Sometimes a little lesson in fitness terminology is needed, and it’s nothing to be embarrassed by.
Chin-up, pull-up, wide grip, and close grip are all terms that, when used very quickly in a sentence, can seem interchangeable.
They do, however, have very different meanings and very different uses. In this article, we cover the definition of a reverse chin-up, how they are different from their phonetically similar sister exercises, why they are useful, and how to do them correctly.
Let’s get started.
What is a Reverse Chin-up?
Putting all semantics aside for a bit, we present the most commonly accepted definition of these exercises.
A pull-up refers to an exercise where the palms are facing away from you on an overhead bar, and you’re “pulling yourself” up to where the head is level to or above the bar (depending on the exercise).
On the other hand, a chin-up is designated by a palms-in position where you pull your chin up over the bar and back down.
The term “reverse” can sometimes describe the palms-in hand position, referred to as a reverse grip in some other exercises. Sounds redundant, right? In fact, the reverse in “reverse chin-up” does not refer to the grip, but instead isolating the bottom half of the exercise.
While doing a regular chin-up, athletes pull themselves up and down, not using any props, steps, or assistance. With a reverse chin-up, we focus only on the lowering, or extension part of the exercise.
This is done using a jump up to the bar, a step of a stair, and explained in more detail later on in this article.
Reverse chin-ups work a variety of important muscle groups, including the biceps bracchi and the latissimus dorsi.
They are most effective when for isolating these particular muscles, or for beginners who are trying to master the full range of motion progressively.
Reverse Pull-ups vs. Reverse Chin-ups
Having determined that the “reverse” title in both of these exercises does not refer to the grip, let’s discuss the main differences between reverse pull-ups and reverse chin-ups.
As mentioned previously, a pull-up uses a palms-away outward grip and a chin-up a palm-in inward grip.
By completing either of these exercises in reverse, the extension of the muscles at play is the priority.
While both reverse pull-ups and reverse chin-ups target many of the same muscle groups, the main difference is the isolation of the biceps using the chin-up vs. the lats using a pull-up.
Generally speaking, a pull-up is considered harder, especially if the grip is widened to target the upper back and outer shoulders.
Both of these exercises as a reverse are an excellent way for beginners to become accustomed to the muscles involved, and progress slowly to build confidence and avoid injury.
How to Do a Reverse Chin-Up and Recommended Exercises
In order to properly complete a reverse chin-up, you will need to have access to an overhead bar and an elevated platform, chair, or ledge.
If you do not have access to a platform, the exercise can be completed cautiously using a jump.
Start by placing the chair or platform underneath the chin-up bar and adjusting the height so that you can step up onto it comfortably while hanging from the bar.
With a reverse chin-up, the idea is to start the exercise at the top of the bar and lower yourself with your legs free from the platform.
If you do not have a chair or platform that is high enough, you can use a smaller object which allows you to at least hang from the bar and “jump” to the top of the exercise to begin the lowering down.
Some assisted chin-up bar machines may have adjustments that facilitate reverse exercises.
When beginning with reverse chin-ups, be sure to focus on proper technique and a slow lowering of the body. Feel every muscle as you lower to the ground or platform, and get a feel for which ones are activated.
As a general rule, chin-ups and pull-ups can safely be repeated “to failure,” meaning until your arms and shoulders won’t let you complete anymore.
With some practice, you’ll quickly gain perspective on what we mean by a physical failure, and what could be a mental failure. Mental strength is a fascinating aspect of chin-ups and pull-up.
Benefits of Reverse Chin-Ups
While many professionals have their preferences regarding these exercises, there are some understood benefits to doing chin-ups and reverse chin-ups.
While using an inward grip, it places the shoulder in an external rotation vs. an internal rotation.
Doing so gives the shoulder joint more space and flexibility to rotate, causing less pressure on the muscles surrounding it. For those that are new to chin-ups, this externally rotated position is much more comfortable and doesn’t feel as unnatural as a pull-up position.
Ease of Progress, Reduction of Injury
For those who are new to chin-ups, it’s important to progress slowly and build strength in the many muscle groups involved in the exercise.
Reverse chin-ups provide a way for beginners to ease into completing a full chin-up by focusing only on the lowering half of the exercise.
When attempting a reverse chin-up, the desire to quickly contract the muscles is eliminated, preventing injury and putting an emphasis on safety.
Talk to anyone who enjoys chin-ups, and they will most likely admit that it’s a mental exercise as much as a physical one. Completing chin-up challenges is a great way to progress safely while motivating yourself to continue the pyramid. Read on to start a learn about a chin-up challenge for beginners you can start today.
Reverse Chin-up Challenge
Now that you have the insight on how to complete a reverse chin-up, it’s time to challenge yourself.
This reverse chin-up challenge aims to build confidence and strength so you can move towards a full chin-up.
If you are already capable of completing a full chin-up and use the reverse chin-up merely to isolate muscles, you might not find this challenge enticing.
Begin with a high chair, box, or medicine ball that allows you to be as close to the top of the chin-up bar as possible. As you progress through this challenge, the aim is to gradually lower the assisted support platform and work towards a full chin-up.
3 Sets of reverse chin-ups to failure.
- Start as high as possible on the platform.
3 Sets of reverse chin-ups to failure
- Lower platform and “jump” to the top of the bar, lowering slowly.
3 Sets of reverse chin-ups to failure
- With a lowered platform, start with a 45-90° extension at the elbows and slowly pull yourself to the top of the bar before lowering down.
3 Sets of full chin-ups to failure.
- Getting rid of the platform, try and pull yourself from the ground or hanging position. If not possible yet, add back in the small platform or “jump” and continue progression.
Chris is an experienced Calisthenics practitioner focused on isometric exercises and street workout. He founded thehybridathlete.com in 2017, which was subsequently acquired by theyhybridathlete.com
He is based in Portland and has been working out using solely his own body weight and bars for the past 6 years.