T Nation

'Proper Form' on Chin Ups


Lee Boyce has been going on and on (in several Tnation articles) that in order to do a pull up/chin up properly you need to FIRST retract and depress your shoulder blades whilst in the dead hang before pulling yourself up.

He says that this is the way to properly engage the back in the movement (instead of ‘arming it’), and you should be humbled by how little weight you’re able to use when doing this strict form.

However, why would being able to use your back properly result in being able to use less weight? Your back is a bigger and stronger muscle group than your arms, so if you’re able to engage your back properly, shouldn’t you be able to use more weight, not less?

Basically, all these years, I’ve been trying to retract and depress my shoulder blades at the same time as pulling myself up (I like to try to let the shoulder blades move naturally as the arms move instead of separating the movements out like Lee Boyce indicates you should do). Does that mean I’ve been doing it wrong?

Lee Boyce also says that if you’re doing chin ups properly you should get sore deep in the mid-back (almost lumbar back). I get sore around the arm-pit area moving across to the lower shoulder blades.


You don’t have to retract the shoulder blades(not saying you can’t). The main muscles being worked are the lats. Go do a straight arm pulldown to see how your lats should feel when you do a pull up.


As long as you are going for full reps (from full hang to head over bar), you aren’t doing pull ups wrong. Boyce’s techniques will just help fine tune the movement a bit

Boyce’s articles are showing how to be certain your pullup form is targeting the lats over anything else (traps, rhomboids, shoulders, arms, ect.). Since pullups are a compound exercise (I’ve heard them called squats for your back), a tons of other muscle groups are involved in the movement. When you just do a pullup without thinking too much about form, those other muscle groups can take over from the lats; you should be able to do more reps, but the lats aren’t getting as much stimulation. Pulling the shoulder blades down for each rep helps shift the stress to the lats and reminds you the lats should be contracting more on each rep.


It depends a lot on your structure. If you aren’t feeling it in your back or your lats are a poorly developed body part then lee’s advice will help you activate your lats.
Some guys don’t have to concentrate on form and have great lats, other guys who might be good at chin ups/pull ups with added weight and high reps can still have pretty average or worse lats(usually pretty good arms though).

Lat pulldown is good for learning to retract your scapulas in a similar pattern to a chin up, because you can reduce the weight to a lot less than bodyweight. Once you get the technique you can increase the weight, condition the structures and then its easier apply it to a chin up/ pull up.
Start the movement from the scap’s, not the hands or the elbows, and don’t swing the body just so you can heave more weight.


Well, I always get sore in the under the armpits/shoulder blade area, which I know is a part of the lats. But Lee says that if you’re sore there it’s proof that you’re NOT using your lats, and if you’re doing it right then you feel sore in the lumbar/pelvis area of the lats. I’ve never been sore as low down as there from chin ups.

But I’ve never once been sore in my arms either so I don’t know if I’m using my lats or not.


Are you getting the results you want by doing chins the way you do them without causing pain or injury? If yes, then you’re doing them right.


I like to think I’ve been able to recruit my lats just fine as evidenced by their becoming considerably larger over time, and I’ve never been conscious of retracting my shoulder blades (something I do before doing chest presses in order to recruit pecs more than delts).

The “back” has quite an assortment of muscle groups, and while there are plenty of variations to movements that will target some more than others, I’ve never known anyone to perform pullups with any other intention than targeting their lats. That being the case, elbow position, angle of your torso, grip variation, and specific ROM will get you a hell of a lot more bang for your buck than trying to retract your scapulae.