Difference between a Pull-up and a Chin-up

Published on December 28, 2016

Pull-ups and chin-ups are considered as the premier exercises for building back and biceps by the fitness industry. The fact that even bodybuilders who have seemingly reached the apex of their goals keep them in their routine is a testament to how effective they are in building a good physique. Their similarity is a big reason why most people who are starting out with training use the terms interchangeably. Although it may be a trivial mistake, establishing the understanding of the correct terminology is important to prevent confusion during training and coaching.

Descriptions

Pull-up vs Chin-up
Soldiers executing strict pull-ups.

A pull-up is initiated by stretching the arms out with palms facing away. The person who will attempt the movement must then grab the overhead bar. This hand position is referred to as an “overhand grip”. Depending on the height of the bar, a little jump may be necessary for the palms to make contact with the bar. The placement of the hands are slightly broader than shoulder width. A grip that’s more narrow is not optimal for the exercise, as the movement will be impeded.

The person doing the exercise then attempts to lift the entire body using the combined efforts of the arms and the back muscles. A full pull-up is generally counted once the chin goes over the bar. In some situations, such as fitness tests in the armed forces, strict execution is required, which means no kicking to get assistance from momentum.

chin-up
Woman clearing a chin-up.

A chin-up starts with the palms facing towards the person doing the exercise. Arms then go under the bar. The hands are hooked on the bar to prepare for the movement. Hand placement is typically shoulder-width or even close together. Once the hands are securely clasped, the person then begins the attempt to pull themselves up and clear it by passing their chin over the top of the bar. The back muscles and the arms are the primary muscles responsible in successfully completing repetitions of this exercise.

Pull-up vs Chin-up

So, what is the difference between a pull-up and a chin-up? Although these two exercises sound very similar, they have some key differences. The main difference is the grip position used. While a pull-up utilizes an overhand grip that is wider than shoulder width, chin-ups use an underhand grip with the hands close to each other. Pull-ups are considered to be more difficult than chin-ups by those in the fitness industry, and this is partially due to the muscles required for each movement as dictated by the grips used.

With chin-ups, the biceps can contribute a lot to the movement. The biceps are strong muscles, which is why chin-ups are better for beginners. Pull-ups take a lot away from the engagement of the biceps and delegates work to the brachioradialis. This is the muscle found on the dorsal part of the forearm. Flexing the entire arm isn’t this muscle’s primary function, which is why the pull-up is a little harder than chin-ups. Aside from the difficulty, this distinction also provides the option for bodybuilders to focus on working on increasing their forearm size should they pick pull-ups.

Comparison Chart

Pull-upChin-up
Works the back muscles, biceps and forearmsWorks the back muscles and the biceps
More difficult to start out withPreferred by beginners
Can carry-over to practical use when scaling ledgesCan carry-over to practical use when climbing up a rope

Video

The video below can elaborate further on the how the two exercises are different in how they affect different muscles.