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The One-Arm Chinning Guide

February 13, 2004 04:53 PM

Table of Contents

Introduction To One-arm Chinning Guide
Training Alternate Comedowns For The One-arm Chin
Pulley Assisted One-Arm Chin
Finger Assisted System
Uneven Pull-ups/ Chin-ups

Introduction To One-arm Chinning Guide

The Authors

Jack Arnow
I'm Jack, the 135 lb, 61 year old kid, obsessed with one-arm chinning. I did my first one-arm chin as a teenager, trained by Jasper Benincasa, in my opinion the greatest chinner of all time. He could do 19 consecutive one-arm chins with either hand, and 50 one-arm chins, alternating right and left hands, but considered his greatest achievement to be doing one chin with a 265 lb man hanging from his waist, at a bodyweight of 130! I got my first one-arm chin without weight training, but just by doing alternating 'comedowns' on a chinning bar in a vacant lot in Brooklyn.

I never trained for consecutive one-arm chins, but did train alternate one-arm chins, an exercise originated by Jasper Benincasa, to reduce injury and keep both arms equal in strength. Nevertheless, in my 20's, at my peak, I was able to do 7 consecutive one-arm chins right handed, and 6 left handed. My one-arm chinning ability waned from lack of training, but I could still do one until I was 35. Then I had children, and didn't begin to train for them again until I was 50. It took me about 4 years to get one back. This time I primarily used alternate comedowns, but chinning with weight was also an important part of my training. Expecting to improve my reps rapidly, and not improving, I kept training harder and harder, not smarter and smarter. In retrospect, I was a poster boy for over-training and training to failure. Serious rotator cuff injuries followed repeatedly. I lost my one-arm chin and couldn't do a two-arm chin either. It has been a slow road back.

Fortunately, Alex, the co-author of this guide, contacted me after reading an article of mine about alternating comedowns. The ensuing dialogue has been my salvation - for chinning. "Not training to failure", "low reps, many sets", using different grips for weight chinning, and many other tips have diverted me from certain re-injury and made my one-arm chin training fun and relatively fast. In the fall of 2002, I invented a new training method for one-arm chins, which I named "pulley-assisted" one-arm chins. With this method as the centerpiece of my training, it took about 8 months to regain one.
Alex says I'm not funny - about chinning - and he's right. He'll supply jokes, humor, and great ideas for one-arm training to make this guide fun to read. His English writing, while thinking German, led to problems. I've tried to eliminate these "problems", but may have eliminated some of his humor too.

Alex Lechner
Alexander is a 26 year old Industrial Engineer from Bavaria, who weighs too much, OK, OK, 220lbs or 100kg. He has been training one-arm chins for over 2 years. He got in touch with Jack Arnow in the summer of 2002. He was able to do 3 reps at a bodyweight of 93kg, but not any at 100kg.

Jack, a college teacher, is far more prudent than Alex. He doesn't train like a madman without a brain. He literally "grew up" with the one-arm chin, learning from Jasper Benincasa. Due to this coaching, as a young man Jack was able to do 22 alternate one-arm chins. Now, 61 years old, he has regained a position on the one-arm chinning team.

Okay, okay, wake up, we promise that we will finish our intro very quickly. Please read on.

Basic Orientation

This guide will tell you how to train for a one-arm chin. Even if you are very strong, you probably can't do a one-arm chin without training for it. To avoid frustration, you probably shouldn't begin to train for it until you can do at least 20 chin-ups(underhand grip with palms facing you) or pull-ups(overhand grip with palms facing away from you). In this guide the terms pull-ups, chin-ups, or chins will sometimes be used to mean pulling yourself to the bar with any grip whatsoever. Context will determine the meaning.

A one-arm chin means to pull yourself from a dead hang, with one arm only, until the bottom of your chin is higher than a stationary bar. The free hand should not touch any part of the pulling arm or bar, but if you are skilled, it will be used to control your balance and prevent unwanted body twist. The one-arm chin is a 3-dimensional movement, where the torso and legs are also used to control balance. Although pulling strength is very important, proper balance helps greatly in achieving a one-arm chin. Some find the necessary balance too difficult and recommend chinning from a ring that can freely rotate. The authors consider balance part and parcel of a one-arm chin, and teach how to control it, rather than avoid it.

There are many different ways to develop the strength and technique for a one-arm chin. This guide will explain several of them, based upon the authors' experience. You may try one or several methods, to find out what works best for you. A one-arm chin is a powerful strength building exercise as well as a feat in and of itself. You will be noticed and respected if you can do a one-arm chin, because not many can. This guide will tell you how to achieve it, but you will not succeed by following blindly, but must adjust and adapt what the "experts" say by paying attention to your body and see what is working and not.

All strength building exercises may cause injury, but because one-arm training puts severe strain on the back, shoulders, and arms, caution and patience are extremely important. A one-arm chin is not learned overnight. Depending on your starting point, it can take 6 months to 3 years or more to achieve it. Weight and age are important factors. Less weight and younger age make a one-arm chin much easier to achieve, but Alexander at 220 lbs. and Jack at 60 years of age both achieved it.

Overtraining is always a danger, but because training for a one-arm chin must be very intense, may take place over a long period of time, and seems to attract obsessive personalities, our advice is to make cautious and conservative exercise decisions. The authors learned the hard way, and were lucky. Don't count on being lucky! When you're really doing well, that's the time to slow down and consolidate, not push even harder. When you're not improving, that's the time to think, and change your routine instead of just working harder. Do what it takes to make your training fun. Stick with it, enjoy the process, don't count the days. One day you'll be a member of the one-arm chining club too!

Some sections of this guide were initiated by Alex, and others by Jack. Nevertheless, every section is a result of their joint effort and interaction. Jack and Alex don't always share the same opinions, or draw the same conclusions, and certainly have different experiences. This guide is richer because of this. We suggest that you read the complete guide before deciding on a training regimen. Hopefully, you will internalize important concepts. Then, go back to read the sections that seem most appropriate for you and decide how you'll start to train. Every few months, re-evaluate and possibly change your routines. Keep alert to what is working and what is not. Change in your body and exercise routines is to be expected. Your brain is probably the most important part of your anatomy in learning to do a one-arm chin! Use it.

Training Alternate Comedowns For The One-arm Chin

The following training method was developed by Jasper Benincasa, who was famous among hard-core Brooklyn strongmen for his legendary feats of strength. His method worked not just for youth, but as I found when I regained one arm chins, also for a man in his 50's.
The basic approach is a 'one-arm comedown'. A comedown is, with a one-handed grip, lowering yourself from a position with your chin above the bar to a position with your arm in a dead hang. This must be done in a controlled fashion, smoothly and slowly.
Don't begin comedowns until you can do about 20 chins easily. Even then, for most, it is very hard, especially near the bottom. But near the bottom is key, because for most, breaking the bottom lock without getting exhausted is the hardest part of a one-arm chin.

Alternate One-Arm Comedowns

Comedowns are alternated, right and left hand, in sets from 2 to 12 repetitions (6 each arm). This equalizes right and left arms, and helps minimize injury. I'll now describe the comedown exercise.

1. Hang directly under a chinning bar, facing one end of the bar. But unlike the normal chinning grip, both palms are facing each other on opposite sides of the bar - a baseball grip. The pinky of your clenched right hand should be adjacent to the thumb of your clenched left hand. Your body will be perpendicular to the bar.

2. Pull up, using both arms, raising your chin to the left side of the bar. When your chin is over the bar, let go with your left hand, and extend it to the right to help your balance - your body will rotate slightly clockwise. Your chest is almost parallel to the bar. Hold this locked position a second or 2, and start to lower yourself. Generally speaking, as you lower yourself, your left arm slowly returns to the left. This balance, which you begin learning now, is very important for one-arm chins. Lower yourself at a constant pace, slowly, about 6 - 10 seconds from the top to a dead hang at the bottom. Most likely this will not occur when you first start practicing this routine, but you will slowly improve.

3. When you reach the bottom, with your right arm fully extended, and not before, reach up with your left hand and grip the bar, once again with your palms facing each other, but now with your left pinky adjacent to the thumb of your right hand. Once again your body is perpendicular to the bar. Pull up, using both arms, now raising your chin to the right side of the bar. When your chin is over the bar, let go with your right hand, extend it to the left - your body will rotate slightly counter-clockwise. Lower yourself with your left hand, similar to the right hand comedown. If you want to follow with a right hand comedown, at the bottom grip the bar with the pinky of your right hand adjacent to the thumb of your left hand.

When you can do 2 or 3 sets of 12 one-arm alternates very strongly, you should start to try chinning with one arm.

Trying a one-arm chin

Good technique will help you do a one-arm chin. As you get better, you can overpower it, but technique can help a great deal, especially to get your first one.

Technique for a right hand one-arm chin

1. Start by hanging beneath the bar with 2 arms, palms facing each other, as in #1 above. Let go with your left hand. Basically, what you want to do is pull like your life depended on it, and keep your balance by rotating your body clockwise, but not too much. Easier said than done because so much of your focus is on pulling! Simultaneously with pulling, as soon as you let go of the bar with your left hand:

A: Extend your left hand and arm to the right across your chest.
B: Rotate your head to the right, clockwise.
C: Lift your legs slightly and to the right.
D: As you're pulling, keep the elbow of your right hand as close to your body as possible.

Practicing one-arm alternate comedowns develops the strength and technique to do one-arm chins. As a youth, many got their first one arm chin within 6 months to a year of practice. It took me almost three years, starting in my early 50's. Be patient.

It's best to practice on a long, narrow chinning bar, with room on both sides of the bar. Unfortunately, such bars are rare these days. Using chalk is essential because you'll need a very good grip for both comedowns and one-arm chins. In order to do alternates you need room on both sides of the bar. While doing alternates, your body moves away from the end of the bar you're facing to the other end. If the bar is short, or the number of repetitions brings you to the other end of the bar, you run out space. The best way to solve this problem is:

At the bottom of a lefty comedown, do not grab the bar with your right hand on the right side of the bar (as you usually do). Instead, let your body rotate clockwise, and then grab the bar with the right hand on the same side of the bar as the left hand. Immediately, let go with the left hand, and re-grip on the other side of the bar, adjacent to the right hand and continue by pulling up with both for a right handed comedown.

Another way is a little easier. At the bottom of a left handed comedown, grab the bar with the right hand thumb adjacent to the pinky of the left hand. That is, you start moving toward, not away, from the end you are facing. It's a little more awkward, but I've used this method on short bars. If space runs out again, just reverse direction again by returning to normal comedown technique.

Chinning with weight or adding weights to comedowns may be helpful. These methods also give you a way to see progress until you can finally do a one-arm chin.

Pulley Assisted One-Arm Chin

The basic idea is to use a pulley system attached to your body, to effectively reduce your bodyweight like the Gravitron machine used to make two-arm chins easier. Unfortunately, the Gravitron is not good for one-arm training for many reasons:

1. The bars are too thick and in the wrong place.
2. You can't hang freely and pull, but must stand. This changes the muscles used and prevents learning the balance necessary for a one-arm chin.

There are good reasons to use the pulley assisted method:

1. You can accurately measure and control the amount of assist that you receive.
2. It feels pretty much like a one-arm chin, so that you can start to develop the muscle coordination and balance which is so necessary for successful one-arm chinning.
3. You can start with a lot of assist to develop good technique right from the beginning.
4. You can easily quantify your gains, and see exactly how far you have to go.
5. This method minimizes the chance of injury.
6. It works. I used it to regain a one-arm chin, after serious injury.

There is one shortcoming.

You have to adapt the pulley system to work for your chinning bar, and need to purchase some hardware. At the beginning there are kinks to work out. It's laughable, but I needed 2 people to help me setup at first. I'm very challenged at this stuff, but I'm also very motivated. Now I setup by myself in less than a minute, while talking and eating a banana. It sounds harder than it is.

The Hardware

A weightlifting belt tightened very snugly around the hips or waist so that it doesn't slide upwards works fine. Originally, I used a mountain climber's sit harness, which works very well, but is more expensive. You must attach a cable or rope to the front center of this belt or harness. There are many ways to do this. I use an "S" hook to attach the belt buckle to a snap at the end of the cable or rope.

A small pulley with very little friction must be attached to the chinning bar. I use a mountain climber's pulley. Depending on your situation, this can be done in many ways. On my chinning bar there are horizontal bars attached to the chinning bar and perpendicular to it. I put a small diameter metal ring over one of these bars near the chinning bar, attach an "S" hook to the ring, and hook the "S" hook onto the top of the pulley. If you have no direct way to keep the pulley in place, a hook or clip attached directly to the chinning bar, and held in place by ropes attached to this clip and to the "end" of the bar works too. You then attach the pulley to this clip as above. My chinning bar is attached to and between two universal training stations that have weight stacks attached. I run the cable from the top pulley of the weight stack, horizontally, over the pulley I attached to the bar, and then vertically downward to my weight belt where it is attached. If you can't do this, you can attach a second pulley to the bar, as far from the first pulley as you can, so that the dumbbells or plates that you attach to the rope( a good mountain climber's rope) to counterbalance your weight do not get in your way when you do assisted one-arm chins. But one pulley can also work. Fix it in place, and grab the bar far enough away from the pulley so that the dumbbells or plates do not get in your way!

Picture 1: Me doing a pulley assisted one arm chin

The Setup

Loop the metal ring over the perpendicular bar and attach the "S" hook to it. Put a pin in the weight stack to select the desired assist. Pull the grip on the weight stack down which lifts the weight stack, and wedge a bar under the weight stack to hold it in place so that the cable coming off the top pulley has slack. Thread this cable over the pulley(in your hand) and then hook the pulley onto the hanging "S" clip. Remove the wedge and as the weight stack lowers, the cable is pulled tight against the pulley. It can't slip through because the snap at the end of the cable is too big. Stand under the pulley, pull down the cable, and attach it to the buckle of your weight belt. You're ready to do pulley assisted one-arm chins.


Assisted right hand and left hand chins are done separately, but identically. Hang from the chinning bar with your right hand only, facing the end of the bar. The pulley is just in front of your right hand, no more than a few finger widths away. The cable(or a soft, strong rope) is attached to the buckle of your weight belt and runs vertically upward, over the pulley, and away from you towards the end of the bar. Pull up until your chin is higher than the bar, and drop down again to a dead hang. Repeat as desired. When finished with the right hand set, do a left hand set. Balance is very important. Use your free arm and legs for balance. Experience has taught me that it is best, for me, to try to maintain a position where my body is almost perpendicular to the bar, from start to finish. My head remains facing the end of the bar. Extend your free arm forward and parallel to the ground, with you hand out in front of the center of your collarbone. Your legs should be slightly bent at the knees but lifted in a comfortable position. Try to keep yourself from rotating outwards or inwards because rotating may put severe unwanted stress on your elbows. Despite my suggestions, It is important to find out what works best for you! When my muscles tire, I seem to involuntarily turn inwards, towards the bar, on my way up. This makes the pull easier, but causes additional opposite twist on the way down. Stop chinning before this occurs. Consciously grip the bar as tightly as you can, and consciously try to pull up as smoothly and quickly as you can. Try, but especially at decreasing assist, this is not easy to achieve. I pull my elbow straight down along my side, close to my body, and stop going upward when my shoulder hits the chinning bar, near the base of my neck. The chinning bar is perpendicular to my shoulder line.


Don't begin this training method until you chin at least 5 times, without too much strain, with at least 25% of added bodyweight. Continue chinning with weight too. You may try adding alternating comedowns to your workout when you can do a pulley assisted one-arm chin with 75% of bodyweight. Comedowns complement this training method because you begin at the top lock, not the bottom. At the beginning, I started with 50 lbs assist and quickly worked up to 6 reps for a right handed and then a left handed set. Nevertheless, it took several weeks to get in a groove and feel comfortable. No need to rush at the beginning. Two to three sets with each arm is quite sufficient. When my sets felt solid, I'd decrease the assist by 5 lbs, decreasing my reps by 1 - 2 and work up again to 5 or 6 reps. I continued this protocol, while systematically decreasing my assist. When my assist decreased to 25 lbs I reduced my sets to 3 - 4 reps, decreased assist increments to 2.5 lbs, and continued. As you get closer to a one-arm chin, the sets get more intense, and you should lower the reps per set and increments, to what your body tells you. Rushing may cause injury and is pointless. This method was designed as a relatively injury free method! It took me 6 months to reduce from 50 to 10 lbs assist, but each person is different, so don't compare yourself. Just observe your steady progress.

Alternates - My Favorite

Depending on your bar, alternate assisted pulley one-arm chins are also possible. That is, chin up with your right hand, grab the bar with your left hand closer to your body, lower with 2 arms and when at the bottom, let go with your right hand and pull up with your left hand. Repeat by alternating hands until tired. Alternates are easier for several reasons.
1. You are resting more between reps of the same arm.
2. You are lowering yourself with 2 arms, not one.
3. As you lower yourself, you position and balance yourself for the next rep.
4. You avoid the "twist" that may occur while lowering yourself with one arm.

Alternates are excellent training if your goal is alternate one-arm chinning.

Final Note

If you want to accurately measure the assist you are getting while pulling up, instead of attaching the rope or cable to your belt, attach it to dumbbells or weight plates. Then, by experimenting, see how much weight is actually moved up(lifted). On my setup, with the pin at 40 lbs. on the weight stack, 12.5 lbs is the actual assist. Theoretically, it should be 20 lbs. because of 1 cable pulling 2, but there is always some friction, which decreases the assist on your way up, but increases it on your way down.

Finger Assisted System


1. General points I:
The finger assisted system uses fingers of the non-dominant hand to "decrease" your bodyweight, enabling your dominant arm to successfully complete a finger assisted one-arm chin. Gripping the chinning bar with your fingers may cause pain. I highly recommend Ironmind "Eagle Loops", but other loops made of webbing may also work. A soft, strong rope works too. Concentrating on your dominant arm is extremely important. I found it very helpful to close my eyes. If you don't want to close your eyes, look up at the ceiling. Imagine touching the ceiling with your nose or chin. Of course, you won't reach the ceiling, but your brain will think "My god, I must pull long and hard." You're pulling like mad and "unexpectedly" you complete the chin. I found this "looking up" tip useful for every chinning exercise.

Picture 1: Assisted one arm chins: pinkie finger and eagle loops were used

2. General points II:
Do not begin Progression I, below, until you can do a set of 12 baseball grip chins with your right hand closer to your body, quickly followed by a set with your left hand closer to your body. You can train for this by doing two sets of mixed grip shoulder wide chins, reversing your grip for each set. Make sure to hold the lock position at the top of each chin for a couple of seconds. As you improve, bring your hands closer together, until you can do two sets of baseball grip chins.

3. Progression I:
Start a baseball grip chin from a dead hang, except that the non-dominant hand ( the hand further from your body), only holds the bar with the fore and index fingers. Squeeze the bar with your dominant hand like a madman and use the two fingers of the non-dominant hand just like hooks. Chin-up. It's much harder than chinning with two hands! I suggest you switch to a low rep protocol of 4 - 6 reps or lower. Getting the groove is very important! You can easily injure the ligaments in your fingers by doing singles too soon. The fingers of the non-dominant hand may experience skin pain, but don't worry, your skin will become tougher in a few weeks. One-arm training is intense, so limit your sets to 2 or 3 with each hand at first. Pay as much attention to the top lock as you can, holding it for 3 - 5 seconds or more. That's a personal tip from me. I just pulled up and came down until I had the reps. No dead stops or anything else. When I finally tried a one-arm chin I had serious trouble finishing the top part of the chin. So, start concentrating on the top position as soon as possible.

When all reps and sets are easy with the fore and index fingers, start with the index finger alone. Train, train, train. Try to concentrate on your dominant arm. This is very important. The one-arm chin is a grind exercise. Slow controlled movement is critical.

Back to the next steps:

a) Forefinger and dominant hand
b) Ring and pinkie finger and dominant hand
c) Ring finger and dominant hand
d) Pinkie finger and dominant hand

4. Progression II:

Perhaps you'll find that jumping from one finger to the next smaller one is too big an increase for you. You could try any combination of fingers like ring finger and forefinger, but I found this to be very uncomfortable. Suppose you can do 5 reps with the ring finger but using the pinkie is too difficult. Definitely, adding weight is the way to go. It's an old but effective method. You can use a jeans belt. Attach a 2.5kg plate to the belt and wrap the belt around the shoulder of the dominant arm. Work up the ladder again. Adding weight in 2.5kg. increments worked well for me. When I could do all the reps with 7.5kg, I was ready for the next smaller finger. Of course, depending on your bodyweight, the increments and weight needed to advance may vary. When you reach the pinkie finger and can do all sets and reps, start adding weight in increments. When you can do 5 reps, add more weight. I was able to do my first one-arm chin when I could chin 5 times with 15 kg added while using the pinkie finger for assistance. When you can do 5 chins with your pinkie, you'll be close to a one-arm chin. The less you weigh, the less weight you'll need to achieve a one-arm chin.

Picture 2: Assisted one arm chins: Pinkie finger only was used

Uneven Pull-ups/ Chin-ups

1. General Points I:

Uneven pull-ups are very easy to visualize. One hand grabs the bar, the other squeezes a towel, rope or other piece of equipment attached to the bar. Some call the uneven pull-up THE way to achieve a one-arm chin. I share this opinion. Of course, this kind of pull-up is good for many things:

1. Preparing the pulling muscles needed for the one-arm chin.
2. Varying the weight by gripping the towel at different lengths is pretty easy. This point is very useful for doing drop sets without the need for weights.
3. There are many different variations of this exercise.
4. It's a real power exercise. When trained hard for low reps and medium to high sets, you will get big, powerful arms and a massive upper back in no time. Of course, this is an article about one-arm chinning, but, hey, do you want to beat me if you need new shirts because your old ones are torn because of your big arms? I don?t think so.
5. It?s a very functional exercise. Most guys say the classic pullup is a functional exercise, but have you ever seen any straight bars in nature? While climbing? Your arms are almost never even, so become strong in this position!

But hey, stop, relax. Do not run into the bathroom and destroy the towel which you got from your mother-in-law. It was difficult to embroider your initials on it. Please put it back, sit down, breath slowly and read on. I will now tell you why I think uneven chins are NOT the ultimate exercise to achieve the one armer:

1. It?s almost impossible to estimate the weight decreased by the non-dominant arm. This point doesn't matter if you are after some changes in your weekly back routine, but it's really important if you goal is a one-arm chin. Below in section 3, I describe a method which enables you, similar to the pulley system from Jack, to estimate the weight decreased.
2. You have no real one-arm chin feeling. There is no twisting. Your grip is not worked to it's maximum, and you will always pull with your non-working arm, as long as the towel is attached to the bar.

2. General points II:

I suggest the standard protocol of low reps for this exercise. But as for one arm pushups, I'm a big believer in a high sets scheme. Singles, doubles and triples are excellent for gaining strength and power, but nevertheless I suggest the 4-6 reps range. You could increase to 10 reps for 2 or 3 sets from time to time, if you are after some serious mass gains in the upper back, shoulder and arm area. Very advanced guys and future one-arm chinning masters could even shoot for 20 reps, a huge goal, but you have your whole lifetime to achieve it.

3. Beginner Techniques:

A future one arm chinning master should start with the simplest way to do uneven pullups: Take a long, strong towel and loop it around the bar. Grab the bar with one hand, the towel with the other hand, and begin chinning. I suggest placing the non- working hand 25 cm below the bar. I suggest a shoulder wide grip for beginners, but decrease the grip spacing as you become experienced. The narrower the grip, the harder the uneven pulllup will be.

That's all. No huge experiments here. Get the feeling first, then start increasing the weight and/ or difficulty by varying the length of the towel. Shoot for 5 sets of 5 reps. Take your time to build up the needed strength.

Personal progression tip: When you wrap the towel around the bar, grab the towel very close to the bar with your right hand. Then place your left hand below your right. I call this "two fists length". Do your sets and reps. If you reach all your target sets and reps, then use "three fist length" and so on. You will always know the exact spacing by using this technique. You don't need any other method to calculate your needed length of the towel.

For those who want to read numbers: 1-3 fist length for beginners, 4-6 fist length for experienced, 7-9 fist length for future mountain rangers and 10 or more fist length for gorillas. Shoot for 5 sets of 5 reps.

A useful technique for beginners as well as for advanced trainees is the use of a little finger-pulldown machine. This "machine" is similar to the pulley-system from Jack.

It's easy to use. Attach a loop of webbing to one end of a thin rope, or even better, use an Eagle Loop. Fix a pulley to the rope and knot the pulley on the bar. Tie some weight plates to the other end. Now you know exactly how much weight you pull with one or two fingers. The more weight you pull with the assisting arm, the easier the pull-up will be. But you cannot pull more than the attached weight without your assisting arm "slipping" further away from the bar. Example: You have tied 20 kg to the rope. Now you start chinning with one arm on the bar, the other gripping the rope. If your weight is 100kg, you have to pull at least 80kg with your working arm. If you pull less than 80kg with your working arm, your assisting arm will pull the weight off the floor, and your assisting arm will drop lower. The pull-up will get even harder as the assisting arm drops.

Those who can't do the beginner exercise, could do the following:
Attach a rope with a handle at the bar and perform a kind of one arm body row. This could also be done by advanced guys who train higher reps.

Picture 3: Assisted one arm chins for beginners

4. Advanced Techniques:

I wrote in "General points I" that there are many variations of uneven pullups. Use your brain and creativity to find more. You are only limited by your imagination. Although I have often trained uneven pull-ups, I discover new variations almost every time I go to the pullup bar. So, I will post here only some of the most useful techniques. Below are some variations of uneven pull-ups, but keep in mind, that these exercises should be used only for variation. The main work should be done with the thick towel. Period. Most of them could be called "weak grip training". And that's exactly what they should do: weaken your assistance arm. The less you pull with your non-working arm, the more work you have to do with your other arm. And that?s what we are looking for. These techniques are useful for other assisted one arm chinup training too, not only for uneven pullups.

1. Uneven towel chinups:

Take two towels (not ropes, they are too easy to grip) with different lengths. Make sure to grip the first towel very close to the bar, the second towel around 50cm or more below the bar. Squeeze like mad and do chin-ups or pullups. Little tip: Use a little water or spittle for your palms. It?s much easier to hold the fingers closed when the palms and fingers are wet. The goal should be a perfect one arm towel chinup. When you reach this, you could be sure to have tremendous pullup and gripping power. A pretty nice side effect, isn?t it?

Picture 4: One arm towel chins, assisted by long towel

2. Uneven bungee cord chinups:

You need some old bicycle tubes here. Attach them to the bar. Use a shoulder wide grip, one hand gripping the bar, the other squeezing the bicycle tubes. The lower you grab the bungee cords the harder the pullup will get because the longer cord is less tense. Dead hang at the bar. Chin up very slowly, concentrating on your working arm. The bungee cord will let you know when you pull too much with them! Again, the more you pull with both arms the harder the pullup will get, because the cord is getting longer and longer. The more you pull with the assisting arm, the lower it gets, making the pull-up harder.

3. One arm lock outs:

It took some time to find a simple solution to train for one arm lock outs. I highly recommend doing them. Like overhead pressing and squats, heavy one arm lock outs will strengthen your tendons and ligaments like nothing else. If you train one arm lock outs with weight for at least 6 months, increasing the weight whenever possible, and use singles, you will come back stronger than ever. When you can do lock outs with 125% of bodyweight or more, you will be flying up to the bar. But this means work. Hard, hard work. 125% means 125kg for a 100kg man, he must pull this weight for 10 cm with one arm!
By the way, I highly recommend speed bands to add resistance instead of plates. Speed bands will add more resistance the more you pull up and this will strenghten your weak point (upper part of the chinup) even better than using plates. To train the lock outs, you need a rope or a chain, and a weight plate or heavy dumbell and a jeans belt. Attach the rope or chain to the plate and place it under the chinning bar. The rope or chain should be 1,5m long depending on the height of the chinning bar. Fix the jeans belt on your waist. Now grab the bar and deadhang while the free hand holds the rope at belt height. Slightly pull the rope until it's tensed up. Come down from the pullup bar while still holding the rope at the marked height. That?s your deadhang length. Now add 10 cm to this length. Let?s say, your deadhang length is 1m, so the complete length is now 110cm. Mark this length. Attach the rope to your belt. Fix the belt on your waist, deadhang and pullup. You will be stopped by the rope after 10cm range of motion. Perfect for lock outs. Everytime you are training lock outs, the rope will let you know when you reach your lock out range. No need to estimate the lock out range of motion anymore.

4. Training on a bathroom scale

I highly recommend training on a bathroom scale to develop pullup power for any position of the pullup. Just take a bathroom scale, place it under your pullup bar and step onto it. It?s helpful to have a doorbar to adjust the height you need. For example, suppose you want to improve your strength at the top of a pullup. Grab the bar (your arm is in top lock position) while standing on the scale and pull down like there is no tomorrow. If the scale moves, just hold a plate in the free hand. Select a weight, say 25% of your bodyweight and try to make the scale show 25%. Example: You weigh 100kg. Step on the scale. Pull down until the scale shows you "25kg". Try to hold for one minute. I wouldn?t go to "20kg" or even less because the scale could slip away, leading to serious injury. When you reach your goal of one minute, just pick up a heavy dumbell and try to get to "25kg" again. The main point while doing this exercise is not to hold the lock off, but train the "pulldown" at the top position. You could use the scale-method for any other position of the one arm chin.

5. Uneven pinch grip chinups:

You need a piece of wood (150mm*80mm*30mm). Drill two holes in this piece and attach two loops at the holes and knot the whole thing to the pullup bar:

Grab the pull-up bar with one hand, the pinch grip block with the other. Do a chin-up. You will quickly realize how difficult holding the fingers closed gets after several reps. Warning: Do not do this exercise until you can do at least one solid negative one arm chin! If you can't keep your fingers closed and slip from the board, you will hurt your pulling muscles and ligaments. Don?t let this happen to you!

The above examples are just some possibilities. A rough guideline is: Make it very hard for the grip of your non-working arm and work as hard as possible with your working arm. Lower the non-working arm more and more and eventually you will meet your goal of a true one-arm chin. Add some speed band and weak grip training for your working arm when you are advanced.


1. Start conservatively. Place your non- working hand 25cm below the bar or higher.
2. Start with low reps, low sets.
3. While progressing, use the "fist length"- technique to get the needed length.
4. Hold the lock while chinning.
5. Try to work as much as possible with you working arm.
6. Work up to daily training with higher reps, but lower sets
7. Add lock outs to strengthen your tendons. Very important point!
8. When you reach advanced towel length, add speed band work to pass the last 10%.

Finally, here are pictures of gorilla chins ;-))))

Picture 5: Assisted towel chins with a 10 fists towel.

All in all: tips and tricks

1. As I wrote above, I do not believe in technique, but in pure strength to become a good one-arm chinner. Nevertheless I will tell you one trick, and I think this trick is the only thing I ever used that I would call technique. When you dead-hang with your right arm on the bar, you will always rotate counter-clockwise, never clockwise. To fight the twist, learn to press with your palm, especially the part below your pinkie finger. Try to bend the pull-up bar counter-clockwise using your working hand. With this technique, you can stop the twist and control your body rotation.

2. This article is mainly about the road to your first one arm-chin. But what to do when you are almost there? You could use negatives, speed bands, longer towels, other reps, more sets and so on, but I would do the following: Suppose that you could easily break the deadhang, but can't go beyond 90?. Start in the deadhang and pullup as high as you can while using good form. When you meet your sticking point, grab the forearm of the working arm with your free hand and pull your chin above the bar. When you are at the top position, remove your "free" hand and do a slow "true" negative rep. This trick will work for every sticking point. Suppose your sticking point is the first half of the one-arm chin. Start in the deadhang while your free hand is resting on your working shoulder. Pullup while pressing with your free hand on the shoulder to assist the whole movement. When you reach the 90? mark remove the assisting hand from the shoulder and pullup in true one-arm chin style. Do a slow negative and repeat the whole movement as often as you can. With this technique you could easily do reps. When you could do sets of 3 for at least 5 sets, you are very advanced and on the way to become a great one-arm chinner. Keep up the volume and try to get more and more sets into your workout.

3. Forearm work: I highly recommend one arm dead-hangs. Heavy dead-hangs will strengthen your arm from the fingertips to shoulder. Work up to heavy weights (~15kg and more) as soon as possible for sets of 30 seconds. When you practise them without weights, try to get partial one arm chins ( ROM ~ 5cm). Do them in a springy fashion. You could get 15 reps or more during a 30 seconds interval. Practice them for a month and you will never lose a rep when you are doing reps of one-arm chins because of a weak grip! Alternate them with one arm dead-hangs using a towel.

4. Stop doing isolated arm work while training for a one-arm chin. Curls are useless! Believe me, you will get stronger than ever before by doing nothing but heavy one arm chinning work!

5. Perhaps the most useful tip: Love the damn plateau! Fall in love with periods of sticking points. Love them. Jack met the plateau, I met the plateau, and so will you. Perhaps it took a month to get only 1 rep more in a 3 set workout. Who cares? Don't try to reach personal bests every month. Keep it easy and simple. Make a 6 month plan, for example, using the pinkie finger, adding "two fist" length, adding 2,5kg. This is enough! Do not rush things.

We wish you the best while training for the one-arm chin. I hope you enjoyed our joint venture and that you reach your goal.

Alexander, the Bavarian Jack, from Brooklyn