Category Archives: Chin ups

10 Challenging New Ways to Chin up and Row

Here’s what you need to know…

• A big back is built from heavy deadlifts, chin-ups, and rows.
• While chin-ups and rows are very effective, you can stall out quickly without the right challenging variations.
• These ten variations are brutally hard and brutally effective.

It’s time to add some painful new back development tools to your toolbox. Here are my favorite new twists on the chin-up and row.

1. “Fly Away” Ring Chins

Ring chin-ups are easier on the elbows and shoulders while allowing you to supinate your hands throughout the pull, making for a huge contraction in your upper back.
To up the ante on ring chins, try “fly away” ring chins. Pull yourself up normally, making sure to pull all the way to your sternum, but flare your elbows out to the sides and pull them back on the eccentric, almost as if you’re doing a front double biceps pose and trying to pull the rings apart.

Fly-Away Ring Chins

2. Sternum “Plank” Chin-ups

Sternum Plank Chin-ups

I love Gironda sternum chin-ups, but they can be problematic for some.
Sternum plank chin-ups may be a better option. They smoke the upper back in a similar fashion, but they’re a lot more “user-friendly.”
For one, they’re safer because you aren’t asking your body to bend backwards excessively. They’re also easier, so more people will be able to do them. Granted, they still aren’t easy by any means and should definitely be considered a more advanced variation, but once you can comfortably do 10+ regular chin-ups with good form, they should be well within your grasp.

Lean way back as you pull yourself up, just as you would with a regular sternum chin-up, but rather than arch your back excessively, keep your entire body as straight as a board the whole time. Pull until your lower chest touches the bar and lower back down under control. The more you lean back, the harder it is.
As an added bonus, they double as one hell of a core exercise if you do them correctly.

3. Slow Tempo Chin-ups

I almost never advocate using an intentionally slow concentric. Chin-ups – and on rare occasions glute-ham raises, if I’m feeling particularly masochistic – are really the only exceptions.
I may subconsciously like slower tempo chin-ups just because they’re the complete antithesis to the kipping pull-up craze, which I don’t like. I much prefer strict chin-ups for back development purposes.
In any case, slow tempo chin-ups can be a good choice for people who are already strong on chin-ups and want to work their back while giving their joints a little break. I don’t do them often, but they’re a great occasional substitute on those days when your elbows might not be feeling quite up to snuff.
You don’t have to go overboard and do crazy long concentrics, but just slow it down a little bit on both the eccentric and concentric – maybe 3-5 seconds or so on each.


Slow Tempo Chin-ups

If you’ve never tried these before, you’ll be surprised how much harder it feels just slowing it down a little. You’ll also be surprised how much they torch your back and arms.

4. Side-to-Side Chin-ups

Side-to-side chin-ups are a good way to increase the difficulty of regular chin-ups and add in a unilateral component in a way that’s nowhere near as a challenging as a true one-arm chin-up.
Grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip with either a pronated or supinated grip. From there, pull yourself up at an angle towards one hand, lower back down under control, and then pull yourself up to the other side in the same fashion.

Side-to-Side Chinups

The wider your grip, the more you’ll bias one side over the other and the harder it’ll be, so start with your hands closer together and move your grip out as you improve.

5. Split-Stance Rack Rows

As someone with a history of lower back issues, I’m not a fan of traditional barbell rows because they put undue stress on the lower back, and the sizeable risk just doesn’t outweigh the reward when there are so many other options to choose from.
Not to mention, you hardly ever see them done well and the “row” usually deteriorates into something that resembles a monkey humping a football.
Dead-stop rows (otherwise known as Pendlay rows) are better because the pause helps to keep the set under control and minimize cheating, but most people can’t lower the bar all the way down to the floor without rounding their lower back, again making it a risky choice.
To make barbell rows more lower-back friendly, try split stance rack rows. Set the bar up in a power rack at a point where you can bend over and still keep a flat back, which will be somewhere between mid-shin and knee level.
Next, address the bar with a split stance with the feet spaced about a foot apart, choosing whichever grip you like best. From there, row just like you would a regular barbell row, resetting the bar on the pins after each rep.

I like these better than regular barbell rows for a few reasons:

Split Stance Rack Rows

  • Rowing from the pins lets you work in a range of motion that you can do safely.
  • Using a split stance helps take a lot of stress off the lower back by allowing you to post up on the front leg (you should feel this in your glutes). You’ll find it’s much harder to round your back in a split stance than a symmetrical stance because the front leg serves almost like a safety brake, so it helps ensure that you maintain good alignment.
  • The split stance discourages you from cheating too much because it’s harder to get leg drive, making for a stricter row that you’ll feel more in the upper back and less in the lower back, which is what we’re going for.

These also work great if you have the Dead-Squat™ Bar because you can take a wider stance without the bar hitting your front leg, and you can pull back farther at the top because you don’t have to worry about the bar hitting your chest, making for a huge contraction.
It also allows for a semi-supinated grip, which I love because it hits the lats in much the same way as an underhand barbell row without the undue stress on the wrists that you get from a straight bar.
Here it is in action:

Split Stance Rack Rows (Dead Squat Bar)

With both of these exercises, alternate which leg you place forward each set.

6. Split-Stance “Scrape the Rack” Rows

Split Stance “Scrape the Rack” Rows

This is similar to the Dead Squat exercise above, only this time set up with the bar flush against the rails of the power rack and keep it pressed against the rack the whole time. You won’t be able to handle as much weight, but it feels great and takes even more stress off the lower back.

Unfortunately, these don’t really work with the straight bar because the front leg gets in the way.

7. Supported Meadows Rows

Landmine Rows

These are Meadows Rows with a lower back friendly twist. I like John’s exercise a lot, but given my history of lower back issues, I feel better having the bench for support.
To do them, put a barbell in a landmine unit (or securely in a corner if you don’t have a landmine) perpendicular to a bench and row just as you would with a regular dumbbell row. Once you’ve finished with one arm, leave the bar right where it is and just turn around on the same side of the bench and do the other arm.
Like so:

I recommend using straps when you go heavy or else your grip will greatly limit the amount of weight you can handle.

8. Band-Resisted Trap Bar Rows

Dead Squat Bar Band-Resisted Rows

In a previous article about trap bar deadlifts, I showed a simple way to add band resistance by looping a band around the sleeves of the bar and standing on top of it.
This method also works really well for rows with the trap bar and/or Dead-Squat™ Bar.

Remember that the purpose of the bands for rows is different than it is for things like deadlifts, squats, and bench presses. For those exercises, bands mimic the strength curve, so they provide less tension at the bottom portion of the rep where you’re weakest, and provide incrementally more tension throughout the rep as your gain a greater mechanical advantage.
For band-resisted rows, though, the tension is actually greatest where you’re the weakest, at lockout. This doesn’t do you a whole lot of favors as far as strength is concerned (so plan to use less weight than you would for a regular row), but it makes for one hell of a contraction and fries your upper back and lats.
To maximize the effect of the bands, try holding each rep for a second at the top.

9. Wide Grip “Elbows Out” Inverted Rows

Wide Grip “Elbows Out” Inverted Rows

These are inverted rows performed with the hands set wider than normal and your elbows flared out instead of tucking them in close to your sides as you would with a regular inverted rows.

If you’ve ever done a wide grip, elbows out barbell row, it’s very similar to that, only without the lower back stress. You’ll feel it differently than a regular inverted row, too. While it works more-or-less the same muscles, there’s proportionally more stress on the rear delts, so if that’s something you’re looking for, it’s a great choice.
You don’t need suspension straps to do them, but they enhance the exercise greatly because they allow you to use a neutral grip. I actually prefer somewhere between a neutral and pronated grip, but the point is that the straps allow you to pick the hand position that’s most comfortable for you rather than being locked into a fixed hand position.
To keep the straps from sliding inward, hang them from either side of a power rack rather than hanging them together from the front.
If you don’t have straps, just grab the bar with a wider grip.
These are quite a bit harder than regular inverted rows, so you’ll probably want to start with your feet on the floor and progress to elevating them on a bench as you get used to the movement.

10. Inverted “X” Rows

Inverted “X” Rows

You want to start with the straps set far apart from each other, so if you’re doing them in the power rack, hang the straps from the sides. From there, grab the right strap with the left hand and the left strap with the right hand and row as normal.

These feel quite different from regular inverted rows, in a good way. With a regular inverted row you’re pulling straight up, whereas here you’re pulling up and out to counteract the straps trying to pull your arms inward. This pulling action makes for an awesome contraction, especially if you try to hold each rep at the top for a second.
These are definitely harder than regular inverted rows, so keep that in mind and make sure you’ve mastered the necessary progressions before trying them.

Now Go Buy Some Bigger Shirts

Try some of these exercises and enjoy the upper back growth that comes along with them. Just don’t get mad at me if your shirts start splitting at the seams and you’re forced to buy new ones.

Top 10 Exercises to Achieve an Athletic Build



An athletic build is desired by many, it is similar to that of a bodybuilder but they are not the same. While a bodybuilder is built for size and strength an athletes body is built for power, speed, quickness, explosiveness and agility. Typically the body of a bodybuilder is more bulky, sometimes VERY bulky. The body of an an athlete is usually more slight. Then there is a grey area where some athletes look like bodybuilders. If you want an athletic build you need to train like an athlete does. These are the top 10 exercises athletes do to give you an athletic build.

1) Power Cleans

Power cleans and other types of cleans are a mainstay in most athletic programs. Cleans are a total body exercise that use  your quads, calves, hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, deltoids, traps, and forearms, as well as the core muscles that come into play to stabilize your spine throughout the movement. Cleans develop power and explosiveness essential to an athlete. If an athlete could only do one exercise this would probably be it and if you can only do one exercise to achieve an athletic build this should be it as well.
power clean athletic build

2) Squats

Squats are the king of the lower body exercises. Any athlete who needs power in his lower body is doing squats. Don’t be one of those people with a built upper body and chicken legs. Squats  target a number of different muscle groups all over the body: the core muscles including the abdominals and lower back, the glutes, and the thigh muscles. Hit the squats hard and hit them often.
Squats for athletic build

3) Bench Press

If the squats are king of the lower body the bench press is the king of the upper body. Athletes that need upper body power use this as a mainstay of their training. The bench works the chest, shoulders, triceps, and even the abs are used to help generate power and stability. Whether you do it with a barbell or dumbbells the bench press is a must.
Bench press for athletic build

4) Sprints

Sprints are another biggie in an athletes training, athletes not only want power and explosiveness but as the old saying goes “speed kills!”  Speed can be a huge asset to to many athletes, whether it is going deep on a  passing route, a fast break in basketball, or stealing second base in baseball, having speed is essential. Not only does sprinting build speed but doing sprints in interval training will burn fat like crazy which we talked about in this article. If you haven’t noticed pretty much all sprinters have athletic build.
Athletic buildsprinter athletic build

5) Core Training

Athletes need to have a strong core and I am sure you are looking to have a six pack with your athletic build so you will need to do core training. Hanging leg raises, planks (both front and side) and crunches will get your core tight and strong.
Athletic build

6) Chin ups

Chin ups are common exercise for many athletes as part of their training to improve pulling movements, they will also help you get that nice  V-shape we all love.
chin up athletic exercisechin up crossfit athletic

7) Shoulder Press

Strong shoulders are a must in many sports for pushing movements. Shoulder presses not only work the deltoids but the triceps, lats and traps as well,  they are also a must for an athletic build.
Shoulder Press

8) Rows

Rows build strength for pulling movements useful in wrestling, football and other sports. They work primarily the lats and traps as well as the biceps and shoulders. Doing rows add thickness to the back muscles.
athlete barbell row

9) Close Grip Bench Press

The close grip bench is used for athletes to strengthen pushing movements, unlike the bench press the close grip bench press focuses on the triceps as the primary muscle rather than the chest.
Close Grip Bench Athlete Build

10) Lunges

Lunges are widely used to build strength in the quads, glutes and hips. They will also help you get a nice round butt we all like.
walking lunge athletic build

Honorable mention- Plyometrics

Plyometrics are very popular with athletes to build explosiveness, quickness and agility. They involve many different jumps and other movements. The most common type of plyometrics you see a conventional gym is usually box jumps. Use caution when doing these as they can lead to injury if you are not in good shape or do them incorrectly.

box jump plyos athletic
There you have the top 10 exercises you need to get you an athletic body. Notice all the exercises on the list are compound movements that use multiple muscles at the same time.  Athletes generally do not do isolated movements like bicep curls or calf raises as part of their every day training, you can feel free to mix in movements like that if you desire however.
Ryan Douglas
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