Ask any bodybuilder, personal trainer or coach and they will agree pull-ups and chin-ups are on the top of the list for strength training. Hands down, lat pull-downs, pull-ups, and chin-ups are the best exercises for developing strong muscles, powerful biceps, and back strength. Certainly, they will test your level of fitness!
Research shows the pull-up and chin-up are equally effective, what most people do not recognise is the two are not the same exercise. However, they do have many similarities. It is important to note, the results are different. It is these differences that determine which of the two exercises you should be applying.
What is a Chin-Up?
A chin-up is when you lift your entire body weight upward, against the force of gravity until your chin reaches to the level of the bar above you. A chin-up will start with an underhand grip on the bar you’re using.
Your hand position can vary but you don’t want them too wide as this can place unnecessary strain on the elbows and tendons. Your hands should be lined up with your shoulders – or slightly more close together – to properly do a chin-up.
A chin-up will involve pulling your weight upwards recruiting the lats, but with a more pronounced emphasis on the biceps. The biceps are better utilized once your grip becomes underhand – or supinated. Both a pull-up and a chin-up are two of the most demanding upper body exercises there are and could be considered the king of upper body exercises.
What is A Pull-Up?
A pull-up is also pulling your entire bodyweight upward against the force of gravity until your chin is to at least level with the bar above you. A pull-up will be done with an overhand grip. There are also a few options with this grip.
One way can be to grip the thumbs right around the bar with the rest of the fingers. The other way is to line them up underneath the bar. Whatever thumb position you choose is a matter of preference but it can help to experiment with both to see how they feel.
When doing a strict pull-up, you will grab the bar with that forward hand grip placed just about shoulder-width apart. Your elbows will be pulled back and lined up with the upper body to ensure full lat recruitment.
There will not be as much elbow flexion with a pull-up, but this is what makes it a great back strengthening and muscle-building exercise.
How to Do Pull-Ups the Right Way
- Start by gripping the pull-up bar. Remember, your palms should face away from you and your hands/grip just past your shoulders
- Placement is essential to the outcome. If your grip is too far, it makes the pull-up awkward and leaves you at risk for injury.
- Hang on to the bar, making certain your arms are straight and your legs are off the floor.
- Stop when your chin has reached just above the bar. At this point, your elbows should bend fully.
- Pull-up on the bar using your elbows. It should feel as though you’re pulling your
elbows down to the floor.
- Finish by gradually lowering yourself until your arms return to the starting position.
- Be careful not to let your body rock or extend your elbows too far.
How to Do Chin-Ups the Right Way
- The best approach is to place your hands firmly on the bar, palms in an underhand grip or facing you. Making sure your palms are shoulder-width apart.
- With your feet off the floor and elbows straight, use your upper arm strength to lift your body.
- Stop when your chin has reached just above the bar. At this point, your elbows should bend fully.
- Return your body to a resting position
If you’re just beginning, start slow. Beginners can start with negative pull-ups and then progress to the standard pull-up.
After the second or third chin-up, wait a few minutes before doing another one. You should feel the burn and will be grateful for the rest in-between.
In a few days, attempt doing a couple of pull-ups or chin-ups in a row. Challenge yourself by doing two or three sets. If you really want to push yourself, try four sets of two!
When executing a pull-up, your palms should face outward. In other words, your knuckles should face you. Additionally, the width of your grip should extend slightly past your shoulders.
Use an underhand grip to do a chin-up. Underhand means your fingers or palms are facing you and the grip is the same width as your shoulders.
Although these are the two most common grips, there are a couple more variations you can use such as the neutral grip. This is a chin-up grip in which the palms are facing one another. That’s ambitious for most of us to imagine, let alone accomplish.
The differences between chin-ups and pull-ups
The grip will be the primary difference between a chin-up and a pull-up. After that, it comes down to the muscles that are primarily used throughout the exercise. When performing a chin-up, the load and exertion focus more on the bicep area. With a pull-up, the lats are the primary drivers of the movement.
This isn’t to say that the lats are not used when performing a chin-up, it’s that they are used to a lesser degree compared to the pull-up. And the same thing goes for the biceps; they are still recruited throughout a pull-up motion, but not to the same extent as the chin up. The lats will take the majority of the resistance through the pull-up motion.
Both methods are made up of vertical movements, working out the back, biceps, and lats. Pull-ups also involve shoulder movements and adduction.
When doing a pull-up, your elbows should come down and then back up from your sides. Similarly, if you do chin-ups, the elbows come down, then back from your front. Whilst the movements are similar, the muscles train differently during a pull-up.
With that said, if your goal is to develop and define the muscle groups and to grow stronger, it would probably be a great idea to incorporate both exercises in your routine.
- Biceps brachii
- Lattismus dorsi
- Terres major
- Posterior deltoid
- Spinal stabilizers
- Abdominal and core muscles
- Latissimus dorsi
- Terres minor
- Spinae erectors
- Pectoralis major
- External obliques
Both exercises will train your biceps, back, and lats. However, depending on the grip, there are differences in the level to which they work the muscles. Grip width determines which muscles train the hardest.
Pull-ups will not strengthen your lower body as you do not use those muscles in the exercise. Makes sense, right? Pull-ups are vertical motions which work the upper body, mainly the upper-arms, rear shoulders and several muscles in the back.
Most people can complete a chin-up rather than a pull-up. Because of the grip, they may accomplish more chin-ups than pull-ups. This is especially true of newbies or beginners. It’s doesn’t make you any less capable, so don’t let it bother you.
The more chin-ups you do, the better at them you’ll become. Eventually, you may surprise yourself at the level of strength you have. You can absolutely use leg weights with a chin-up to increase the challenge or resistance bands to support your body weight. If this is the case, demand more of yourself each week and change your grip style.
Which One is Better for Beginners and Advanced?
A chin-up is generally much easier for a beginner to perform – especially when the grip is not too wide. Most people have relatively strong biceps and with a chin-up, they are more likely to be able to lift their bodies. A pull-up becomes much more difficult for a beginner as it requires a great deal of lat and core strength to work in conjunction to lift the body.
The advanced lifter will want to focus on pull-ups with varying degrees of wider hand placement. It is good to combine both chin-ups and pull-ups in your workouts as it will help to get a wider range of muscle development, and increased gains in strength.
If you’re trying to maximize the strength of your back and target more of the muscle in there such as the trapezius and the rhomboids, you will want to primarily focus on pull-ups.
Pull up & Chin-up workout routine
If you’re having trouble performing a pull-up or chin-up you’ll need to get started in a basic routine. If you start with inverted rows, you can mimic the motion of both a pull-up and a chin-up. As you move the barbell lower to the ground, you increase the difficulty and make it more like a regular bodyweight lift. This will work well for a few weeks as you develop the strength needed to perform a regular chin-up and pull-up
From there you can start doing assisted band chin-ups and pull-ups. This will allow you to use your own bodyweight but have assistance from the bands to propel you upward. When you are able to perform 8 to 10 repetitions with a band, you can move on to a band with lighter resistance so that your body weight is doing more of the work.
Following this for a few weeks should help build up your strength where you should be able to perform at least once chin-up. The idea is to get to the point where you can go for several reps using just your bodyweight but then use a step or a band to help get yourself back up to finish off the remaining reps.
When you can do at least 6 to 8 regular chin-ups, you should be able to perform a few regular pull-ups. Remember to start with the hands close to shoulder-width apart making sure not to go too wide as this will make it even more difficult.
You can follow the same procedures with the pull=-ups, going for as many strict reps as possible before using a bench or band to assist you for the remaining repetitions.
What are the Different Variations of the Pull-Up and Chin Up
Hand positioning will be able to create variations when doing bodyweight pull-ups, or chin-ups. You can alter between a narrow grip with the hands closer together, and then start to spread them wider apart.
A wider hand position will work better with pull-ups due to the force that can be put on the biceps. The wide grip pull-up is a great variation to target more of the outer lats and make the exercise more challenging.
With chin-ups, you can alter your elbow position to create some more variation such as lining the elbows up with the body or place them in front of you to create a new stimulus for the body.
Some other variations include using bands if you have trouble with bodyweight lifts. The bands will assist you in moving your weight upward so that you are still engaging your own strength. You can transition to lighter resistance bands so that you are using more of your own body weight compared to the resistance of the bands.
Inverted rows, lat pulldowns, and even barbell rows will help to develop the strength – and use the similar muscles – that are involved with chin-ups, and pull-ups.
What Equipment Would be Best Suited to Perform the Pull-Up and Chin Ups
A standard straight pull-up bar is all you will need to perform a basic pull-up or chin-up. Every gym will have some form of pull-up bar whether it’s standalone, part of a cable machine, or added on to a squat rack.
There are home pull-up bars that can easily be installed in a door frame, you just want to make sure there is enough head clearance and a lack of other things that may inhibit you from a safe lift.
If you are performing assisted pull-ups and chin-ups, you will want to consider some resistance bands. A bench or a box are other pieces of equipment that can be used to step up on to extend the repetitions or to perform negative reps.
If you’re looking for overall strength, muscle coordination, and muscle building, a pull-up will be your best bet. If you are a beginner and having trouble with bodyweight exercises, a chin-up will be the better choice.
The positioning of the elbows allows for less elbow flexion which is what forces the lats to do the majority of the work in a pull-up – and this makes it more difficult. The underhand grip also helps to coordinate the upper body in an easier way to perform the lift as the exercise load is more concentrated.
It usually comes down to not having enough wider lat strength, and weaker tendons and joints. A pull-up causes a lot of force on the muscles through the arms and back, and if they are not developed enough, it can be difficult to perform a pull-up. With a chin-up, the weight load is not spread as much through the upper back, and the biceps are able to assist more through the movement.
A chin-up will definitely help improve a pull-up because both motions are about lifting one’s own bodyweight upward. A chin-up will still recruit the muscles in the back which are necessary to perform a pull-up. A chin-up will also help to build core strength which is involved in performing a proper pull-up
Pull-ups and chin-ups work countless muscles in the upper body. By changing the way you hold the bar, you can work a specific muscle group harder than the rest. You want to balance your workout sessions to improve not only how you look but also increase your performance levels.