Does a Half Chin-up or Pull-up Count as the Real Thing?

Updated on October 10, 2019
Lorra Garrick profile image

Former ACE-certified personal trainer Lorra Garrick has trained men and women for fat loss, muscle building, and more strength and fitness.

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You’ve seen it plenty of times, and maybe you’re guilty of it yourself: doing a bunch of chin-up or pull-up reps but going down only halfway (or three-quarters of the way) instead of all the way down into a dead-hang before pulling yourself back up (chin to bar).

Half-way chin-ups do count in that they work several muscle groups. Most people, randomly chosen off the street, would not be able to perform five of these in a row.

But I’ve always wondered why some people will concentrate on working up to many reps with this move instead of re-calibrating to fewer repetitions from a dead-hang (arms straight).

It Depends on Your Goals

Is the goal to tone your biceps and lower arms? The half approach will get the job done, but gee, you may as well sit on a seat and just do palms-forward pull-downs with a narrow-grip handle.

This makes me wonder what the goal really is for those who do incomplete reps.

What I typically see when someone does half chin-ups is a non-overweight man, often middle age, who does many reps in this fashion.

And I think, “Cut the reps in half or a third, and you’ll be able to do a complete range of motion for each of those reps.”

Let’s admit it: Sometimes, the goal is just to look strong to other gym members. The chin-up and pull-up are moves that very few people—relative to the general population—can actually do. It’s a classic show move.

Though a popular question is “How much can you bench?” a popular request is “Let’s see you do pull-ups.”

Some people get it in their heads that it looks impressive to do high reps of half-pulls.

They don’t want to be seen doing only four or five, maybe even just three, repetitions of dead-hangs.

Benefits of Dead-Hang Chin-ups and Pull-ups

  • If you want to impress others, the dead-hang is the way to go. You know this because they’re way too hard for you to do for five reps if you’ve only been going halfway!
  • A complete range of motion also means more back muscle recruitment and a nice bonus: abdominal recruitment.
  • The complete range of motion will engage your “six-pack” muscles in a way that’s totally unique. Complete range of motion also means getting your chin over the bar.
  • And yet another benefit to a complete range of motion—from the top of the movement to the bottom—is that it might save you in a real-life crisis. You just never know.
  • Another benefit to consider is that the full ROM engages the entire biceps group.

Illusion of Having More Strength than You Actually Have

Incomplete repetitions will give you a false sense of accomplishment, but again, if all you want is more tone in your arms, then you’re all set (though it’d be a lot easier to achieve this tone by doing seated, narrow- or middle-grip lat pull-downs).

Something tells me, however, that the men who do high reps of incomplete chin-ups aren’t gunning for more arm tone.

You might be thinking that repeatedly going down and up, down and up halfway is the only way to develop the strength for a full range of motion. But actually, this is not true.

But going only halfway does allow you to do more repetitions, which creates the illusion that you’re stronger than you actually are for this type of movement.

How to Break the Halfway Habit in the Chin-up

  • Grab the bar, and dead hang all your weight, legs straight and still.
  • Count two seconds.
  • Pull yourself up without any yanking, without kicking or lifting your legs.
  • If you barely got your chin to the bar, and know you cannot do another one without rest, then that’s perfectly fine. Your starting point is one repetition.
  • Rest, then complete another full-range rep.
  • Rest, then repeat the cycle several more times.
  • Do this twice a week—along with other pulling exercises, such as seated cable rows. Within about 30 days, you should be able to complete three full-range reps in a row—assuming that you're not overweight. A little excess weight won't make it impossible to do dead-hangs, but it'll take a little longer to get there.

And, by the way, the dead-hang in between reps does NOT mean a cheat rest. Hanging is work. Most people who are sedentary cannot dead-hang for longer than several seconds.

People who hang two seconds before each repetition are actually creating more workload, which is good. Hanging is a form of static weightlifting; you are fighting against your own body weight.

If you can go only halfway up from a straight-arm hang, then that’s your new baseline. Rest, try again. Rinse and repeat. You should be able to complete a full repetition within 30 days.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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