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In this monthly series of articles, Mike will discuss the science and practice of physical training for Water Polo. Strength, flexibility, Water Polo science, rehab and other areas of interest with respect to the physical development of the Water Polo athlete will be covered.

While the Squat is called by many as the king of strength exercises, the Chin Up could be called the king of the upper body.

Classically, the Chin Up is where you grab the bar with a supinated grip (palms facing you) while the Pull Up is a pronated grip (palms facing away). There are also the many different variations of performing chin/pull ups (neutral grip, mixed, ropes/towels, …).

The Chin Up is a very safe exercise to have athletes perform and you could quite safely have 12 year old athletes doing them a few times/week to begin to develop some more upper body strength.

Chin Ups are also a pulling exercise which Water Polo players should be doing more of compared to pushing exercises. Usually 2-3x more pulling then pushing is prescribed for most Water Polo athletes.

What is better the Chin Up or the Pull Up?

It's not about what is better but what is more appropriate. I always start the athletes I coach on Chin Ups first because you are stronger with a supinated grip and you will have more athletes who are successful in performing the exercise then if you choose a harder version right out of the gate like Pull Ups.

But what do you do if you cannot do a Chin Up?

Here is a four step plan for getting your athletes from zero to chin up hero.

  1. Set the Standard

    What do you constitute as a chin up?

    I am very strict with my exercise technique and what is a rep and what isn't. This isn't about being hard on the athletes. It actually helps the athlete in the long run both physically and mentally.

    It doesn't matter what your standard is, just make so it is easily reproducible and easy to understand.

    The standard I use is: a) start from a dead hang with arms straight and feet off the ground. b) pull your chin past the bar with the chest touching even better. c) return to starting position between each repetition, arms must be fully locked out.


  2. Test

    Using your Chin Up standard, see how many you can do. If you cannot do 1 repetition, then go to step 3. If you can do at least 1 solid rep then start building your Chin Up strength by performing 1-3 sets of as many reps as possible, 2-3 x/week. This is good for the athlete who is new to strength training. Someone who is more seasoned with strength training may need a slightly different approach to enhance their Chin Up development but 2-3 sets, 2-3x/week is a good place to start.

  3. Isometrics

    If you are unable to do at least one solid Chin Up then you will do isometric holds at the top position. In elementary school we used to do this as part of a fitness test and it was called “the flexed arm hang”. Have your athlete perform 1-3 sets, 2-3x/week of maximum isometric holds at the top position.

    From my experience, when the athlete can hold for around 30-60s, then they will likely now be able to do a full Chin Up.

    If the athlete cannot even hold themselves up for 5-10s, then you may need to use some other general strengthening exercises to get them to the point of at least a 10s hold but you can always first try the Chin Up Holds for 2-4 weeks to gauge their progress.

  4. Re-Test

    Retest only when the athletes Chin Up Hold significantly improves. Avoid having the athlete test themselves every week or training session. Just have them perform the isometric hold at the top for 2-4 weeks before re-testing BUT there must be improvement in that isometric hold and it should be at a minimum of 30s but even better if it is closer to 60s.

    What I want to see happen is the athlete come back to the bar and crush it after doing something else (Chin Up Hold) to build themselves up. If the athlete tests themselves to often, then it can become very discouraging and all the see is that their Chin Ups are still at zero.

It's not easy though and takes some serious determination by the athlete to improve. The harder they work the more they will get out of the strength training.

[Click Mike Reid's name at top of page to learn more about his
strength training & conditioning experiences and his web sites.]