Although the names are sometimes used interchangeably, chin-ups and pull-ups are two different exercises for your back. The difference between these two exercises is minimal – no more than a grip change – but this simple feature affects the nature and the difficulty of the exercises. Both exercises will primarily train your back/lats and biceps no matter what. However, there are some slight differences in the degree in which those muscles get trained. Pull-ups are more difficult for most lifters because you don’t get the assistance from your biceps like you do in a chin-up. If you can’t do a full pull-up, start with chin-ups. If you can’t do a full chin-up, start with lat pull-downs and gradually increase your weight until you can pull your own body weight.
Differences Between Pull-Ups and Chin-Ups
|Kind of grip||A pronated (overhand) grip. The most common grip width is just slightly wider than shoulder width.||A supinated (underhand) grip. The most common grip width is shoulder width.|
|Movement||Pull ups typically use shoulder adduction, where the elbows come down and back from the sides.||Chin ups use shoulder extension, where the elbows come down and back from the front.|
|Strength||Pullups are more difficult for most lifters because you don't get the assistance from your biceps .||Chin ups put the biceps in a stronger line of pull, so most people will usually be stronger at chin ups than they are at pull ups.|
|Muscles reached||Pull-ups may hit your lats a bit harder, mostly as a result of your biceps being in a slightly weaker position.||Since chin ups put your biceps in a stronger line of pull, they’ll typically hit your biceps a bit harder than pull ups will.|
Chin-Ups Exercise Guide
STARTING POSITION: Hang from a chin-up bar, arms fully extended, palms turned toward you (underhand grip). Your elbows should be in direct line with your shoulders. Your hands should grip the bar about shoulder-width apart. Also, hang from the bar with your legs slightly bent and your ankles crossed.
MOVEMENT (ACTION): Pull yourself up vertically so that your chin passes the bar and your collarbone (or clavicle) is nearly even with the bar. Hold for a second and then slowly lower your body to the starting position.
Additional Tips for Chin-Ups
- Your body moves vertically up. Your upper body tilts back slightly to allow your chin to smoothly pass the bar line.
- Avoid swinging, jerking, chin “pecking”, or hyper-extension of elbows.
- Look for your shoulder blades to draw together and downwards at the beginning of the movement.
- Look for your arms to return to a full extension. In other words, you should return to this position (known as a dead hang) each time you lower your body back down.
- Imagine that you’re pulling the bar to your chest, instead of your chest to the bar.
- Keep your elbows behind your torso as you lift.
- Do not swing your legs forwards or jerk as you pull yourself up – this greatly reduces the stress placed on the back muscles.
- Many people perform this movement incorrectly by failing to use a full range of motion at the top and bottom of the movement, kicking their legs and using momentum, overarching their low back, and shrugging their shoulders at the top of the movement.
Muscles Involved in Chin-Ups
- Main muscles: latissimus dorsi, biceps (short head), teres major
- Secondary muscles: pectoralis major (lower and outside), triceps (long head), teres minor, rhomboids, brachioradialis, biceps (long head), deltoid (front and rear)
- Antagonists: deltoid, pectoralis major (upper), triceps
How to Make Chin-Ups Easier?
- Use a closer grip.
- Have a bench under you. Use your feet to help push up.
- Hook your foot into a stretch band to help pull yourself up.
- Alternating grip chin-ups. Grip a chin-up bar with one hand, using an overhand grip. With the other hand, use an underhand grip. In other words, your palms will face in opposite directions. Follow the same exercise instructions given above. This movement gives a superb middle back workout. The side using an underhand grip (biceps in a stronger position) has a mechanical advantage compared to the side with the overhand grip (biceps in a weaker position). It forces your upper back muscles to do more of the work.
- Negative chin-ups. Set a bench under a chin-up bar, step on the bench, and grasp the bar using a shoulder-width, underhand grip. From the bench, jump up so that your chest is next to your hands, then cross your ankles behind you. Try to take five sec to lower your body until your arms are straight. If that’s to hard, lower yourself as slowly as you can. Jump up to the starting position and repeat.
Replacement Exercises (Substitutes)
Closing Thoughts About The Chin-Ups
Like dips, this versatile exercise doesn’t use weights; your body provides all the resistance. Many of us are familiar with this exercise from school gym class. You stand under a horizontal bar that’s anywhere from a few inches to a foot or more above your head.
When we say pull-up we mean an exercise in which your palms are turned away from your body, in an overhand grip; and when we say chin-up, we mean your palms are turned toward your body, in an underhand grip. The chin-ups are easier (or perhaps “less hard”) for most guys since they put the biceps into a stronger position. Also, because of the difference in arm position, the lower-lat and lower-trap muscles work harder in the chin-up, while rear delts, middle traps, and upper lats work harder in the pull-up.
Once you can do lat pulldowns in good form to your upper chest with about 5% over your bodyweight, or a bit less if the pulldown machine you use has a lot of friction, move onto chins. Achieving this level of strength in the supinated-grip pulldown is within the capabilities of most men, given enough time and effort, and a good training program.
An important factor influencing your chinning ability is your body fat percentage, and your bodyweight in general. The more body fat you have, and the heavier you are, the harder chinning and the target pulldown poundage will be.
This challenging middle back exercise is ideal in training for sports that involve gripping and grappling. When starting out, begin with the assisted version (assisted machine chin-ups) to build strength and promote muscular development.