Pull Up Versus Chin Up: Understanding The Differences

pull up bar

Pull ups and chin ups are two of the most effective upper body exercises because they utilize so many muscle groups. The beauty of these exercises is all you need is a pull up bar. This could be the gym or even in the comfort of your home. Pull up bars are also fairly affordable. You can get a decent one for under $80.

I should point out that typically, body weight exercises are safer than than bars and plates. It’s more difficult (not impossible) to injure yourself doing a push up than bench pressing a heavy load. The same can be said for dead lifts or bent rows. Both of these movements place more stress on the body than a pull up or a chin up.

Let’s face it, most of us aren’t world class athletes.  We just want to get in shape and build muscle for our health and appearance. And while you could certainly argue that body weight exercises are less effective than using dumbbells or barbells, reducing injuries is usually a higher priority. It is for me, at least. I’m guessing it is for you also.

Chin Ups – Palms Facing You

Chins ups and pull ups are very similar; however, the subtle difference is in the position of your hands. When your palms are facing you, you’re performing a chin up. This grip places more emphasis on the biceps and less on the traps. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has performed a pull up or chin up. If you’re looking to build those nice wide lats, chin ups are your ticket.

Pull Ups – Palms Facing Away From You

Without question, this is the more difficult of the two movements. It is more effective in isolating the traps. When you do a pull up, you can’t generate the same leverage from the biceps that you would if you were doing a chin up. That’s not to say that a pull up doesn’t activate the biceps and a chin up doesn’t activate the traps, but less emphasis is placed on the muscle depending on which exercise you’re performing.

Most will find they are able to perform several more chin ups than pull ups. I’ve seen climbers who can actually perform more pull ups but this is very rare.

Progressing Into A Full Set of Pull Ups and Chins Up

It can be pretty discouraging when you’re first starting, to do pulls up and chins ups. Chances are, unless you’re in pretty good shape and have a high strength to mass ratio, you’re going to struggle banging these out when you first begin.

No one wants to do 2 pull ups and a single chin up. That’s pretty tough on the ego and more importantly, it’s not an effective way to build up your strength over time. There a variety of techniques which allow you to slowly build your strength up until you can knock out eight or ten of each, for three sets.

  1. Pull Up (Chin Up) Negatives Using A Chair Or A Bench

    Performing negatives is probably my least favorite of all of the techniques; however, it is the most accessible. Even if you’re working out from home, you can do these.

    To perform a pull up negative, start with your feet on a bench or a chair. You’re going to start in the finish position so your chin will be above the bar. Step off of the chair and lower yourself to the start position. The key here is to do it SLOWLY. You don’t want to free fall, you want to support your weight as you gradually move toward the floor.

  2. Pull Up (Chin Up) Using  Resistance or Pull Up Bands

    This is my favorite, but you can’t really do it without a pull up tower or another sturdy structure. To do this, wrap the band around the bar and loop it as shown in the image below. Step into the band with both, or one foot. It’s advised you start with a chair so you have a spot to “finish” the reps, otherwise you’ll be caught in the band with no safe way to release the strap.

    The best part about this technique is you can buy a set of three bands and progressively work your way up, from the thickest band to the thinnest band. It’s an excellent way to build up strength over time.

  3. Assisted Pull Up Machines

    This is another terrific way to slowly build up strength; however, it does require some pretty costly equipment. Sometimes gyms don’t even have them (the good ones do). If you do work out at a gym that has one, all you do is rest your knees on the platform and perform pull ups normally. Similar to a pull up band, the machine will give you more leverage and take some of the workload for you.

    The one big downside to this technique compared to assisted pull up bands, is it basically takes out the core workout. That said, if your upper body strength is lacking, it will help build your muscles up until you can do standard pull ups.

Pull ups can be a particularly effective exercise and although they are somewhat very uncomfortable, they’re worth adding into your workout routine.