Last year, I finally decided to learn how to do a chin-up. The day I managed to do one unaided was a proud moment in my fitness journey. I'd devoted a fair while to strengthening my back and upper body, so when I could finally lift myself up and over a bar, I was pretty happy.
I managed to get up to five chin-ups in a row before my arms started screaming, and I needed a rest. So, it makes perfect sense that I would challenge myself to do 100 chin-ups every day for a week.
To make it more achievable than doing the whole lot unaided, I could use a set of resistance bands for support and break the challenge up into smaller sets, rather than doing the whole 100 repetitions in a row. Here's what happened when I gave it a go.
The benefits of chin-ups
This upper-body compound exercise works several muscles and joints at once. Your biceps, lats, and traps all get involved, so the work extends from your arms to your shoulders and down your back.
Plus, chin-ups work your core muscles and stay engaged to keep you stable as you pull yourself up over the bar. Strengthening your back, core, and upper body is a great way to improve your posture and can help you avoid injury in the long run.
Unsurprisingly, chin-ups also help improve your grip strength. After all, your hands hold the bar as you pull yourself up. And, according to research published in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging, grip strength is also an important health indicator as you age.
How to do a chin-up
Although chin-ups and pull-ups look similar, there's one major difference; the way you grip the bar. To perform a chin-up, you'll need to hold the bar with your palms facing you. Many bars have textured surfaces, but you can use lifting chalk, like this EVMT Liquid Chalk from Amazon, to improve your grip as well.
- Grab the bar with an underhand grip, with your hands shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your body in a straight line with your core engaged, and pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar.
- Hold this position for a moment, then lower back to the starting position.
If you want to build up to an unaided chin-up, you can use resistance bands for support. Loop the band around the bar and place your knees into the band before starting the chin-up.
As you develop strength, you can reduce the band's thickness to increase the intensity. This is how I started my challenge, as going from a few reps to 100 took some practice.
I made good use of resistance bands
There was no chance I was doing 100 chin-ups unaided. My poor arms simply can't do that. So, I incorporated two resistance bands into my 100 chin-ups; one was medium resistance, and the other was far thicker, which meant it took more of my weight.
Mixing unaided and resistance band chin-ups meant I could break the 100 reps into 15 to 20-rep sets. Fortunately, resistance bands usually come in sets of varying thickness, so you can quickly switch between them until you find a resistance to challenge your muscles.
It was rough on my hands
I used a lot of chalk during this challenge, but still got thick calluses on my hands. Of course, this shouldn't be too surprising, as 100 chin-ups every day is a big test for your grip strength, but it meant that my soft, well-moisturized hands faced the brunt of the chin-up bar.
My biceps throbbed
Although the exercise works several upper-body muscles simultaneously, it was actually my biceps that seemed to hurt the most. In fact, after a handful of reps, I had to stop, reset, and shake out the biceps. So, did my biceps get stronger?
Well, they didn't get much rest as I was hammering them with chin-ups every day for a week, but they certainly adapted to the endurance element of this challenge, as I made them work more than usual each day.
It requires muscles all over your body
Your back plays a vital role in your chin-up, so it's important to also spend time on exercises that can develop strength in your back, chest, and arms to help you along with your chin-ups.
You can pick up a set of dumbbells and do bent-over rows, single-arm rows, seated rows, and bodyweight compound exercises like push-ups to work similar muscles and build up your strength. And you can focus on these muscles before you take on the challenge or while you're in it.
100 reps of chin-ups take time
I could only do five unassisted chin-ups in a row before I started this week-long challenge. So I knew that I wouldn't be able to immediately reach the 100-rep goal without an adjustment period.
I used resistance bands for support, but I also added long rest periods every 15-20 reps so my body had time to recover. This reduces the pain but also means you're more likely to stick to proper form too.
My muscles definitely needed time to recover, and I noticed that each subsequent set became harder to finish. But if it was easy, we’d all do it, so it’s good to throw in challenges every once in a while and develop your mental strength.
You need to take rest days
Although it was tough while I was exercising, the challenge itself was pretty exhausting too! Doing 100 chin-ups a day for a week was tiring and was proof that muscles need to rest to heal and come back stronger.
Resistance training like this causes micro-tears in your muscles, your body needs time to heal this damage and strengthen the muscle fibers. If you don’t let them heal with some rest and plenty of protein, you’re not going to see the results you want.
I couldn't actually do 100 reps a day
In the end, I did three days of 100 reps. I set out to do all seven days, but the muscle fatigue meant that I lowered my goal to around 20 or 30 chin-ups instead. It's a shame, but I did what I could without overtraining or injuring myself.
If I had another go, perhaps I'd set a different target. Maybe something like 100 chin-ups every other day for two weeks. But regardless, I feel stronger, more capable, and pretty proud of myself.
Chin-ups aren't easy, and they can take time to master as they require a certain level of strength. The challenge was fun, but it reminded me that muscles need rest to recover and get stronger. So, I'll definitely give my back and biceps time to rest between chin-up days.
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Lucy is a freelance health and fitness journalist as well as a pre and post-natal personal trainer. Although a sweaty gym session (skipping rope is a must) is her favorite way to ‘relax’, she’s also a fan of bingeing on The Office, snacking on chocolate-coated raisins, and fizz-filled brunches with friends.