Doing a chin-up is a fitness milestone that many beginners, and even more advanced athletes, aspire to. As with doing a regular pull-up, being able to perform a chin-up demonstrates an impressive strength-to-weight ratio.
Additionally, once you master the right technique and have the strength to perform chin-ups, adding this exercise into your workout routine is a great way to strengthen numerous muscle groups in your arms, shoulders, upper back, and core with minimal equipment.
However, chin-ups are quite difficult, and you have to have access to a chin-up bar in order to perform them properly, making the chin-up exercise unworkable for anyone without adequate strength or the necessary equipment.
In these cases, knowing the best chin-up alternatives will help you get some of the same strengthening benefits of chin-ups with alternative chin-up exercises.
In this article, we will explain the benefits of alternatives to chin-ups and then provide some of the best chin-up alternatives for various needs and fitness levels.
We will cover:
- What Is a Chin-Up?
- Benefits of Chin-Up Alternatives
- The Best Chin-Up Alternatives
Let’s jump in!
What Is a Chin-Up?
A chin-up is a bodyweight exercise that involves hanging from an overhead bar and then using the muscles in your arms, shoulders, core, and back to lift your body up such that your head (and chin) and neck clear the bar. Some people even bring their chest up to the level of the bar.
Chin-ups are very similar to pull-ups. The only difference lies in the grip pattern or hand position used.
With pull-ups, you use a pronated or overhand grip (palms facing away from your face) with your hands spaced slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
When performing chin-ups, the hand position is reversed, meaning that you use a supinated or underhand grip with your palms facing your face.
Oftentimes, the hand spacing with chin-ups is also closer together than it is with pull-ups. However, with both exercises, modifying the distance between your two hands is employed in different variations to target slightly different muscle fibers.
Chin-ups and pull-ups both target the same muscle groups for all intents and purposes, but the relative reliance on the muscle groups varies depending on the exercise.
Changing the hand grip between the two exercises (underhand vs. overhand with chin-ups vs. pull-ups) position targets the muscles differently.
Benefits of Chin-Up Alternatives
There are three main reasons why people seek chin-up alternatives or chin-up substitutes.
First and foremost, chin-ups, like pull-ups, are an extremely challenging bodyweight exercise, particularly for beginners or those who have a higher body fat percentage or limited upper body strength. When your strength-to-weight ratio isn’t very good, being able to hoist your body weight up with just your arms is quite demanding.
In these cases, chin-up alternatives that are beginner-friendly or chin-up modifications that are easier will allow you to develop the muscular strength to eventually perform regular chin-ups.
Secondly, many people don’t have access to a chin-up bar or a pull-up bar in their home gym or wherever they are working out.
A chin-up bar has to be mounted somewhere where the foundation can support your full body weight without question, and some of the door frame pull-up bars require permanent mounting, which can be an eyesore and deterrent to getting one.
If you want to do home workouts but don’t have access to a chin-up bar, you’ll need chin-up substitutes to either swap in if you are following a guided online workout class or video that is relying on chin-ups or that will work the same muscles used during chin-ups if you want to replicate the strengthening benefits of chin-ups without the equipment.
Basically, these types of chin-up alternatives use different exercise equipment to strengthen the same muscle groups targeted with chin-ups.
Finally, even if you work out at the gym or have access to a pull-up bar for chin-ups, it can be helpful to know of alternatives to throw into your workout routine to add more variety and challenge your muscle groups with different exercises and movement patterns to develop more well-rounded strength.
As in the case of not having access to a bar for chin-ups, these types of chin-up substitute exercises should target the same muscle groups, but instead, they may or may not use a chin-up bar.
For example, there are different ways to modify chin-ups, including performing pull-ups, to work some of the same muscles but in a slightly varied way to augment your fitness.
The Best Alternatives to Chin-Ups
As just discussed, the best chin up alternatives will depend on the primary reason why you are seeking a substitute for chin-ups.
Here are some great chin-up alternatives to try out:
#1: Assisted Chin-Ups
If the primary reason why you need an alternative to chin-ups is that you can’t yet perform chin-ups due to a lack of adequate strength, modifying chin-ups for beginners is a great way to practice the exercise and develop the necessary strength without needing to support your entire body weight.
There are two primary ways to perform assisted chin-ups, both of which reduce the relative workload on your muscles by offsetting some of your body weight.
Assisted Pull-Up Machine
The first option is to use an assisted pull-up machine. This is a weight machine that has an overhead bar or handles and a platform that you kneel on. You can select how much weight you want to effectively “remove“ from your own body weight, and the machine will provide that much assistance as you perform the exercise.
For example, if you weigh 180 pounds, you can set the machine to 80 pounds, and then you will essentially be doing a chin-up as if you weighed only 100 pounds because the machine provides 80 pounds of assistance.
Unlike most weight machines, the higher the weight you select on the machine, the easier the exercise becomes because you’ll be receiving more assistance or more offloading of your own body weight.
As you get stronger, you can use less and less assistance, decreasing the weight that you set the assisted pull-up machine to.
Resistance Band Chin-Up
The other option for performing assisted chin-ups is to use a regular pull-up or chin-up bar but strap a resistance band under your legs and over the top of the bar.
As the resistance band tries to contract back from its stretched position, it helps lift your body up as you perform the chin-up.
The thicker and wider the resistance band you use, the more assistance and easier your chin-up exercise will become.
As you get stronger, you can use a thinner resistance band.
#2: Negative Chin-Ups
Another good chin-up alternative for beginners who are still trying to develop enough strength to perform regular chin-ups is to just focus on the eccentric, or lowering portion of the exercise. This is termed negative chin-ups.
The eccentric portion is the easier part of the exercise because you are working with gravity rather than fighting gravity.
Simply start at the top position of the chin-up, with your head and neck over the bar, and then slowly lower your body down with control until your arms are fully extended. The slower you can go, the better; then use a box or jump back up to the top position and continue performing negative chin-ups.
As you get stronger, you can start trying to incorporate the concentric, or lifting portion of the exercise by trying to raise your body at least part-way up.
#3: Dead Hangs
Dead hangs involve hanging from the chin-up bar with your arms fully extended. Dead hangs are typically done when training to do pull-ups with the pull-up grip, but you can also perform a deadhead using a chin-up grip.
This exercise will strengthen your shoulders and improve your grip strength. You can also hang in the top position with your biceps contracted, performing an isometric hold with your chin over the bar. This will strengthen the muscles used in chin-ups.
#4: The Best Chin-Up Exercise Alternatives
When you need chin-up alternatives due to a lack of equipment or because you want to strengthen the muscles used in chin-ups in different ways, some of the best substitutes for chin-ups include:
Pull-ups, bent-over rows, Pendlay rows, lat pull-downs, face pulls, straight-arm pulldowns, inverted rows (bodyweight), T-bar or barbell rows, renegade rows, and deadlifts.
Supplementary exercises like bicep curls, hammer curls, captain’s chair, and hanging leg raises can also help strengthen the muscles used in chin-ups.
Keeping your workout routine varied, and staying consistent in your training, will help you progress your chin-up performance and strengthen the muscles used for chin-ups. For a complete beginners pull-up program, read our helpful guide: Pull Up Workout Plan For Beginners, The 8 Best Exericses That Will Get You There.