Article last updated: January 2020 by Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
In my articles throughout the last 6 years I’ve recommended chin ups over and over again as the #1 exercise for skinny-fat guys.
First and foremost, the chin up targets the most important muscle group skinny-fat guys need to develop: The lats.
The lats are the “swimmers muscle” located right under your arm-pits.
They’re the biggest muscle group on the upper body in terms of volume and thereby have the biggest growth potential on the upper body.
When your lats become wide, they give your upper body a very wide appearance from both the front and back and make your waist look a lot smaller.
Since the lats are the biggest upper body muscle in terms of volume, they have much bigger growth potential than the shoulders and thereby they should be prioritized higher than shoulder training.
The problem with developing the lats is that there is only one great exercise for it and that is the chin up.
While other lat exercises such as lat pulldowns and pullovers are good, they don’t come close to becoming really strong on chin ups and later weighted chin ups.
The chin up is a compound exercise that shocks the body in a way that you don’t get on an isolation exercise like the lat pulldown.
If you don’t believe me, try performing 10 chin ups at your bodyweight then try doing 10 lat pulldowns using the same weight as your own bodyweight.
The lat pulldowns will feel much easier and put less stress on the body.
The reason for this is simple: With the chin up you’re moving the body through space while the lat pulldown moves a weight through space.
When you move the body through space rather than a weight, you send a huge growth signal to the body and that’s why bodyweight exercises (especially weighted bodyweight exercises) are so powerful for body-transformations.
Now, the problem is that a lot of skinny-fat guys can’t even do 1 chin up.
I know because I used to have the same problem (it took me 6 months to get my first chin up).
The mistake a lot of us make is to start practicing lat pulldowns to achieve our first chin up.
This is not ideal because while the lat pulldown trains similar muscles, it is much easier than the chin up.
Using the lat pulldown to achieve your first chin up is like using decline bench presses to achieve your first dip.
While the exercises train the same muscles, the difficulty level is too far away.
In addition to this, the chin up is largely a skill exercise.
This means that you have to practice the chin up movement over and over again to become good at it.
If you want to get your first chin up the best way is to practice the exercise that resembles it the most: the negative chin up.
With the negative chin up you’re only performing the lowering part of the chin up.
This can be done by holding onto a chin up bar, then jumping up and slowly lowering yourself.
You will find that even though you’re only lowering yourself, this exercise is much harder than the lat pulldown.
The great thing about the negative part of the exercise is that most of the muscle building effect occurs during the negative part.
To be specific, roughly 2/3 of the muscle stimulation happens during the negative part of an exercise as long as you perform it in a slow and controlled way.
As a result, by practicing negative chin ups, you’re essentially doing 2/3 chin up reps.
Over time as you keep practicing negative chin ups, you will become both stronger and more skilled at the chin up movement and thereby you will get your first chin up rep in the fastest way possible.
I know that negatives may not look cool and you probably hate doing them in front of other people at the gym because they make you look weak, but they’re by far the best way to get your first rep on chin ups and later build very wide lats.
Be proud but stay hungry!
Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer