What’s the Difference Between a Pull Up and a Chin Up?

Pull ups and/or chin ups have long been considered a universal muscle building exercise to strengthen the back and biceps. Every exercise routine should feature some variation of the two. But what exactly is the difference and, more importantly, is one better than the other?


The Difference

It all comes down to the grip. Pull ups feature a pronated (overhand) grip where your palms point away from you. Chin ups, on the other hand, feature a supinated (underhand) grip where your palms are facing you.

While they both target primarily the lats and biceps, the way that they work those muscles are different. Pull ups use shoulder adduction, meaning the elbows come down and back from the sides. Chin ups use should extension, meaning the elbows come down and back from the front.

Chin Ups are Usually Easier

Since the biceps are used more prominently in a chin up, many people will find that they are able to do more chin ups than pull ups. Similarly, if weight is added, many people will find that they are able to use more for chin ups.

If you are a beginner, then focusing on chin ups may be your best bet.

Muscle Work Variations

No matter which exercise you choose, your back and biceps will get a workout. There is, however, some degree of difference between the two.

As we mentioned a moment ago, biceps are used a bit more during chin ups. During pull ups, biceps aren’t able to be targeted as much, but your lats are hit harder.

The width of the grip also plays a role. The closer the hands are together, the more the biceps are targeted. Wider grips will train biceps less.


Let’s talk about shoulder health for a moment. While pulls ups and chin ups are great exercises, there’s a couple of things that can be done wrong which could cause shoulder problems.

First, never do these exercises behind your neck. When you reach the top of your pull, the bar should be in front of your face. Leaning your head forward so that the bar is behind your neck could lead to shoulder problems.

Next, don’t get crazy with your wide grips. If your hands are too far apart you greatly increase your chances of shoulder injury.