Chin-ups: The Best Six-Pack Move You’re Not Doing

Make the most of this classic lift to fortify your back, arms and abs

Chin-ups are tough. There’s no escaping that. Just hitting one bodyweight rep is a big achievement in itself, demanding a vice-like grip and powerful muscles in your back and arms to defy gravity and shift your weight skywards.

But this bonafide “bang for your buck” upper body move is also a world class six-pack builder, making it a move you simply can’t afford to skip. It’s better than the humble plank. Better than the fancy ab wheel rollouts. Better, even, than Bruce Lee and Sly Stallone’s fabled dragon flag.

How do we know? Because a bloke called Bret Contreras wired up his abs to an electromyography device in the name of science. Contreras, the world renowned strength coach, used EMG to measure the exact activation in his muscles when working out and discovered the bodyweight chin-up blew all other moves out the water.

The chin-up scored a mean activation of 249 and peak activation of 461 for the rectus abdominis muscles – the main players in the classic six-pack look – with the hanging leg raise came a distant second with 124 and 300 respectively.

The reason your abs have to work overtime when you’re hanging from the bar is because chin-ups are the ultimate anti-extension exercise for the lower back – if you’re doing them correctly. If you arch your back excessively you’ll be putting undue pressure on your spine and scupper any hopes of knocking out a chin PB.

The fix? Brace your lower back throughout the move and keep a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Here the man himself demonstrates the good (straight back), the bad (arched back) and the ugly (bent hips) of proficient chin-up form.

Get this move right and you’ll get a triple serving of strength gains for your core, back and bis all rolled into one.


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