Even though they’re very similar and equally effective, pull-ups and chin-ups are two different movements that target different muscle groups and both of them deserve a place in your training program.
Pull-ups have a notorious reputation for being one of the most challenging bodyweight movements that demands a great deal of strength and power, and it’s used by all types of athletes that are looking to develop impressive levels of upper body strength and a rock-solid core. It is well worth the trouble of mastering it – the ability of this intense move to build jaw-dropping lats and traps is unparalleled. That aside, the classic pull-up is quite a versatile movement that has many variations suited for different goals and purposes, the chin-up being the most prominent one. The pull-ups and chin-ups activate the same muscles but at different strengths, and most strength coaches will tell you that it’s very important to know how to do both, and not just do them, but do them well.
In this article we’ll explore the differences between pull-ups and chin-ups and discuss the best way to incorporate them in your strength training program.
#1. The pull-up
The pull-up requires you to pull yourself from a dead hang up to the bar. You could be aiming for your chin to go above the bar or you might want to pull higher and get your chest to the bar. The classic pull-up is performed with an overhand grip (palms facing away from you) and hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. This targets primarily your back muscles – the lats, traps, infraspinatus and erector spinae – but also involves the biceps, pecs and obliques as secondary working muscles.
If the overhand grip is more transferable to your sport than an underhand grip, stick to the classic pull-ups. Also, the pull-up is a better choice if back development is your priority, or even if you’re looking to correct your posture.
#2. The chin-up
The chin-up is the underhand alternative of the pull-up and most lifters find it easier to perform than the latter. The movement is essentially the same, except that this variant employs an underhand grip (palms facing towards you) with hands narrower than shoulder width apart. Although many praise the chin-up as being both a bicep and back builder, the truth is that this exercise includes more accessory muscles than its counterpart and places a much great emphasis on the biceps and pecs. Performing it with proper form demands a certain level of flexibility in your chest and forearms.
If you’re currently lacking the strength needed to perform classic pull-ups, begin with chin-ups and gradually progress to an overhand grip. Chin-ups are also a great way to mix up your back or bicep training and enhance your strength gains.
Which one is right for you?
If you’re looking for a way to hit your upper back as much as possible, chin-ups might leave you high and dry. Studies have shown that compared to chin-ups, pull-ups enable greater lower trap activity and a slightly better engagement of the lats, while another study found that the chin-up stimulates far greater bicep activity than the pull-up.
So which one is the right exercise for you? There’s no valid answer other than – both.
In reality, as long as you use strict form, you could effectively train your back and bi’s with both exercises. And you should, because neither is really superior to the other and both can help you develop immense upper body power. Which one will bring you better results depends on you, your personal strengths and weaknesses and what’s most relevant to your training goals – if your biceps are in fantastic shape and you’d like to focus on the back, perform more pull-ups. If you find those too difficult, start with chin-ups then advance to wide-grip pull-ups.
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It’s best to incorporate both exercises into your routine multiple times throughout the week – perform them during the warm-up before a lifting session or use them as finishers to your back workout. For chin-ups, aim for 12-15 reps per session, and for pull-ups, go for 7-15. In both exercises, explosively pull yourself over the bar, then slowly lower for a 3-5 second count. Avoid utilizing momentum to power yourself up – this is the reason why many guys aren’t getting stronger despite their countless pull-up sessions. Keep your form and technique strict and you should start seeing noticeable strength gains pretty soon.