Pull Ups vs Chin Ups

Confused about the difference between Pull Ups and Chin Ups? Look no further- we’ve got you covered. Many people might use these two terms interchangeably or argue that these exercises are basically the same, but while there are indeed many similarities, there are definitely some important differences. 

First, let’s get the similarities out of the way before we move on to how they contrast. 

Pull Up and Chin Up Similarities

Both Pull Ups and Chin Ups are what we call a compound exercise: one that works multiple muscles at once. These two exercises are fantastic for strengthening the back and arm muscles, most specifically the latissimus dorsi (better known as lats), the biceps, triceps, pectorals, and the trapezius. But did you know that they also work practically every muscle in the upper body? Abdominals also need to get involved in order to hold the core steady and stabilize your frame as you hoist yourself up. 

Both of these exercises are also a great indicator of true upper-body strength. People who can easily execute dozens of Push-Ups or who boast high bench pressing records might not necessarily be able to replicate the same with Pull Ups or Chin Ups. With the latter ones, it’s just you and the bar- there’s no using your feet or anything else to support and help get you up there. 

Pull Up and Chin Up Differences 

Now let’s discuss the distinctions between the Pull Up and the Chin Up. To begin with, Chin Ups tend to be easier. We’ll get into the how and why later on, but the average novice is more likely to be able to do a Chin Up than a Pull Up. People are also usually more likely to be able to complete a higher number of Chin Ups than Pull Ups. Furthermore, choosing between the exercises will depend on which muscles you want to focus on, and how hard you want to work. Finally, there is a slight difference in movement; although both exercises are vertical extensions, (meaning you are pulling the arms down to fight against gravity), they vary with exactly how the arms and shoulders move in order to curl your body to the bar. 

Understanding Pull Ups and Chin Ups

On to the nitty gritty details:


The most obvious contrast between these two exercises is in the grip. Simply put, Pull Ups require you to hold the bar with your palms facing away from you in an overhand grip (also called a pronated grip). Chin Ups use an underhand grip where you hold the bar with your palms facing toward you (also called a supinated grip). 

One other type of grip worth mentioning is called a neutral grip. This is where your palms are facing inwards toward each other. This position is often the easiest one of all, but of course cannot be done with a regular bar; a special bar or attachment is needed.  

Muscles Activated

Another significant difference lies within which muscles are being focused on and to what degree during each of these exercises. 

Pull Ups engage more of the lower traps and the lats. This spotlight on the back ends up giving you that V-shaped torso that many men desire to achieve. Chin Ups are definitely still a back exercise and so also engage the lats, but they highlight and utilize the biceps and pectorals much more. Because the stronger biceps are helping to lift you towards the bar, this makes Chin Ups slightly easier. Pull Ups cannot fall back on the strength of the biceps to execute the movement, and so are more arduous.

Wide grip Pull Ups are especially challenging, as placing the hands farther apart than shoulder-width limits you even further to using only the muscles of the back, particularly the lats, to get you up to the bar. Beginners should start with Chin Ups and work up to Pull Ups. More advanced trainers have the option of going directly to Pull Ups and then expanding to wide grip Pull Ups if they wish. 

In summary, Pull Ups work the traps more, and Chin Ups work the biceps more. Both work the lats. But here’s the key thing to remember: they don’t work the lats in the same way. Due to the type of shoulder movements you are forced to do through these exercises, (whether it’s adduction with Pull Ups or extension with Chin Ups), the lats get worked a little differently. You should therefore consider doing both in your workout routine, instead of neglecting one in favor of the other. 


Between the exercises there is a minor difference in the movement of the shoulders and the arms. Pull Ups require your arms to come down by your sides and your elbows to go back. Meanwhile your shoulders are adducting instead of extending. Chin Ups on the other hand compel your elbows to come down in front of you, and your shoulders to perform extension instead of adduction. Again, this difference is not big, but it does affect how the lats are worked. Because of this, it could be a good idea to switch it up every once in a while if you prefer one over the other. 

At the end of the day, when choosing between these two exercises, it could actually come down to pure comfort and feel. Some people feel more comfortable doing these curls with a certain type of grip, depending on their body. A neutral grip is often the number one most comfortable for the widest variety of people. Pull Ups tend to put more stress on the shoulders, and so those who have shoulder issues might feel better doing Chin Ups.

On the flip side, those with any wrist problems might find Pull Ups more agreeable. Try both to decide which one works more advantageously for you, but it goes without saying, you should always check to make sure you’re maintaining proper form while doing either exercise. If you attempt the wide grip Pull Up, be careful not to go too wide, which can cause injury to the back and shoulders.