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Pull-Up Vs Chin-Up | Differences, Muscles Used, and Benefits

Chin Up Vs Pull Up Key Differences

The topic of the chin-up versus pull-up is one of my favorite conversations in the fitness industry. Both of these exercises can be awesome for multiple reasons, and selecting the right for you should be individual.

In many ways, the pull-up and chin-up are what I’d refer to as strength training staples. These exercises can serve as milestone movements for both physical and mental progress in the gym.

If you’re just starting your training journey and you’ve been wondering about chin-ups versus pull-ups, hopefully, this article will help clarify their differences and allow you to program the best exercise for your goals.

The main difference between the chin-up versus the pull-up is the hand position. In the chin-up, your palms are facing you, and in the pull-up, the palms are facing away. This change in hand position will then change each exercise’s mechanics and muscles worked.

Important Takeaways

  • Takeaway 1: In general, the chin-up tends to be an easier exercise to perform and get proficient at. With chin-ups, you’ll be advantaging the biceps to a greater extent, and there’s less of a skill component.
  • Takeaway 2: The pull-up can be an awesome “milestone” exercise in the context that it can be a movement you can build entire training blocks around. Having a strong pull-up is an awesome sign of upper body strength.
  • Takeaway 3: For general upper body strength and hypertrophy, both the chin-up and pull-up can be great exercises to program. As you get more granular with your hypertrophy training, you may want to seek out different exercises.

Chin-Up & Pull-Up Pros and Cons

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Pros

  • Awesome exercises for hitting multiple upper body muscles at once.
  • Both are what I call "milestone" exercises for building confidence in the gym.
  • Great for training the grip and improving upper body coordination.

Cons

  • There are no cons to being great at chin-ups and pull-ups!

Differences to Keep In Mind

When it comes to chin-up versus pull-up differences, there are three main differences that I like to keep in mind and language to my clients and lifters.

Difference 1: Hand Position

The first and main difference between the chin-up and pull-up is the position you’ll use when performing these exercises. In the pull-up, your palms will be facing away and in the chin-up, your palms will be facing you.

If you’re brand new to working out and you’re having trouble remembering the hand position of each exercise, remember,

“For chin-ups, scratch your chin.”

Chin-Up Vs Pull-Up Hand Position

You’ll always scratch your chin with your palms facing you. It’s an easy way to always remember the hand position of these two exercises to seal this memory in your brain.

Difference 2: Muscles Worked

In many ways, the chin-up and pull-up will train a lot of the same muscles. However, because we’re changing the hand position in the chin-up versus the pull-up this will shift “how much” certain muscles are worked.

More specifically, the chin-up will be a little more biceps-focused compared to the pull-up. In the chin-up, the biceps are more advantaged so they’ll work heavily to flex the arm and help pull your body upwards towards the bar.

Chin-Up Vs Pull-Up Muscles Worked

In the pull-up, the biceps will be working but you’ll need a greater degree of back strength and muscle to perform full reps as these muscle groups will be contributing a greater degree of work based on your hand position and the mechanics needed.

Difference 3: Chin-Ups Can Be More Beginner-Friendly

The third difference revolves around which exercise will be easiest to master and perform for true beginners. I alluded to this above but generally speaking, the chin-up will be easier for true beginners to perform.

If you’re brand new to working out then your ability to flex and use the biceps to pull yourself up to a bar is likely greater than your ability to leverage the lats, upper back muscles, and traps.

Chin-Up Vs Pull-Up for beginners

This is often why you’ll have some lifters struggle for so long to perform a pull-up because building the back muscles and training this skill can take a while especially if said muscles aren’t capable of pulling one’s bodyweight vertically.

Now, this is not to say that the chin-up is always easier, per se, but if you’re brand new to working out and you’re considering focusing on one of these exercises over the other, to begin with, then starting with the chin-up can typically feel better.

Differences In Muscles Trained

The chin-up and pull-up both use a lot of the same muscles when performing reps, however, the degree of how much each muscle is used will vary depending on the exercise you’re using.

Chin-Up Vs Pull-Up Muscles Worked

Pull-Up Muscles Worked

Pull-Up Muscles Used

  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Biceps Brachii
  • Infraspinatus
  • Lower Trapezius
  • Pectoralis Major
  • Erector Spinae
  • External Oblique

*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement

Chin-Up Muscles Worked

Chin-Up Muscles Used

  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Biceps Brachii
  • Infraspinatus
  • Lower Trapezius
  • Pectoralis Major
  • Erector Spinae
  • External Oblique

*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement

Again, the muscles used and how much they’re working will vary based on your hand position as this will change the mechanics of the arms and back in relation to how they’re working to pull your body upwards against gravity.

Lastly, the muscles mentioned above are some of the main muscles used and focused on in research. Both of these exercises can also train other muscles outside of what’s just listed above.

Why Perform Them

There are a lot of benefits that come along with performing chin-ups and pull-ups regularly in your workout programs. Below are three major reasons why I like using chin-ups and pull-ups.

Benefit 1: Great for Building Upper Body Strength

The chin-up and pull-up are both what I like to call, “A lot of bang for our buck exercises”. If your goal is building upper body strength in general across a bunch of muscles then the chin-up and pull-up can both be great exercises.

Chin-Up Vs Pull Up for Strength

Both of these movements train a wide range of muscle groups so you can use them to train muscles like the lats, traps, biceps, forearms, and many more all at the same time.

On top of this, your bodyweight and gravity will be the means of resistance for these exercises and you can easily scale these variables by adding resistance bands, tempo work, and much more, so you can scale per your strength needs.

Benefit 2: Awesome for Packing On Mass

Another benefit of performing more chin-ups and pull-ups is that they can be great for building upper body mass. Since these exercises train handfuls of muscles they can be great for building general upper body mass.

For example, if you’re on the quest of tackling your first pull-up or chin-up, then you’ll likely notice that you build muscle in a lot of different areas as you consistently train for these exercises.

Chin-Up Vs Pull Up for Upper Body Mass

If your lats, traps, rear delts, or upper back muscles are lagging pull-ups and chin-ups can do a pretty good job at bringing all of these muscle groups up harmoniously.

Coaching Note: When it comes to dialed-in hypertrophy training where you’re getting specific with the muscle fibers you want to train, then you may want to seek out exercises that have less of a skill and total fatigue component to them.

Benefit 3: These Can Be Milestone Exercises

In the gym, there are multiple milestones that we can tick off on our training journey. Some of these milestones revolve around exercise form, while others revolve around weight moved for certain exercises, and exercises performed.

The chin-up and pull-up are both awesome physical and mental milestone exercises. They can be great for boosting confidence. Very rarely will a true beginner with no athletic or strength training background come into the gym and have flawless chin-ups and pull-ups.

Chin-Up Vs Pull Up Milestone Benefit

This makes both of these exercises awesome options for building programs and goals around. For example, I have a lot of clients that can tell the exact moment they got their first pull-up and that’s not always the case with other exercises.

To add to this, once you’re proficient in chin-ups and pull-ups this can also open the floodgates to realizing your capabilities in the gym and for other activities like rock climbing, for example.

Takeaway Thoughts

Chin-ups versus pull-ups is a fun topic because there are so many ways to program and use these exercises. Both exercises have a ton of benefit and their use should be contextual based on your needs and wants.

If you’re just starting out your training journey, then I’d suggest focusing on one of these exercises and becoming proficient in it. More than likely, by doing so you’ll naturally get better at the other exercise, too.

If you have additional questions about the chin-up versus the pull-up, drop a comment below or reach out to me via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q:
Which is better chin-up or pull-up?

A:
The chin-up and pull-up are both great, however, one can be better than the other based on your goals. For example, the pull-up can be better for training the back, and the chin-up can be a little better for targeting the biceps.

Q:
Are pull-ups harder than chin-ups?

A:
Yes. In general, pull-ups will be harder than chin-ups. Since the palms are facing away from you, the biceps won't be as advantaged and you'll be a little further from the bar which can require more stabilization and back muscle usage.

Q:
Should beginners do chin-ups or pull-ups?

A:
Beginners should perform both chin-ups and pull-ups. However, I typically suggest that beginners focus on one of these exercises at a time when just starting out. I'll usually program pull-ups over chin-ups for beginners because they can have a ton of carryover to other exercises and can be great for progress tracking.
Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of That Fit Friend. He's often regarded to as a go-to resource in various performance shoe communities. He’s been formally reviewing shoes and training gear for over 7 years and has hand-tested over 400 pairs of shoes. Jake is known on the internet and YouTube for blending his review process with his educational, strength sports, and personal training background.

Jake has a Masters in Sports Science, a Bachelors in Exercise Science, a CSCS, and he's been personal training for over 10 years helping hundreds of clients get stronger, lose weight, and accomplish their goals. He uses his exercise science brain and personal training background to make curated and thoughtful review content on the fitness gear he's testing.

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