Although many people try to perform easier exercises to build strength to enable them to perform chin-ups, the best way to progress with the chin-up is to actually do chin-ups! If your strength level is not yet high enough to pull your own weight toward the bar, however, we can use a method called negative chin-ups, or negatives, to put the muscles under enough stress to elicit some serious strength gains.
Negatives are also known as eccentric contractions, which simply means that the muscle being used will be contracting and getting longer (this is exactly the opposite of a concentric, or positive, contraction, in which the muscle is contracting and getting shorter).
As the human body is strongest in the negative phase, it makes it useful for building strength when the positive phase is not yet attainable. For the chin-up, this simply means that we will not be pulling ourselves up toward the bar; instead, we will be beginning from the top of the movement, where the chin is over the bar, and lowering ourselves down to the bottom position as slowly as possible.
Negatives can be used as long as necessary, or until you develop the strength to pull up toward the bar. Do not worry that you will not be practicing actually pulling up; if you stick with negatives, ultimately everything will click and you will simply be able to perform the exercise starting with straight arms.
Exercise instructions for negative or eccentric chin-ups
Here are detailed instructions on how to perform negative pull-ups using the perfect technique to get the most out of this amazing back exercise which will help you to strengthen all the key muscle groups required to perform regular chin-ups and regular pull-ups with ease.
The key idea here is that you will only lower yourself down from the top of the bar rather than pulling yourself up. The concentric (up) portion is completed with a jump or using a box or step, This is, of course, much easier but it still has many benefits. The key is to lower yourself as slowly as possible. The ultimate goal is to do enough negative chin-ups to build the strength required to perform at least one normal chin-up with perfect form.
We are pretty convinced that once you’re able to do 8 negatives in a row, slowly and under control, you should be able to perform at least 1 regular chin-up.
- Grasp a pull-up bar with an underhand grip (palms up and knuckles down), with the hands shoulder-width apart.
- Now stand on a box or step below the pull-up bar you are using. Bend your legs and jump into the air, aiming to get your chin well above the bar as you do so.
- Once you have your chin over the bar, begin to pull as hard as you can. The idea is to “catch” yourself at the top of the movement.
- This is your starting position.
- From this top position, lower yourself down as slowly as you physically can. Squeeze your muscles as hard as possible to generate maximum tension in those parts of the body you are using.
- Keep lowering yourself down until you reach the bottom of the movement, with your arms straight and elbows locked out. Now drop off the bar. This counts as one repetition.
Muscles involved in negative chin-ups
Negative pull-ups work the same muscle groups as regular chin-ups. However, the listed muscles are engaged at a much lower intensity for the reasons already mentioned previously in the article – you are skipping the most difficult part of the movement – the concentric phase (pulling yourself up).
- Main muscles: latissimus dorsi, biceps (short head), teres major
- Secondary muscles: pectoralis major (lower and outside), triceps (long head), teres minor, rhomboids, brachioradialis, biceps (long head), deltoid (front and rear)
- Antagonists: deltoid, pectoralis major (upper), triceps
Coaching points (performance pointers) for negative chin-ups
These additional tips will help you even further with the proper execution of the exercise.
- Do not allow your elbows to flare away from your body as you lower yourself.
- It’s completely up to you to either bend your knees or keep your legs straight while doing this exercise. However, it is important that you squeeze your glutes and muscles in your legs because a rigid body will be easier to control.
- You should not be aiming to perform lots and lots of sets and repetitions.
- Any negative movement is very demanding on the body, so the stresses and strains on the tendons and ligaments are very high. This is because you are lowering yourself down from the bar very very slowly.
- Four sets of one or two repetitions should be more than adequate to elicit some serious strength gains.
Exercise variation / Replacement exercises
You can replace this exercise (along with any other variation of a chin-up/pull-up) with any other back exercise that serves for adding back width. Width exercises place most of their stimulation on the outer edges of the upper and lower lats, helping to emphasize the V-shape. In contrast, rowing back exercises are not a good replacement since they do something totally different to your back – increase back thickness.
Keep in mind that some of the exercises listed below are very advanced! However, they all have one thing in common – they will make your back much wider.
- Wide-grip pull-ups (regular pull-ups)
- Behind-the-neck pull-ups (rear pull-ups)
- Assisted pull-ups
- Commando pull-ups
- Negative pull-ups
- Rock-climber pull-ups
- Towel pullup
- Resistance band-assisted pull-ups
- L-sit pull-ups (L-sit chin-ups)
- Wide Grip Lat Pulldown
- Close-Grip Lat Pulldowns
- Behind the Neck Lat Pulldown
- Eccentric-Focused Lat Pulldown
- Vertical traction exercise
- Machine Lat Pulldown Exercise
- Straight-Arm Lat Pull-Down
Closing thoughts about the negative chin-ups
Negative chin-ups will help develop the muscles and skills necessary for progressing to full movement – where you should be able to perform a full chin-up (both concentric and eccentric parts).