.
Do 1-2 sets at the end of your upper body workout, resting at least a minute between sides.
I’d be curious what you think and how you do with it, so if you try it out, leave a comment below letting me know how it went and how much weight you were able to do compared to what you can do for normal dumbbell rows.
Remember that you can also subscribe to my You Tube page for more exercise demos.
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