The most often asked gym question is, ‘How much do you bench?’ No one ever asks how much you chin up, but they should. Although the bench press is a fantastic exercise to add upper body size and strength, the chin up, in my opinion, is the gold standard when it comes to upper body strength. It’s you versus gravity; you can either pull up to the bar or not and that’s what makes rack chin-ups a great exercise to add to your back routine.
There is none of ‘it’s all you, bro’ as the spotter peels the barbell from a lifter’s chest. As great as chinups are for the upper back and lats, there is a way to target the lats for more significant hypertrophy by putting your feet up.
Feet up what, you ask?
Let Gareth Sapstead (MSc CSCS), a sought-after physique training specialist, Olympian Coach, and Author of Ultimate Abs, explain the benefits of the rack chin-ups.
What Makes The Basic Chinup a Standard
We could go on and on about the effectiveness of chinups, but Sapstead will keep it short and sweet before getting to the good stuff.
“Regular chinups are a time-tested classic for building muscle and strength. Everyone should be able to perform just one set of double-digit reps to show off their relative strength.From a hypertrophy standpoint, the lats and upper back receive excellent stimulation using an underhand grip, especially in the lengthened range of motion, triggering stretch-mediated hypertrophy. This is only if you’re using a full ROM. Plus, your hands support your entire body weight, and your anterior core works overtime, making the chin up more than just a back-strengthening exercise. As meat and potatoes lift, a chinup has you covered in many areas.” explains Sapstead.
Why Rack Chinups Are Even Better
“Rack chin-ups solve many problems when using regular chinups as a bodybuilding exercise. Due to the extra stability provided by your feet on a bench and the angle of your body, you’ll feel it more in the target muscles you’re trying to work,” says Sapstead.
“Chinups are the gold standard for strength and performance because it’s you versus gravity. But, to build your back, particularly your lats, rack chin-ups offer some unique benefits over regular pull-ups. Along with more stability and a more focused pull, there’s also the change in position of the pelvis to consider and how that affects lat loading.
With rack chin-ups, you’ll notice that your pelvis will move slightly into a posterior pelvic tilt (imagine tailbone tucking under), where your lats insert results in an even greater loading of them in the stretched position at the bottom of the rack chin-up compared to a more neutral pelvis seen with regular chinups. We’re really sweating the small stuff here, but when optimizing your hypertrophy, every 1% adds up.
Don’t mistake rack chinups as an “easier” chinup, either. You’ll likely only be able to do a similar amount of these as your regular chinups, but you’ll notice a more controlled and focused movement.” explains Sapstead.
How To Do Rack Chinups
- Begin by setting up a squat rack or using a Smith machine at an appropriate height.
- Place a bench far enough away from the bar so you can hook your heels over the backrest. Having the bench set to somewhere around a 15-30 degree incline helps.
- Stand facing the bar, ensuring you have a firm grip with your palms facing towards you, around shoulder-width apart.
- Hitch your heels over the back of the bench, maintaining a slight knee bend. Some people also prefer to keep their knees straight, which is a matter of personal preference.
- Start by pulling yourself upwards, focusing on using your upper-back muscles, specifically your lats.
- Aim to pull your chin up towards the bar while keeping your elbows tucked in close to your body.
- Your torso should still be relatively vertical, and with your butt pointing down towards the floor – resist pushing your hips up as you pull up.
- Slowly lower back to the starting position, maintaining control and focusing on the stretch of your lats at the bottom.
Sets & Reps: Sapstead suggests that 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 15 reps work well here. You can progress by adding load by wearing a weighted vest or placing weight plates, a dumbbell, or even a small barbell across your hips and thighs. Since your hips stay down, they rest securely in position.
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