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How To Feel Chins In Lats?

Hey Coach,

There’s been threads about this in your forum before so I’m sorry for the repetition, but I just want to check I have this right:

I am reasonably ok at pull ups, but seem to hit failure in my forearms (the bit just above the elbow (brachioradialis?) long before my lats give way, which is obviously no bueno.

You described a drill to get maximum lat activation from your chins, which if I understand it is basically:

-Start from a dead hang
-depress scap/retract scap to lift your chest towards bar
-from this position pull upper chest to bar

Is that all there is to it or am I missing some key detail?

Thanks for your time as always.

Where’s the grip strength mane?

Wut does it have to do with lat activation/feeling your lats tho?

Can’t relate exactly because I usually feel the stretch in my lats on eccentric and activate/contract my lats that way. Maybe these can help:

Because it’s turning into an arm exercise, not a lats exercise…

Grip strength has nothing to do with it.

I don’t want to pre-exhaust; I want to do chins correctly

Lats are still working. If they weren’t you’d just be moving at the elbow/doing a weird front lever

So you can approach this by: Activating your Lats more, improving chin up technique or both…

How about these:

Try False Grip and hanging with the tips of your fingers like hooks if the vids don’t mention it

yeah no shit. I know all of this.

I can? Really? Mind blowing!

Just here to get the green light from Thibs on that one specific drill.

Thanks for the videos and shit, and I don’t mean to seem ungrateful for your help, but it really is just to get the stamp of approval on this one technique.

Yeah that’s it

But to be honest I’m not a pull/chin-up guy. I never use them in my own training and only include then in the program of clients if they need it (e.g. Crossfit athletes).

care to explain why? I take it you’re more of a fan of pulldown variations? I get a much better lat contraction from pulldowns, but I just think chins are cool…

Not really to be honest… I’ve talked about it many times in the past.

Few people have the right motor control, strength and shoulder mobility to do them properly; to load the right muscles. You can load the lats and whole back a lot better with other exercises. So if your goal is to build muscle you don’t really need them.

If you are training for strength the same applies. I don’t know many powerlifters, strongmen or even olympic lifters who routinely do pull-ups in their program, nor do I know many bodybuilders who do them regularly While this is not an excuse to avoid them it certainly shows that you can get super strong and muscular without them.

I think that those who like them are small guys who will naturally be good at them because of their lighter body weight and it makes them feel good (being better at chins than the bigger, more muscular guys) or body weight training experts.

No. I’m not a big fan of any vertical pull. I spend most of my pulling volume on horizontal pull.

This is from an article on my personal website…

Quoting John Rusin: “If you aren’t rowing two or three times as much as you are pulling up you are leaving your shoulder health to chance.”

And from the same article:

Back training tip no 6: Rowing heavy (horizontal pull) is more important than doing vertical pulling heavy

Nobody says it best than my good friend and all-around training genius Dr. John Rusin (used with permission):

“While the pull up and its many hand setup variations place a stretch on the lats and train in an overhead position, we often forget that this pattern places the shoulder into internal rotation under loading. While this is not inherently bad, this position, the volume placed upon it and the load should be monitored.

On the opposite side of pulling is the row pattern that allows the shoulder to stay in a more neutral position throughout a full range of motion while improving a synergistic lat and upper back targeted activation for better transferable training effects. This movement pattern also has the ability to extend the t-spine and shoulder posturing while being able to be programmed with heavy loads and higher volumes in a more pain-free way.”

Back training tip no 7: With vertical pulling, “mind muscle connection” is more important than the load used

To echo the preceding point by Dr.Rusin, I find it much smarter to think “mind-muscle connection” when it comes to vertical pulling (pull up variations, lat pulldown variations). I think that pretty much every strong coach will agree that a proper pull up is a great exercise. However, I don’t make it the foundation of mine or my clients’ workouts.

I only use the pull up and its variations if:

A. If the individual can feel the lats doing most of the work.

B. If the individual can do at least 8 dead hang pull ups with a 2 second hold at the top of the movement.

C. The individual has to have a need to become better at pull ups (army, law enforcement or fireman tests, Crossfit competitor)

Most people can’t feel their lats working properly when they do a pull up, mostly because they initiate the pull with the arms (remember the principle of first tension) instead of the lats.

Here is what starting with your lats looks like:

That is an active hang, but you should start your pull ups like that and as soon as the lats are engaged you start to pull with your arms. It is one fluid motion but the lats have to fire first.

If you don’t get a lat pump from doing pull ups, you need to work on improving your mind muscle connection before pursuing them.

When I program vertical pulling, I prefer to use lighter weights, a slower tempo and a squeeze at the peak contraction to really focus on having the lats do the work. I find that you can get a great back training effect that way while also preserving the shoulders.

As you will see in the next point I also really like to use pre-fatigue when training vertical pulling

Do them if you enjoy them. I don’t. To each his own. But if you don’t feel them in your lats and if your lats aren’t pumped afterwards they wont be building much and they require a lot of CNS energy which could be invested elsewhere

Really appreciate the detail there coach! Thanks for taking time out of your day to write all of that.

See this is what I’ve been doing after my pull ups to make sure my lats are still getting a training effect, as I really don’t get much of a pump in them from the chins.

What I think I’ll do is switch out the pull ups for another row variation, so I’m hitting a couple of rows per workout, then the lighter, slower tempo pulldown done after, with maybe a straight arm thing just to finish off (or maybe not; sometimes just feel those in my triceps but that’s another conversation for another day).

You’ve given me a lot to think about with regards to revamping my back training. Thanks a bunch!

Have you tried rack chins?

I’d regress the pattern to Reverse Pull-ups and learn to pull through your elbows, just like most back exercises. Then start with something like a 10x3, that lets you accumulate volume while managing fatigue.

Once you clean up your movement pattern, you’ll find your weak link. I.e. I get a stupid sick pump (Trademark) in my lats and forearms after pull ups/chins, but my biceps fail before my grip or my lats. Thus, my weak link is my biceps; no surprise there, as I have a positive ape index.

Best sets: BWx18 @150 last week actually, BW+110lbs @150.

Keep in mind, you will get shoulder aggravation doing pull ups if you don’t stay on top of keeping your lats from getting tight.

Trust me, when the volume is high enough, you’ll definitely feel the strain in your lats.

When I did 611 reps in Feb, I had a 11 day DOMs, pretty cool eh.

Chop your sets into 1/3 of your RM and do till failure. You’ll be fine.

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Thanks for the info @Christian_Thibaudeau

Chins are the only vertical pull I can do as I’m currently training from home. I don’t have access to lat pull down. After reading your opinions above I’m thinking about ditching vertical pulling and replacing with another horizontal pull. I use heavy bent over rows as my main strength work for back and the chins are done for volume on a different day.

Would fat man rows be a good substitute for chins?

Is there anything I need to add or consider when ditching all vertical pulling?

While you can get plenty of lats stimulation for rows, I like to add straigth-arm pulldowns as asssitance work. You can use resistance bands for these.

Thank you, I have some bands so will look out some ways of making that work at home.

Apologies for the slight threadjack with a small question. Buddy of mine suggested band pulldowns after I started working out at home. I started doing them and noticed a weird pressure ~around my front delts when performing it. I stopped doing them as I just didn’t feel like messing around with my shoulders in the name of assistance work.

Is that a thing or should I have just spent more than 2 days doing them to see if the problem flushed out

First I do not answer injury related questions. If I’m not there to evaluate I could actually make things worse.

But there is one thing I will mention: "The is no such thing as “normal pain”.


Substitute with lying-down pullovers?

This will resolve the vectors in a horizontal plane and reduce shoulder stress.

Do it with a weight stack, a band or even with free weights (in order of effectiveness) for the lat stimulation.

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