Chest to Bar Pullups

In Bodyweight Mastery by admin1 Comment

A question comes in from Laid regarding chest to bar pullups:

I have a question about body weight exercise. In fact, about pull-ups. I’ve tried many different approaches but I’m pretty bad in them. I can do 10 chin-ups without problem even more, but with pull-ups I can do 3-4 pull-ups and none of them is strict, chest to bar pull-up. Really struggling in this area which annoys me a bit.

I’m not body builder or anything like that. I’m martial artist and my usual training routines are progressive body weight training and kettlebell training and mostly, using kettlebells for conditioning but also heavy ones for strength training. For instance: I’m currently on pressing 32kg kettlebell for 5 times, and snatching 32kg for 5 times. I also do side press and windmills with 24 kg kettlebell. Overall I’m strong, but have trouble with pull-ups, just the ending movement where I would touch my chest to bar.

There’s no any pain while doing pull-ups, I can go with chin over bar. I can not think about anything that limits me. I usually feel like I can do it but feel like, not sure but something like I don’t have space for that or such kind of feeling. Of course there’s enough of physical space but that’s how I feel.

The first thing to know is that the standard way of doing pullups is to simply get the chin over the bar. Sometimes this is also done as throat to bar, to eliminate the stretching of the neck that is done in max attempts.

Chest to bar is essentially an added range of motion in pullups. That’s not to say it is bad to go for, because that is not the case. If you can do this, you’re much better off for more elite bodyweight skills like muscle ups.

Based on the details given, it is likely not a strength issue, but one of flexibility…along with the strength needed to get into that range. As mentioned, there can be an issue of not enough space.

Go ahead an move your arms as if you are doing a pullup right now, but just getting the chin over the bar.

Now, go ahead and do the same, but bring the bar down to your chest. Notice how much more the scapulae need to squeeze together and down.

For many people, the scapula may not be used to moving like this which would make it even harder to do when under load.

A drill that may help is the shoulder blade box as covered here.

Assuming that is easy enough you can work more directly on the chest to bar pullup in a few different ways that will work better than simply doing pullups.

  1. Chest to Bar Pullup Isometrics – Make it so that your feet can stand on something stable while at the top of the pullup. Squeeze those shoulder blades in and down as you pull your chest into the bar.
  2. End Range of Motion Reps – Instead of doing full pullups just work that top range of motion. Work on doing higher rep sets of this.
  3. Holds – This is a different form of isometric. If you can get chest to bar great. If not, this still works. Get as high as you possibly can in a pullup and hold there, while continually trying to move even higher. Do this for 10, 20, 30 seconds.

Any of these can be done in addition to normal pullup training, but each one focusing specifically on the weakness and thus, should help build it up faster.

For much more on developing pullup strength, grab a copy of The Ultimate Guide to Pullups & Chin-ups.

The Ultimate Guide to Pullups and Chin-ups


  1. Lats, the primary focus of any type of vertical pulling, are already maximally stimulated in basic chin over the bar versions no matter what some trainers and experts may advocate. Remember, lats are the primary and most important focus of vertical pulling compared to any other back muscles. Period. You can train those other muscles in far better way using horizontal pulls for which rows are superior choice to vertical pulling.

    Chest to bar (CTB) version basically tries to kill two birds with one stone by engaging the traps and smaller muscles. After all, line of pull is more horizontal to the body at the top position in CTB pull ups. But still, those traps are not trained or stimulated as effectively and completely as rows can do it because you can’t do lots of good quality total reps with CTB.

    So, if you can do CTB then it’s good. Otherwise, for most regular people with no plans to get into advanced calisthenics, the regular pull ups plus rows is more accessible combo and better investment of time and effort for better results.

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