Pull-ups vs. Chin-ups

What’s the difference between a pull-up and a chin-up?  More importantly, which of the two is best for muscle development?

What’s the difference?

Very simply put, the only actual difference in form is the grip.  A chin-up is performed with the palms facing the body (supinated grip) while a pull-up is performed with the palms facing away from the body (pronated grip).  There is also a different variation possible with some bars that feature parallel handles called a neutral grip, with the palms facing each other.

Which variation is better?

Both are excellent compound pulls that utilize the latissimus dorsi, teres major, posterior deltoid, rhomboids, the sternal portion of the pectoralis major, the lower portions of the trapezius, biceps brachii, and the elbow flexors.  The main muscles involved in both variations of the exercise include the upper back and biceps, but differ in how much some muscles are recruited into the movement.

A study about the differences between pull-ups and chin-ups, using EMG analysis, was published in the December 2010 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.  The researchers found that both variations of the exercise were initiated by the lower trapezius and pectoralis major, and then completed by the biceps brachii and latissimus. The major differences are that chin-ups more strongly activated the pectoralis major and biceps brachii than the pull-up, whereas the pull-up more strongly activated the lower trapezius than the chin-up. To this I would add that pull-ups work the forearm muscles more and tend to put less stress on the wrists and elbows.

Poliquin Group

Because your biceps are in a stronger line of pull in the chin-up position, they are recruited more and may seem to be easier to do than pull-ups, which depend more on your lats and less on your biceps.  The width of the grip also greatly affects how much the biceps are recruited into the movement with a narrower grip using more of the bicep than a wider one.  Supinated grip and pronated grip also vary a bit when pulling with maximum efficiency and comfort.  Often it’s recommended to wrap the thumbs around the bar when performing a chin-up but to keep it in line with the fingers when performing a pull-up.

Pull-ups vs. Chin-ups

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