What’s the difference between chin ups and pull ups?
While the movements might seem very similar, the truth is both are much more different than we realize.
Hand placement is everything
Chin ups are completed with your palms facing toward you.
Pull ups are done with your palms facing away from you.
Simply by switching the position of your hands, a lot changes about the impact of the exercise.
To determine the extent of the differences between a chin up and a pull up, we need to explore the mechanics of both movements.
In each exercise, the starting position involves straight arms in the hanging position.
From there, you engage your back and initiate the rest of the movement by pulling your shoulder blades down.
After that, you bend your arms and try to pull yourself up as high as possible. Ideally clearing the bar with your chin.
The movements are finished by lowering yourself in a controlled fashion back to the starting position.
None of that kipping stuff.
To recap the steps:
Straight arm hang
Pull shoulder blades down
Flex and bend arms to pull yourself up
Lower body in a controlled fashion to starting position
Arm position and grip
Different arm positions have a different impact on the muscles used during the movement.
You can classify the arm position into three different grips.
All 3 positions engage the biceps, brachialis, and brachioradialis.
The biceps and the brachialis can produce a lot of strength while the brachioradialis is the weakest of the three.
The chin up with the underhand grip has the best activation for the biceps and brachialis while having little impact on the brachioradialis.
The neutral grip has the best all-around activation for all three muscles.
The pull up with the overhand grip has the worst activation for the bicep, but the best for the brachialis and the brachioradialis.
From the standpoint of activation, it’s easy to see why the neutral grip is the easiest for beginners because of how the strongest muscles around the elbow joint are activated by the movement vs the pull up with the overhand grip.
Beyond the arms
Of course, a chin up or pull up is not just about the arms.
One of the strongest muscles for a pull movement is the latissimus dorsi (or “lat”).
A common misconception is that the pull up is better for lat activation than the chin up. (We thought so, too!)
In fact, both are beneficial if you want to sculpt a wide, v-shaped back.
This is where the differences between the chin up and pull up get a little more interesting.
You might notice that hollow body chin ups with the underhand grip are much more comfortable than using the overhand grip pull up.
The reason is that chin ups have better activation of your anterior chain while the pull up has better activation for your posterior chain.
Say what now?
Anterior chain: muscles on the front of your body
Posterior chain: muscles on the back of your body
The chin up is better suited for the hollow body position while the pull up works better for the arched back position.
An easy way to determine the best grip placement for a given movement is to use rings. Because the rings are “floating” and not in a fixed position, they will naturally turn to the ideal grip position for your joints.
What are you working?
We’ve established that both the chin up and pull up are valuable to the development of your physique, but what muscles are worked by each?
The chin up with the hollow body position and a close, underhand grip activates the following muscles:
The pull up with the arched back position and a shoulder-wide grip activates these muscles:
While the pull up is more difficult than the chin up, both movements provide different benefits and shouldn’t be neglected.
Do you prefer chin ups or pull ups? How many can you do? Leave a comment below or share on Instagram and tag us!