Chin-Ups vs Pull-Ups – Introduction
In the battle of chin-ups vs pull-ups: which is better to build muscle?
But, while they are similar, they are also different enough that it’s essential to know which is which, and which one you should do when.
This article explores the similarities and differences between these two exercises so you can choose the right one for your fitness goals.
By the end, you will be able to pick a winner in the great chin-ups vs pull-ups debate!
Pull-ups vs chin-ups muscles worked
Since chin-ups and pull-ups are compound exercises, they involve multiple muscle groups working together.
And, because these exercises are so similar, they target the same muscle groups, albeit in slightly different ways.
The muscle groups worked by chin-ups, and pull-ups are:
Known as the lats for short, these are the large wing-like muscles on the side of your upper back.
During pull-ups, the lats are responsible for adducting your shoulder joint, which means they pull your upper arms in toward your sides.
In chin-ups, the lats pull your arms down and back in a movement called shoulder extension.
Subsequently, both chin-ups and pull-ups are useful for developing your lats.
The posterior chain refers to many powerful muscles located on the back of your body from your feet to your head.
It should be no surprise then that the deadlift works all the muscles of your posterior chain!
Located on the front of your upper arm, your biceps are responsible for flexing your elbows.
As such, they are synergists, which means they are assistant muscles.
While the biceps work in both chin-ups and pull-ups, they are more active in chin-ups, which use a supinated or underhand grip.
You can find the brachialis beneath your biceps.
The brachialis works with the biceps to flex your elbow.
It gets more of a workout in pull-ups than chin-ups because it’s most active with an overhand grip and even more so with a neutral grip.
Trapezius and rhomboids
Located on your upper back, across, and between your shoulder blades, these muscles pull your shoulder blades down and back.
When you do chin-ups and pull-ups properly, these muscles work isometrically, which means they generate tension without causing movement.
They work to keep your shoulders stable and provide a steady platform for your more massive lat muscles.
Despite being an upper-body exercise, your ab muscles are also involved in pull-ups and chin-ups.
They work to stabilize your spine and lower body and stop you from swinging forward and back during your workout.
Their involvement increases if you use a dipping belt and add weights to make your workout harder.
The Benefits of chin-ups and pull-ups
Whichever of these two exercises you do, and you should do both because they are equally useful, you can expect the following benefits:
Lifting your body weight using your arms is an excellent way to build your upper body strength.
For most people, this is a lot of resistance to overcome.
Unless you can crank out pull-ups like a gymnast, you’ll build upper back strength with this exercise.
A firmer grip
Your hands connect your arms to the bar.
As such, pull-ups and chin-ups are outstanding grip strength exercises.
A mighty grip is useful for all sorts of reasons, including sports, and even just opening jars in the kitchen.
Not to mention the fantastic deadlift!
Pull-ups and chin-ups are useful upper body hypertrophy exercises.
That’s why they’re a standard part of most bodybuilder’s workout routine.
They’re renowned for building upper back mass and increasing arm size too.
While both exercises work the lats equally, chin-ups place a little more stress on the biceps.
A good indicator of body weight
If you are overweight, you will find chin-ups and pull-ups much harder.
Losing fat invariably makes these exercises easier.
A lot of people find pull-ups and chin-ups hard, but not because they’re weak.
Instead, it’s because they’re too heavy.
Being able to do pull-ups and chin-ups is a good indicator that you are a healthy weight.
How to do chin-ups and pull-ups
Get the most from both chin-ups and pull-ups by doing them correctly.
Here is a step-by-step guide to the right way to perform a chin-up or pull-up.
Step 1: Grab the bar with an overhand slightly wider-than shoulder-width grip for pull-ups, or a shoulder-width, underhand grip for chin-ups.
Hang with your arms straight, feet clear of the floor, and shoulders pulled down and back.
Step 2: Without kicking or swinging, bend your arms and pull your chin up over the bar.
Pause at the top of the movement for 1-2 seconds.
Step 3: Don’t drop like a stone!
Rather, lower yourself down under control until your arms are straight.
Do not relax your shoulders.
Instead, keep them pulled down and back to maintain muscle activation, ready for your next rep.
Can’t do a single pull-up or chin-up?
You can build more upper body strength to do these exercises by any of the following methods:
Using an assisted chin/pull-up machine
This gym machine uses weights to counterbalance some of your body weight.
As you get stronger, you use less weight until you can do the exercise unaided.
Resistance band pull-ups and chin-ups
No access to an assisted chin/pull-up machine?
You can achieve a similar effect with high-quality resistance bands.
Loop the band over your pull-up bar, and then kneel or stand in it.
The band will give you a boost out of the bottom of each rep, making the exercise more comfortable to perform.
Use thinner/lighter bands as you get stronger.
Working the same muscles as chin-ups and pull-ups, you can use this exercise to build strength for the chin-ups and pull-ups you want to do!
Increase your weights week by week until you are strong enough to lift your body weight with just your arms.
Do lat pulls with a wide grip to replicate pull-ups, or a narrower grip to mimic doing close grip chin-ups.
The biceps play a vital role in pull-ups and chin-ups.
They are also the muscle most likely to be the weak link that fails first during these exercises.
Barbell and dumbbell curls, especially done with heavier weights, will strengthen your biceps and make pull-ups and chin-ups a little more achievable.
Chin-up and pull-up variations
Have you mastered pull-ups and chin-ups?
Good for you!
Here are a few variations to try that will provide you with a new challenge.
Neutral grip pull-ups
A lot of exercisers find neutral grip pull-ups to be the perfect compromise between overhand pull-ups and underhand chin-ups.
It’s a good lat exercise and easy on the elbow joints too.
For many people, it’s the most comfortable version of these exercises.
Try it; you might like it!
If you can do five or more reps of chin-ups or pull-ups, you could be ready for something a little harder.
Do your next workout with some extra weight in the form of a weighted vest, a backpack, or a chin/dip belt.
Start with 5-10% of your body weight and increase from there.
But, because they’re much harder, don’t be tempted to reduce your range of motion.
After a few weeks of weighted chin/pull-ups should see your unweighted performance increase dramatically.
Slow tempo chin/pull-ups
The slower you move, the harder these exercises become.
Make a conscious effort to pull yourself up and lower yourself down more slowly.
Three seconds up and three seconds down is an excellent place to start. Too easy?
Build up to one rep taking 30 seconds each way, which could be the longest minute of your life!
Rope grip chin/pull-ups
For this exercise, you don’t grip the bar.
Instead, you loop a towel over the bar and grab an end in each hand.
With a less secure handhold, this variation is much harder, and a very challenging grip exercise.
Use one or two towels are preferred.
Side to side pull-ups
For this exercise, instead of pulling your chin straight up and over the bar, you pull yourself over to one hand and then the other.
The wider your grip-width, the harder this exercise becomes.
It’s a real lat and biceps killer!
How To Do Side to Side Pull-ups
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All you need to do chin-ups and pull-ups is somewhere suitable to hang.
If you don’t have a pull-up or chin-up bar, you can use a tree branch, power tower, or even a climbing frame at your local park.
Or, loop a towel over a roof joist in your garage or basement and get to work.
Assuming you have what you need to do chin-ups and pull-ups, here are a few additional pieces of equipment that could make your workouts more comfortable or productive.
1. Grip Power Lifting Hooks
- 1 Pair 2 Hooks STOP WORRYING ABOUT YOUR GRIP! Let our hooks hold onto...
- MAXIMUM COMFORT & SUPPORT Our neoprene wrist wraps are extra wide at 2...
- EXTRA STRONG HOOK DESIGN Unlike other weightlifting hooks, our hooks...
While pull-ups and chin-ups will increase your grip strength, if your hands are weak right now, they might limit your workout performance.
These lifting hooks are easy to use, comfortable to wear and reinforce your grip until your muscles get stronger.
2. ZFO Sports Short Weighted Vest – 12 to 50 lbs
- MiR 20Lbs Exercise Adjustable Weighted Vest
- 20-pound adjustable weighted vest for adding resistance to workout...
- Contours and stays tight to your body regardless of the athletic...
Wearing a weighted vest is a good way to boost your chin-up and pull-up performance.
This vest by ZFO sports allows you to increase the load in tiny ¾ pound increments, so you to gradually increase your strength.
The short-body design means this ZFO Sports Short weighted vest won’t compress your stomach, making it easier to move and breathe.
3. ProsourceFit Multi-Grip Chin-Up/Pull-Up Bar
- Included Components: Optional Wall Mount Brackets
- EASY TO ASSEMBLE & INSTALL – Slip-in design fits standard doorways...
The best way to get good at pull-ups and chin-ups is to do them several times a week, and even daily.
That means you’ll need unlimited access to a pull-up/chin-up workout bar.
This ProsourceFit Multi-Grip Chin-Up/Pull-Up Bar is excellent for home use.
It is ideal for when you want a bar you can move or remove easily or avoid damaging your doorframes.
4. Sportsroyals Power Tower Dip Station Pull-up/Chin-up Bar
- 【Multi Function】It is a multi-functional power tower that supports...
- 【Ergonomic Design】Humanized design with PU pads for elbow...
- 【6 Gear Regulation Height】The height of pull up bar can be...
See the 7 Best Power Towers for Your Home Gym in 2021 + Workout for more details.
Chin-ups vs pull-ups – Final Thoughts
In this battle of chin-ups vs pull-ups, it is clear that there is no winner.
Chin-ups and pull-ups are so similar that they are mostly interchangeable.
Because of the position they place your biceps in, some people find that palms facing away pull-ups are a little harder than supinated chin-ups.
And chin-ups maybe a little better for biceps development.
However, chin-ups put more stress on the elbow joints, which may wipe out any perceived advantage, which is why some exercisers opt to do neutral grip pull-ups which are less stressful on your elbows.
The best option is to worry less about which one is better, and just do both of these great exercises.
They offer advantages and drawbacks, albeit very minor, and either one will increase muscle hypertrophy.
Which is best – chin-ups vs pull-ups?
The answer is it’s the one you do consistently!
As you now know, chin-ups and pull-ups are two of the best compound bodyweight exercises you can do.
There is another variation, the neutral grip pull-up, which some consider even better than pull-ups and chin-ups.
Find out more about Neutral Grip Pull-Ups – Most Important Muscles Worked and Benefits to be aware of all your options.
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