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We’ve all grabbed a bar and tried to hit a few chin up reps before – whether it’s at the gym or down at the park as a kid, it’s almost an instinct to try and do a set of chin-ups when a bar presents itself! As mature(ish) adults we like to take things more seriously, so if we want to actually TRAIN our chin up, just what grip width should we use to get the most bang for our training-buck?
At a glance…
- Most people should start with a ‘normal’, shoulder width grip for their chin ups
- Narrow grip chin ups are an excellent variation for those with elbow injuries
- Once you can do multiple sets of around 10 reps progress to a narrow grip, weighted chin up
- Wide grip chin ups can cause elbow and wrist discomfort so I do not regularly perform or recommend them
- Grip is one thing – but don’t forget your FORM when performing the movement!
How wide should your chin-up grip be?
If you are new to chin ups then start with a grip that places your hands just outside shoulder width apart. This is a ‘normal’ grip chin up. Train this grip width until you can do multiple sets of 10 reps then consider adding some variety to your chins through grip changes or by adding weight with a dip belt or similar.
A narrow grip chin up has the hands closer together – anywhere from shoulder width to touching each other would count as a narrow grip chin up. A narrow grip is the best for those who have a history of wrist or elbow pain as it stresses these joints out the least. It also typically feels the easiest to complete due to the level of bicep and chest muscle involvement so is an excellent grip width for weighted chin ups.
Wide grip by contrast is the harshest on your elbows, with the least chest involvement.
Wide vs narrow grip
While both a narrow and wide grip involve the biceps heavily, there are differences in the other areas of the body which also contribute:
Why are narrow grip chin-ups easier?
The narrower the grip the MORE your biceps and pecs contribute to the movement and the LESS your upper back has to do. As we generally have stronger chest muscles this makes a chin up feel easier when done with a narrow grip.
Of course whether we want to train our pecs even more with our chin up is another question – EASIER is not always equal to BETTER.
Are wide grip chin-ups good?
No, wide grip chin ups are not particularly good. This is because it puts your wrists and elbows into a stressful position and can lead to injury or aggravation of these joints. Some even suffer rotator cuff issues when going wide. The trade off of injury risk means I rarely work wider grip chins.
A wide grip chin up feels harder than a normal or narrow grip as there is even less pec or chest muscle involvement and the shift is almost entirely on biceps and back.
So what grip is best for chin-ups overall?
The best chin up grip for you will depend on your objectives – for MOST people I would recommend a standard shoulder-width grip until they are able to complete multiple sets of 10. I would move to a narrow, weighted variation as a way to progress the movement from that point onwards, cycling between the two each training week.
Personally I do not think there is sufficient value in the wide grip chin up to make it worth training seriously given the risks of elbow agitation. Note that wide grip PULL UPS are excellent and I LOVE training these – but the supinated grip in a chin up really compromises the elbow.
There is more to a chin up than just the grip…
While grip width is an important factor, there are PLENTY of other things to focus on when getting the reps in. Consider:
- Consciously SQUEEZE the scapula – when performing reps it is easy to let sloppiness creep in – focus on SQUEEZING the scapula at the top of each rep as a reminder to hit the full range of motion
- Height of reps – aim to have your head clear the bar with each rep. The squeeze at the top of the rep really contributes to the mind-muscle connection!
- Bracing – stop yourself from swinging wildly when repping, instead use your abs and core to brace yourself through the movement. This is harder than it sounds!
- Optional: Try a ‘hollow chest’ – by pushing your chest OUT and creating a back arch you can shift the emphasis of the pull to hit subtly different muscles. Try it out and FEEL the difference!
Chin ups are a fantastic way to train your back and biceps and are one of the BEST ways to add some serious thickness to your upper body. Chin up grip width is an important factor – start with a shoulder width grip until you can get multiple sets of 10+ reps. From that point onwards add in a weighted, narrow grip variation to keep progressing. Good luck!
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