Sunday, July 5, 2015

Chins - Charles Fraser (1989)

Pull Yourself Up to a Great Back
Charles Fraser (1989)

The saying goes that the mark of a good bodybuilder, no matter how well-developed the rest of his body, is his arms. While it's true that big, muscular arms hanging out of a T-shirt represent the manly badge of physical superiority, second only to the arms in terms of eye-catching bodyparts are the bodybuilder's lattisimus dorsi. In fact, the sight of a pair of lats and their allied back muscles formed into a wide, massive V-shape will wow the casual observer nearly as much as a great set of guns. For the more sophisticated physique freak, giant torso muscles are even more impressive than big biceps, and as for the connoisseur, the importance of large, well-defined lats "o'erweighs a whole theater of others."

It's wide, thick lats that give the body its look of massiveness. After all, we gauge the size of a tree by the size of its trunk, not its branches. A bodybuilder with a broad, well-developed torso and thin arms would look ridiculous, but this phenomenon is rare to nonexistent. All to frequently, however, we run into uninformed bodybuilders with medium to large arms and little complementary "trunk" development. To the arm-conscious novice who pursues this kind of development, the smallness of his lats causes his arms to appear bigger than they really are, which makes him happy in his blissful ignorance of what bodybuilding really is. The rest of us know better. 

There are plenty of arm movements that build big biceps and triceps without working the lats -- presses, extensions, curls, etc. Exercises like rows and pullups, or chinups, work the arms while also developing the torso.

Back in the '60s -- which was the end of bodybuilding's Middle Ages and the beginning of its Renaissance -- I was a member of the McBurney YMCA in Manhattan. There I became acquainted with the possessor of the most massive latissimus dorsi I have ever seen, a fellow by the name of Bill.

Bill had fair legs, a good chest, good shoulders, and on his back, fair development of the spinal erectors and trapezius. But as for his lats, they were so thick, they almost defied description.

Because he had only an average shoulder width, his extremely wide lats seemed to flare out beyond the confines of his bone structure. Just below the armpit, even when he stood relaxed, his lats spread out about three inches wider than his delts.

The incredible width of Bill's lats were not their most impressive feature, however. They were heavy to the point of being ponderous! The literally hung from his armpits, and at the back of the waist where the lats turn into the body, the long, pendulous masses actually created oval-shaped folds. The only anatomical analogy that comes close is the massive thighs that some Olympic lifters and a few bodybuilders develop -- that big buildup of the quadriceps from deep squatting and creates a fold where it turns into the knee.

It was almost freakish, the way Bill had build his lower lats. I use the word "almost" because I believe there are four muscle groups that cannot be overdeveloped: deltoids, calves, forearms and latissimus dorsi.

And how did Bill create those humongous hangers? He did it by fully exploiting all the possibilities of one exercise -- THE CHIN! Bill's lat workout consisted of 45 minutes to an hour of hard work on every form of chinning imaginable -- and a few that are almost unimaginable. He did wide-grip chins, narrow-grip chins, medium-grip, forehand and backhand chins. He did them behind the neck, in slow motion, levered, one-armed and one-fingered, just to name a few.

If you're ready to go beyond the big biceps and specialize in a bodypart that'll knock their socks off, you can't go wrong by exploring the possibilities of this great upper body exercise. In addition to enlarging your lat spread, working hard at chins will build your biceps, brachialis, forearms, hands and to some extent your pecs and deltoids. 

Here's a rundown of some of the more conventional variations on this versatile movement. to clarify some basics, chins can be performed with your hands either toward or away from your body. Palms facing the body are in the supinated position, palms turned away from the body are in the prone, or pronated position. Medium grip refers to a hand-spacing that's close to shoulder width. Adjusting to a narrow or wide grip means merely narrower or wider than your shoulder width.

Regular Chinups:
Hands supinated, grip narrower than medium. Hang fully extended, pull up to a point below the chin, squeeze-pause, then lower at the same speed. This is the simplest type of chin. It's the way school children and soldiers in basic training do the exercise. Regular chins involve the fullest range of motion for both arms and lats. The supinated hands put your arms into the strongest pulling position and also enable your lats to pull harder.

Narrow-Grip Chinups:
Same as above, but with your hands spaced up to four inches apart.

Pronated Medium-Grip Chinups:
Pull up to a point where the bar is level with your collarbone, squeeze-pause, then lower at the same of a slower speed all the way to the full stretch position at the bottom. Pronating the hands gives up some of your biceps strength, but the brachialis may be able to work harder, making up for most of the loss. This is a more comfortable position for the brachialis and wrists.

Pronated Wide-Grip Chinups:
Hands at least six inches beyond shoulder-width apart; pull up to the chin and lower at a steady pace. This very difficult movement is easier if the bar is slanted 45 degrees downward at the point where you grip it. Most gyms have cambered, or bent, chinning bars or attachments for doing this exercise.

This may well be the most commonly performed chin in bodybuilding gyms across the country [1989], and it has earned its favored status because of some misinformation. Even intelligent bodybuilders believe that the wide grip gives their lats a greater stretch, however, a few moments of practical analysis reveal this as incorrect. In fact, it's the medium and narrow grips that give your lats the most stretch.

A pronated wide-grip chin is one of the hardest to do because it places your arms in their weakest pulling position -- pulling diagonally against the bar. It also cuts the range of pulling motion of your arms as well as your lats, which weakens both bodyparts. Therefore, this exercise becomes more of an arm, forearm, grip and rear-delt developer than a latissimus builder.

It does work the teres major and the infraspinatus, however, because these muscles must resist and contract against the nearly horizontal pull of the wide grip on your shoulders and scapulae, or shoulder blades. So this clumsy and uncomfortable movement might more properly be called a shoulder and ribcage stretcher. Perhaps it's a good idea for intermediate and advanced bodybuilders to do this exercise simply because it will develop greater strength in the assisting muscles, which in turn brings the trainers even greater results when they do the full range of motion chins.

Parallel Chinups:
Fifteen years ago Arthur Jones advocated the medium-wide grip with hands parallel, or halfway between pronation and supination, as the strongest and most effective method of performing chins. He designed his multi-exercise chinning rack with parallel bars about 22 to 24 inches apart. You will never do a stronger, more satisfying chin.

Grip the bars with your palms facing each other; chin as usual. On this exercise you can hold for a long time, if you want to, at both the top and the bottom of the movement. It is very comfortable for your grip, wrists, elbows and shoulders. If you cannot add weight in any of the other chins, you'll be able to do so no this one. Needless to say, it is the author's favorite.

Corner Chinups:
These are performed at the corners of a three-sided chinning bar that's available in some gyms. If you can't find parallel bars to hang from, this is the next best method. Do this exercise either while facing the corner with your palms mostly supinated or facing away with your palms mostly pronated; medium or slightly wider grip; chin as usual.

Narrow-Grip Parallel Chinups:
For this excellent form of chinning, most gyms are equipped with V-handles that can be saddled over the chinning bar. The handles have parallel gripping bars about six to eight inches apart. You must lean your head back and arch your spine to keep your head from hitting the bar while doing these chins. This will force you to pull your chest up to your hands in order to perform a full movement, making the exercise somewhat "levered." It should be reserved for the intermediate or advanced bodybuilder.

Levered, or Arched, Chinups:
Hands pronated or supinated; grip narrow to medium (the stronger you the wider the grip you can use). Pull your body up with your head leaning well back. Raise, or lever, your hips and legs as you arch your spine. Your hips and legs will form a 45-degree angle to the floor. Pull past the collarbone until the bar touches your lower pecs at the nipples or lower -- this is the point of the exercise. At the finish the head-neck-shoulder line will be horizontal to the floor.

Vince Gironda advocates this form of chin because he considers it a complete movement. It is done in a rotary fashion and works a lot more than the lats. The levered chin has the effect of a regular chin at the beginning of the movement, a bent-arm pullover in the middle, and a competed rowing motion at the end. In addition to the great effort to pull up, your body must also maintain a strong isometric contraction of the erector muscles and buttocks in order to keep up the extreme arch of the back and levering of the hips.

This is definitely an advanced chin. Even the experienced have great difficulty in doing this correctly for a few reps. Gironda insists that you don't know what chinning is until you can do this one.

Behind-the-Neck Chinups:
Pronated hands; wide grip. Like the pronated wide-grip in front of the neck chins described above, this is a favorite of bodybuilders around the world. It is hard to do and must be performed with a pronated grip only. It is more difficult than the front of the neck variety because both arms are in a weaker pulling position, particularly at the completion of the movement. Behind the neck chins put stress on the pectoral insertions at the shoulder and on the deltoids, making them somewhat uncomfortable for bodybuilders who lack flexibility. They force you to pull your arms and shoulders back in a very contracted position. Thus, this movement makes the teres major and infraspinatus work hard, but not the lats.

All of these chins can be done with added weight once you can perform more than 10 to 12 repetitions. Beginners won't need to use added weight. For beginners, start with regular supinated chins for 1 to 3 sets of as many reps as you can do up to 15. Later you can add a weight hung from your waist and drop back to 8 or even 6 reps.

An alternative to adding weight is to do the chins in slow motion. Bill, that bodybuilder with the majestic lats, never used added weights in his training! But he did most of his chins in slow motion. Once when he was exhausted after a hard one-hour chinning workout, he was challenged to chin with a heavy dumbbell. He hung a 100-pounder from his waist and performed five repetitions in slow, strict form.

Advanced bodybuilders can choose from four or more types of chins, doing 2 or 3 sets of each. An advanced chinning routine might look like this:

Regular Chins, with weight - 3 x 8
Wide-Grip Chins - 2 x 8
Narrow-Grip Parallel Chins, with weight - 2 x 8
Levered Chins - 3 x 4-6
Parallel-Grip Chins, slow motion - 2 x 6-8


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