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In the fitness world, chin ups and pull ups are two workout techniques that always clash. The controversy surrounding them almost always begins with the question "which is a better bicep muscle builder?".

First things first, let's start with the basics.

Anyone that has been around chin up and pullup workouts will know that varying grip techniques are the biggest difference between the two. While this topic is important, if you are looking to add them to your workouts information like what muscles they work, how to get the best results from these workouts, which is easier, or why you should doing them will be vital. So let's take a deeper look into each of these topics.

What are Chin-Ups?

A chin up exercise is done with an underhand grip on an elevated horizontal pole. This is done by standing upright facing an elevated pole that is at least 2 inches above your head. Place your hands on the pole with your palms towards you.

Now, let's answer the question: What muscles do chin ups work? 

A basic understanding of the muscles worked, will help you know whether or not this is the exercise you need to reach your goals. 

Chin-ups work the muscles in your shoulders, forearms, back, and biceps. While this may not be most people's favorite workout exercise, it can be very effective when done properly. Even people who struggle to pull themselves up completely can see improvements in posture, grip, and of course, strength in upper back muscles. Incorporating this to your weekly workout routine can also improve your core muscles which can, in turn, reduce your risk of spinal pain and injury.

What are Pull-Ups?

Pull-Ups are done with your hands using an overhand grip on an elevated bar. This exercise begins the same as pullups, but your palms need to face away from you. Once in position, all you need to do is lift your body and drop.

Now to the big question, what muscles do pull ups work?

Pull-ups engage your forearms, shoulder, hand, and bicep muscles. From your grip to the repeated shoulder adduction, all these muscles are constantly engaging with this exercise. It is also important to state that pull-ups are a very effective way to improve your lats (latissimus dorsi) and build your core strength.

Chin Up Vs Pull Ups: How are They Different?

It's time for the classic head to head challenge. However, instead of throwing punches, we will take a more in-depth look at these muscle builders to understand why and how they are different.

If you're one of the people who use these terms interchangeably, it's time to clear the air and show you why they are not the same.

Hand position is the first difference between chin-ups and pull-ups. Chin ups use an underhand, or supinated grip, while pull-ups are overhanded, or pronated. Your palms are towards you with chinups, and your palms are facing away from you with pull ups. Chinups are usually done with a shoulder-width or narrower grip while pullups can be done at shoulder width or wider grip.

But which one uses more muscles? The answer is neither. They utilize different muscles. Chinups use more of the bicep muscles while pullups use more of the lats. So, it depends on what you want from your workout routine. You may find a workout expert that recommends one over the other for you, however, that doesn't necessarily mean that they are prioritizing one over another. After considering your workout needs, they will determine which one be the most beneficial to you and your workout goals. Most of the time, chinups will be recommended before pullups.

If your workout routine is already strenuous on your biceps or your lower back, pullups may be the better option. On the other hand, chinups would be good for people whose training program is already pulling too much in the upper back.

It is also important to note that pullups are a great way to strengthen your core muscles while chin ups focus a little more on the biceps, but will also help your core some too. So, while chinups will do more for your biceps and pull-ups cause more lat muscle activation, both exercises engage the back muscles.

Chin up and Pull up Grip Techniques

Let's talk about grip techniques, starting with pull-ups. Using a wider grip is very effective for developing the lats. For beginners, it may be harder to achieve shoulder adductions so, it is better to start with your hands shoulder-width apart. As you engage your core and get stronger, you can gradually increase your grip width to put more emphasis on your lats. The wider your grip, the more work your lats will get since the biceps are placed at a disadvantaged position.

The same can be said about chin ups. For chin ups, the narrow grip places more emphasis on the biceps. As you become stronger, you can adjust your grip width closer to get a more strenuous workout.

How To Get Better At Pull Ups and Chin ups

It is not uncommon to hear people complain about pullups being too difficult. You have possibly even heard people complain about not being able to do pull-ups when they have no issues with chin-ups. Whether you are a complete beginner or someone that knows their ropes around the gym, successfully executing these workouts require a person to be able to lift their body weight. This does not happen overnight. It takes constant practice and proper techniques to get it right. 

As you practice and build your upper body strength, these exercises become easier and more effective.

Why You're Having a Hard Time with Chin Ups and Pull Ups Everyday

While we have already established that pullups and chin ups may be harder for people who have not gained enough shoulder strength to pull their weight, there could be other factors hindering you from reaching your goals. A lack of flexibility is a common cause of issues when it comes to these two exercises. 

People who spend most of their time in front of a computer may have a slightly hunched posture which does not favor these shoulder workouts. These workouts require enough flexibility to let the shoulders pull up and down. To improve your chin up and pullup game try doing some chest exercises or consciously rotating your shoulders while performing adductions. 

If your problem is with the bar grip, using a pull up or chin up assist band could give you just enough help to get you heading in the right direction. Assist bands can help you maintain a firmer grip on your pole. They can also give you more control over your movement.

Workout Tips to Help You Master Pullups and Chinups

If you have been working hard and still can't get those shoulder extensions, it's not over. Take a step back and try some of these tips to help get you closer to your goals.

1. Assisted Band Pullups: Get a Little Help

Using a chin up or pull up assist band, is the easiest way to start, especially if you are a beginner. Wrap your assist band around your bar, then pull the band back through itself on the other to side to secure your band to the bar. Place one foot in the band and place your other foot on top of the first.

2. Hang Passively: Work on Your Grip

Grip the pole at your preferred width and just hang on there. Keep your hands straight and your palms facing either forward or backward (depending on which workout you are trying to do). Relax your body and hang on for as long as your arms can hold you. Repeat this. You can also use assist bands for an assisted chin up or pull up grips to make it easier.

3. Move Around Bar: It's All in the Grip

When you're comfortable with a passive hang, you can add side to side movements. Keeping your shoulders relaxed, move your hands across the bar carrying your body weight along with you. Do this for as long as you can and repeat as often as possible.

4. The Active Hang: Take it a Step Further

Time to get in some shoulder extension. You could do this while still using assist bands. Lift your arms away from your ears. Leave your arms straight, but flex your shoulders. Hold this for as long as you can.

5. Shrug Your Shoulders: Improve Your flexibility

This can improve your flexibility when you finally decide to give these exercises a try. Roll your shoulders down and back while hanging from the bar. Repeat this. You should notice your body going up towards the bar. Do this for as long as you can carry your weight. Do not exaggerate the movement, keep it small until you're confident enough to go further.

7. Flexed Arm Hang: Continuing Progress

If you are ready for this step, you have probably already made quite some progress. For this, lift your body to the bar and hold for as long as possible. This may take a few tries before you are able to master it. You can set smaller goals. Start by lifting just a few inches, then try going half-way up, and after you get the hang of those try pulling yourself all the way up. Once you get up try to keep your chin above the bar for as long as possible.

#7 Eccentric Pull Ups

Eccentric or negative pull-ups help you get your core in shape for these exercises. To do this start with your head above the bar and place your hands on the bar. You will then slowly lower yourself. This will engage your core muscles. These core muscles will help you maintain body control when you finally go for it.

Repeat these exercises and progress until you are able to go all the way up and down. Feel free to start with chin ups, if you can throw in pull ups, you should pat yourself on the back. It takes strength and time to get the hang of pullups.

Weekly Bicep Workout Routine with Both Pull ups and Chin ups

Instead of choosing between these two workouts, why not incorporate both chin ups and pull ups into your everyday workout routine?

Here is a great workout training routine that could help you:

*Remember to do some shoulder flex warmups before starting and to rest for at least 30 seconds before starting a new round.

Day 1

3 × 5 Pullups (assisted or regular)

Day 2

3 × 8 Chinups (assisted or regular)

Day 3

3 × 3 Pullups

3 × 5 Chinups

Day 4

Rest Day!

Day 5

3 × 3 pullups

3 × 8 chinups

Day 6

3 × 5 pullups (assisted or regular)

3 × 8 chinups (assisted or regular)

Day 7

3 × 5 pullups (regular or weighted)

3 × 8 chinups (regular or weighted)

 

Continue this routine weekly while adding an extra pull to each set. You could also try out adjusting the width of your grips to give yourself a little extra work. Don't be afraid to make more of them assisted as you start your workout journey. Do what you can and improve from there.

Chin up and Pull up FAQs

Q: Which is better chin ups or pull ups?

A: Chin ups and pull ups engage different muscles and help build your biceps and lats respectively. However, one cannot be lauded over the other. Choose what fits you best depending on what you want from your workout program or both if you really want to build your upper back muscles. If you want to get more out of these workouts, be sure to change up your grip widths. A wide grip vs a narrow grip can yield very different results in both exercises.

Q: Are chin-ups easier to do than pull-ups?

A: Yes, chin-ups are easier than pull-ups. Biceps are easier to engage than the lats, however, with continued practice, you could be doing pull-ups before you know it.

Q: Why can I do chinups, but not pullups?

A: There are several reasons why you may be unable to get in those pullups. Your biceps may not be strong enough to carry your bodyweight or maybe you aren't flexible enough yet. Practice using assisted pullups until you get a hang of it.

Q: What muscles do Chin ups and pull ups work?

A: Chinups emphasize your biceps while pullups also work the lats. They both engage core muscles and biceps.

Final Verdict: Chin-up vs pull-up?

At this point, you probably have a better understanding of the differences and similarities between chin ups and pull ups.

Workout experts have proven both movements work your lats, back muscles, and biceps. They just do so at varying degrees. While chin-ups work your biceps more, your lats are getting more attention with pullups.

So, if you are looking to really build up your biceps, chin ups are where you should start. On the other hand, if you are looking to do more work on your lats, pull ups would be the better option. 

If you still aren't sure where to start, consult a trainer. Any good trainer is sure to recommend the best fit for your goals.

Katherine Holden

Katherine Holden

Katherine is a CrossFit expert with humble origins. Starting out on a ranch, ever since she was nine, she spent most of her life roping and competing in team roping. After finding bodyweight exercises interesting she sought after a career in CrossFit and dedicated her life towards achieving the body of her dreams. Today Katherine is a personal trainer that loves to travel the world and change the lives of her clients.

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