Pull Ups vs Chin Ups – Muscles Worked and Comparison

Pull Ups vs. Chin Ups

Pull ups and chin ups are notorious for being among the most difficult of all strength training exercises, regardless of the strength levels you are currently at.

Similar in execution, but catering to different muscle groups, the two exercises can help you boost the size, strength and definition of a number of upper body muscles, including back, chest and biceps.

What's The Difference Between a Pull Up and a Chin Up?

Both pull ups and chin ups use the same general motion, as you grasp an overhead bar and pull yourself up to exert tension on certain muscle groups. However, the main difference is one of posture and grip.

While with pull-ups, you use a slightly wider overhand grip that ensures additional strain is exerted on shoulder and back muscles, chin-ups use an underhand alternative grip. This grip, combined with the slightly tighter placement of the hands–basically reaching close to your chin, as you pull your body up–has the role of working more intensely on your arm muscles.

In comparing chin ups vs pull ups both exercises, have the same goal lift your body to the point where your chin reaches higher than the bar, however, reaching the goal doesn't depend on the specific exercise you are using, but on your strength and failure levels, associated with the specific muscle groups that each exercise targets.

Pull Ups vs. Chin Ups

What Muscle Groups Does Each Exercise Target?

Pull ups and chin ups target very different muscle groups, despite their relative similarities. Let's take a closer look at exactly what you need to know about these muscle groups.

Pull ups are multi-jointed upper body exercises that are normally used to increase upper body muscular strength and pulling ability, while also boosting shoulder girdle stability.

Specific muscles targeted by correctly performed pull ups may include pectoralis major and minor,middle and lower trapezius, deltoids, biceps, brachialis, erector spinae, as well as several others–all exercised through one simple movement.

Chin ups can generally be said to target the same muscles as pull ups do, just in slightly different ways. The major difference is that chin ups cause a much more significant contraction in the case of two distinct muscles–biceps branchii and pectorialis major.

Because of this, certain athletes, such as baseball and tennis players, can benefit far more from performing chin ups, rather than pull ups.

Why Are Pull Ups Harder to Perform Than Chin Ups?

Most trainers will tell you from the start that pull ups are much harder to do than chin ups, and the reason for this is already contained in the information given earlier about the difference between the muscle groups and specific movements associated with each of the two exercises.

Since chin ups place greater emphasis on using your biceps when pulling up, most people will find them far easier. Pull ups, on the other hand, require amore powerful overall constitution of your entire upper body, so even though your arms might be quite strong, that won't help you too much with the end result.

As such, you may be able to stand performing 10 chin ups quite easily, but when you try doing pull ups, you'll find it difficult to finish even 6 of them. If you are looking to perform these exercises at home you should take a look at our article where we have compared the top pull up and chin up bars.

How to Perform a Chin Up

  1. Grab the bar with your palms facing your upper body, and placed in line with your shoulder;
  2. With both arms extended in front of you, keep your torso straight and stable;
  3. Pull up slowly as you exhale, and stop when your chin clears the bar;
  4. Return to the starting position as you inhale.

How to Perform a Pull Up

  1. Grip the bar shoulder slightly wider than width apart using an overhand grip;
  2. Raise your feet by bending your knees;
  3. Slowly pull yourself up, while exhaling, until your chin passes the bar;
  4. Return to the starting position maintaining the same speed.

You'll find doing both pull ups and chin ups will be easier with time, so even if you start with only 5 pull ups at first, you can gradually increase that amount over the next few weeks.