Many people use the words “pull-up” and “chin-up” interchangeably, but they’re actually two different exercises. There’s only one similarity between them: Raising your chin above the bar.
Knowing the difference between these two exercises can help you choose the right one when designing your next mass-building routine.
So which exercise is better? What are the major differences?
Let’s go over exactly what pull-ups and chin-ups are to find out.
Table of Contents
What is a Pull-Up?
A pull-up is an exercise that involves grabbing the bar with the palms of your hands facing away from you with your hands shoulder-width apart.
Pull-ups work nearly all upper body muscles and even a few abdominal muscles. The muscles you hit with every pull-up include:
Different hand positions for the pull-up will work different muscles more.
For example, a basic pull-up with shoulder-width grip targets all of the muscles mentioned above. A grip that’s wider than your shoulders hits your lats better.
Pull-ups use more strength than chin-ups, so beginners should begin with chin-ups and work their way up to pull-ups later. If you’re a beginner, you can also modify pull-ups or do them on a machine until you can do an unassisted pullup.
4 Benefits of Pull-Ups
Pull-ups may seem daunting to beginners and are difficult to master. But if you can crank them out, you’ll most definitely see incredible benefits when it comes to your grip strength, upper body strength, and muscle mass.
- Convenience: Pull-ups are a very convenient exercise since you don’t require much equipment. All you need is a pull-up bar, and you’re good to go! Heck, you even can use tree limbs or rafters if you’re feeling daring.
- Versatility: One of the greatest benefits of pull-ups is that there are multiple ways to do them. A narrow grip can let you target a huge group of muscles in the upper body. On the other hand, a wider grip can target your lats a little more.
- Grip Strength: Pull-ups exercise your forearm muscles and help to strengthen your grip over time. A strong grip will help you to hold a heavy bar during exercises like deadlifts and bicep curls.
- Fat Loss: Cardio exercises such as riding a bike or running on a treadmill can get a little dreary. You can do pull-ups to speed up fat loss by reducing the interval between sets or combining pull-ups with another exercise.
Pull-ups aren’t all sunshine and rainbows, though….
4 Reasons Against Pull-Ups
While pull-ups offer many wonderful benefits, there are downsides to the exercise that are also worth keeping in mind.
- Pre-Existing Upper Body Strength: Every pull-up you do will require considerable upper body control and strength that you likely lack as a beginner. If you’re looking to see gains, but don’t have the back, core, and arm strength, knocking out a pull-up could be impossible. This can make you feel self-conscious at the gym.
- Pain vs. Soreness: Pull-ups work the entire upper part of your body, and it’s often hard to differentiate between outright pain and normal soreness levels. It’s not uncommon to find a pull-up grip uncomfortable, especially if you have previous shoulder injuries.
- Strain on the Muscles: When your technique is still weak, you’re putting more stress on other body parts like your neck, shoulders, and elbows. You might end up risking form if you’re tired after several sets or still learning how to perfect the pull-up.
- Fewer Bicep Gains: If your main goal of doing pull-ups is to increase bicep strength, it might be better to opt for chin-ups instead. Pull-ups are great for the lats, but not so much for the biceps.
What is a Chin-Up?
A chin-up is an exercise where you grip the bar with the palms of your hands facing toward you.
With your hands at shoulder-width apart, you grab the bar and pull your body up until your chin is over the bar.
Chin-ups work all the muscles exercised by pull-ups, but they put extra emphasis on the upper back and biceps. A standard grip works your upper back and biceps while a fairly wider grip will blast your lats and biceps.
4 Benefits of Chin-Ups
Like pull-ups, chin-ups come with their own set of benefits.
- Bicep Mass: Chin-ups work the biceps and, when you perform them properly and consistently, they’ll help to add mass to your biceps. By varying your grip and adjusting your exercise tempo (slower movements, short rests in between sets, and rep range of between 8 and 12), chin-ups can help you develop large biceps.
- Greater Muscle Activation: Fortunately, chin-ups activate more muscle groups than pull-ups. A good chin-up will set your bicep and upper back muscles in motion and make a chiseled back and peaking biceps a reality.
- Simple Exercise: Some people have more developed biceps, so it’s easier to pull off a chin-up than a pull-up. A chin-up is also easier because, when you’re pulling up towards your centerline, you engage your core more and increase power.
- Other Muscles Targeted: A good chin-up also benefits several secondary muscles, such as the forearms, pecs, and traps. With that, chin-ups make a great addition to any upper-body workout.
But chin-ups also do come with some downsides….
4 Reasons Against Chin-Ups
While chin-ups are easier to pull off and offer several great benefits, they do have some drawbacks that you need to consider.
- Risk of Injury: The chin-up must be done perfectly to keep yourself safe. When you’re struggling in the beginning, you might end up using your shoulder too much and put yourself at risk for injury.
- Pain: Wide-grip chin-ups may cause shoulder pain, so approach this exercise with caution if you’re not confident in your upper body strength.
- Upper Body Strength Needed: To do a proper chin-up, you need a considerable level of body strength and control under your belt. Since you’re only using your body weight, you may find it tough to execute a proper, clean chin-up without cheating.
- Need for Alignment: Chin-ups can produce great results, but they can be quite challenging if your alignment and form are lacking.
Pull-Ups vs Chin-Ups Conclusion
So, which is the better exercise in the pull-ups vs. chin-ups debate?
Well, it all boils down to your fitness goals.
Chin-ups and pull-ups are basically two sides of a coin.
They both exercise numerous upper body muscles. With just a change in grip or turn of your wrist, you can work some muscles harder.
Chin-ups are a better exercise if you’re looking to build bicep mass or if you’re a fresh face at the gym. Pull-ups are superior if your upper body is already strong and you want to send your gains to the next level.
Be sure to include pull-ups and chin-ups in your exercise regimen to increase your grip strength, exercise more muscles, and carry out daily chores with ease!
Want to start adding pull-ups to your routine? Find out how to do perfect pull-ups along with an explanation of the muscles worked and the awesome benefits they provide.