Chin-ups And Pull-ups: Major Differences and Muscles Worked

chin-ups and pull-ups - Fitzabout
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Updated: February 9th, 2023

Chin-ups and pull-ups are most famous for their effect on the latissimus dorsi (“lats”) muscles, but they are equally important for the other muscles of the upper back – the rhomboids, teres major, serratus group, and rotator cuff muscles, as well as the forearm and hand.

Chin-ups and pull-ups

When you want to build the back and full-body strength, stabilize the core, and look like a badass, you probably want to master chin-ups and pull-ups. Chin-ups also work the pecs a bit if done with a diligent dead hang, and the abs if enough reps are used to tire them out.

Both are good, aren’t they? Yes, the chin-ups and pull-ups are both wonderful back builder exercises – but they’re not the same thing.

Pull-ups are probably the oldest resistance exercise known to mankind. Arboreal primates use this movement in the process of locomotion, and since we’re standing on the ground, it’s hard to resist the temptation to grasp a branch overhead and rest our chin on it. And you must be strong enough to do so; Pull-ups are not only a great exercise, but also a very good indicator of upper body strength.

If you can’t do a lot of chin-ups, increase your press and bench press as you get stronger at this important exercise. And that’s why it’s the only auxiliary exercise included in the novice program.

What are the Pull-ups?

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The term “pull-up” refers to the version of the exercise with prone hands. The pull-up exercise is a challenging upper body strength training exercise where you hold onto an overhead bar; And to do a pull-up, you start by hanging over a pull-up bar with palms facing away from you and the body fully extended. You then pull yourself up until the chin is over the bar.

What are the Chin-ups?

chin-ups exercise - Fitzabout

The term “chin-up” or just “chin” refers to the version performed with supine hands. The chin-up exercise is one of the most challenging strength training exercises where you hold a narrow supine position that uses full body weight, with a special focus on the upper body and core. Perform a chin-up exercise by holding a pull-up bar and lifting yourself up from a dead hang until the bar is below the chin.

Chin-ups vs pull-ups

The main difference between the two Chin-ups and Pull-ups are the involvement of the biceps in the chin-ups and the lack of it in the pull-ups. Engaging the biceps makes chin-ups a little easier than pull-ups, as well as adding aesthetic elements of arm work to the movement.

Pull-ups are difficult, and they probably put more emphasis on lat involvement, because the absence of the biceps means that something else must do its job. Due to the pronation, the pull-up can also over-extend the elbow for a lifter who is not very flexible.

The prone grip shortens the distance between the grip and the shoulders; If you don’t pay attention to keeping it close, careless handling increases this distance. So pull-ups may seem easy to some people if they stay too far from the chin-up bar.

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When you gain strength, you can add weight to tighter chins and pull-ups for an increased workload. The more your torso moves, the more the muscles of the trunk are involved, and this is what can lead to sore abs. But in any variation of the chin-up or pull-up, where your whole body moves, is better than the machine version of the exercise, the “lat pull-down,” in which only your arms move.

The chin-up is a better starting exercise than the pull-up, and probably a better exercise overall because it involves more muscles.

You’ll use a bar set slightly above the level of the toes when you’re standing straight on the floor. When you’re hanging from this level, the toes should just touch the floor. This is of course an ideal height, and the equipment may be lower or higher.

The crossbar at the top of a power rack works well, as can a bar set high in the rack pins. If you’re lucky enough to be enlightened enough to train at a gym that provides chin bars, enjoy them, as they’re not common.

A bar that is 1¼ inches in diameter fits most hands best, unless they are unusually small. But it’s not hard to do, and most training facilities will have room for novice trainees to chin up.

The grip

In a chin-up grip, the palms are in front of you, shoulder-width apart. The width of the grip can vary several inches depending on the flexion of the elbow; The more freely the hands can bend, the wider the grip can be.

The wide grip enhances supination and the involvement of the biceps. The wider the grip, the greater the external rotation of the humerus.

The closer the grip, the more the humerus is internally rotated, the more the scapula is abducted, and the less the scapula retractors and posterior delts are involved.

Grip width may not be a practical variable to manipulate due to the combined stresses at the extremes of wide and narrow; But since grip width affects the way the shoulders interact with a load, some shoulder injuries can be affected by grip width.

A shoulder width grip is fine for your purposes and should not present a problem for most people. Chalk creates better grip and fewer calluses, and it is essential to use it. A bent or rough bar destroys the hands and therefore adversely impacts the rest of the training.

The movement

The movement itself is apparently simple: Take the grip, and pull the elbow “down,” which will result in you leaving the ground.

Each rep begins with a full stretch at the bottom, with elbows straight and shoulder blades pulled up, and is completed when the chin clears the bar. A more honest approach might be to touch the chest to the bar, but we’ll count the reps if the chin clears your face forward, and your head isn’t back. Try to stay as close to the bar as possible.

Fully extended, with a slight pause at the bottom, the gold standard rep is performed from a dead hang. It is very common to see a partial chin-up, which should be called a “forehead” or “nose-up” and is usually lower than a straight elbow down.

For a high-rep set, you can use the stretch reflex at the floor, as long as the floor is actually the floor. In this case, breathing would involve a sharp breath at the top of each rep.

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For high-rep sets of 12 or more, you’ll find that the first two-thirds to three-quarters of the set will be rebounding; And the last reps will be done with a dead hang as you take a few breaths between reps at the bottom.

When you can’t do a complete chin-up or pull-up

Cutting the reps either high or low is as bad as squatting high: The primary benefit of the exercise is at the ends of the movement. The downward lats are stretched, and the first shrug of the scapulas are all the lats and upper back muscles stretched downward.

Finishing at the top is the biceps and triceps, and a complete rep means you’ve moved your body through space a steady, measurable distance. Each rep is therefore equal, and your effort becomes quantifiable, not just flailing through the air.

But what if you absolutely can’t do a chin-up? Lower the bar slightly (or lift off the floor, probably an easier thing to do artificially) and use a jump start to initiate the movement until you’re strong enough to do it hard.

Make sure to keep yourself in check to make the most of negativity, and always only jump as far as is necessary. Or you can use resistance bands in a rack until you’re strong enough to perform the movement with just a jump.

The ability to do an upright chin-up may be beyond some novices with heavy weights. If you can’t do a good hard rep at all, it would be best to wait until the lat and arms are stronger than the deadlift and press; Or until the body fat is low enough that you can effectively handle body weight on the bar.

1. Kipping chin-ups and pull-ups

Kipping chin-ups and pull-ups are gymnastic derivatives of the jumping version. The kipping version uses a slight swing motion before the bridge, when the swing is converted into an upward roll of the hips, converting swing energy into upward motion.

Kip distributes the movement over more muscle mass by using the abs, hip flexors and lower back in addition to the lats and arms, so the exercise can use more muscle mass and perform more reps. Strict chin-ups and pull-ups focus the effort on the lower muscles and make them work harder.

Kipping chin-ups and pull-ups have proven themselves useless as a way to strengthen stricter versions of the movement; And in the absence of enough strength to perform the strenuous versions, they have proven to be hazardous to shoulder health.

Resist the temptation to jump on any bandwagon that encourages short-term gratification at the expense of long-term progress. Many people who can do 15 kipping reps can’t do 2 dead-hangs, and haven’t made any progress in their dead-hangs since they started cheating the movement with kips.

If you want to use kipping pull-ups or chin-ups in a conditioning workout, make sure the shoulders and arms are strong enough to do 8-10 strenuous reps first, so you don’t injure yourself chasing a meaningless number. Do not deliver If you cut this crucial corner, shoulder surgery may be the only reward you get.

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2. Weighted chin-ups and pull-ups

Weighted chin-ups and pull-ups are an excellent source of heavy non-pressing work for the upper body.

The plates are suspended from a chain on a belt, or a dumbbell may be held at the feet if not much weight is used. A good rule of thumb is that when you can do 12-15 bodyweight reps, it’s probably time to start doing some weighted work, possibly alternating high-rep bodyweight workouts with lower-rep weighted workouts.

Many sets are suitable for chin-ups and pull-ups, either weighted, unweighted, or assisted. And many people have made steady linear progress by micro-loading their chin the same way they program the bench press and press, adding 1.5 pounds (0.68 kg) – 2 pounds (0.91 kg) to three sets of 5 reps each workout. Try them all and see what works best for you. 1

Bottom line

Chin-ups and pull-ups are two commonly used bodyweight exercises used to strengthen the muscles of the upper body.

While both exercises involve different grips of the bar, the main difference between chin-ups and pull-ups is how you grip the bar.

For chin-ups, you grip the bar with your palms facing you, but with pull-ups, you grip the bar with palms away from you. As a result, chin-ups work better on muscles in the front of the body, such as the biceps and chest, while pull-ups are more effective at targeting the muscles of the back and shoulders. 2

Chin-ups and pull-ups – Is One Better Than the Other? — No. Both exercises present a relatively equal challenge and are great options for strengthening the muscles of the upper body.

That said, there may be a better option for you depending on fitness goals, and what one may feel comfortable with based on current strength routine, body proportions and muscle firing patterns.

Research on muscle activation comparing chin-ups and pull-ups suggests that chin-ups work the same types of muscles as pull-ups; Although with more emphasis on the biceps and pectoral muscles and slightly less emphasis on the latissimus dorsi and lower trapezius. 2 3

Simply put, chin-ups will emphasize the muscles of the arms and chest, while pull-ups will emphasize the muscles of the back and shoulders.

People who are just starting to incorporate Chin-ups and pull-ups into their workouts may find that chin-ups are easier to master. Why? Because, the narrower, slanted grip allows you to recruit more muscles in the arms and chest, and it keeps the line of pull closer to the center of gravity.

ⓘ Sources

  1. Sources: Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, By Mark Rippetoe. Available here:
  2. Youdas JW, Amundson CL, Cicero KS, Hahn JJ, Harezlak DT, Hollman JH. Surface electromyographic activation patterns and elbow joint motion during a pull-up, chin-up, or perfect-pullup™ rotational exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Dec;24(12):3404-14. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181f1598c. PMID: 21068680.
  3. Dickie JA, Faulkner JA, Barnes MJ, Lark SD. Electromyographic analysis of muscle activation during pull-up variations. J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2017 Feb;32:30-36. doi: 10.1016/j.jelekin.2016.11.004. Epub 2016 Nov 28. PMID: 28011412.

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