Pull Ups Vs Chin Ups – What Muscles Do They Work?

Calisthenics is a series of bodyweight exercises utilizing your own weight to build muscular power and endurance without supportive equipment. Some of the best calisthenic exercises you can do are pull ups and chin ups, two of three ultimate pull-up forms, but more about this later...


These forms are multi-joint upper body exercises which increase your back and biceps strength, shoulder girdle stability and upper body muscular pulling strength. They are performed mainly with the pull-up/chin-up bars or assisted machines, gymnastic rings, and rotating handles.

Chin Up

A Chin Up

pull up

A Pull-Up

However, the dilemma is that many people fail to distinguish between these exercises because they believed that "it's basically the same thing" or "it doesn't really matter which one you do"...


It is really necessary to understand the differences between two exercises in parallel with learning their training program and variations with widely ranging difficulties.

The Difference Between Pull ups And Chin ups

Calisthenics Showdown

The Grip

A pull up is executed with a pronated/ overhand grip and palm-away position. Its standard breadth between two hands is slightly larger than the shoulder width.

A chin up is distinguished from pull ups by a supinated/ underhand grip and palm-toward position while your hands are kept in the grip of the shoulder width.

Muscle Activation

As mentioned, both exercises are among the best exercises for strengthening upper-body conditioning, especially the latissimus dorsi and biceps. They also extend your shoulders, rotate scapula downward and bring your spine to the humerus.

However, the levels of muscle activation in two forms are slightly different.

Pull Up Muscle

Pull ups place more emphasis on your lats than chin ups do mainly due to your biceps being in a slightly weaker position. On the other hand, chin ups train your biceps a little harder because they keep your biceps in a stronger line of pull. Chin ups also work your pecks a little bit more.

The grip breadth also has some significant impact. The smaller the grip is, the more your biceps is worked and vice versa. Wide grip pullups and chinups will both work your lats more than narrow grip, but are considerably harder 🙂


Both gymnastics have relative similarity except for a slight difference in the starting position. If you just begin with these exercises which require the certain strength of your upper-body muscles, 5 progressive tools are recommended for you to enhance the muscles worked.

They are established to support the neutral-grip pull ups, another form of pull ups.

The Difficulty

Either newcomers or veterans say that it seems to be easier to do chin ups rather than pull ups because chin ups keep your biceps in a stronger line of pull. Because a trainer might execute 10 reps of chin ups while only 6 reps of pull ups.

It is more difficult for women than men because men usually tend to own stronger and larger biceps.

How To Do

Step 1: Hold the bars comfortably but firmly by both hands. You can do it more easily with the support of assisted equipment (a chair, a box or a bench).

The common chin-up grip has your hands spaced close together with your palms facing you. Pull up require that your hands be spaced further apart and your palms face away from you.

Step 2: Push up your body until your chin is above the bar by the upper-arm strength and pause for 3-5 seconds. Remember to bend the elbows while crossing two feet to balance your weight. Inhale when performing this action.

Chin Up Workout

Step 3: Lower yourself in a slow and controlled movement until your arms are stretched while exhaling. Repeat again to perform your expected reps and sets.


Many trainers find it difficult to do a pull-up or chin-up properly because they don’t build their necessary muscles with supportive exercise before. They tend to arbitrarily adjust their exercise posture to perform more pull ups or chin ups.

If you are Calisthenics rookie, 5 progressive exercises are recommended.​

Pull Up And Chin Up Mistakes

  • Not Complete A Full Range Of Motion

Remember that if you just perform a half chin-up/pull-up, you will obtain half results. So, pull until your chin is above the bar and lower until your arms are stretched.

  • Not Activate The Shoulders At The Starting Position

Failure to engage your shoulder completely in a long run, you will become frailer and at high risk of traumas. You should pull your shoulders down and back before flexing the elbows to perform the second step.

  • Perform A Variation That Isn’t Consistent With Your Physique

If you can’t execute pull ups or chin ups immediately, you can training yourself with progressive exercises or choose one of their variations that is suitable for your strength.


Wide-grip pull/chin ups

Wide Chin Ups

Here, you will double the width between your hands in comparison with the standard pull-up/chin-up. However, you shouldn’t execute the wide grip chin ups because your wrists will be at high risk of injury.

Narrow-grip Pull/Chin Ups

Narrow Grip

Narrow Grip - arthlete.com

Contrary to the fore-mentioned variation, your hands are kept as close as possible to each other. This exercise mainly targets your biceps in chin ups, and your forearms in pull ups.

Commando Pull Ups

It is one of the staples in the pull-up program and harder than the regular pull/chin ups. This variation builds your chest strength as well as strengthens the arm and lats muscles.

Commando Pull Up

Commando Pull Up - fitmw.com

To perform it, you stand sideways directly below the bar while placing both hands in front of each other. Remember to swap the sides of the bar, firstly on the right of your chin, secondly on the left of your chin.

Weighted Pull/Chin Ups

Using the weight in pull/chin ups helps enhance your pulling strength. When you are able to do ten proper body-weight repetitions, it is time to challenge yourself with this variation. Prepare to see some serious bicep growth especially from the chin up variation!

L-sit Pull-Ups

The L-sit pull-up is extremely suitable for training your abdominal muscles as well as strengthen your entire upper body. Your legs will be stretched in front of you at the angle of 90 degrees with your back.

L Sit Pull Up

Because of the adjustment to the leverage, your body definitely has to be trained harder than in the traditional pull ups.

Towel Pull/Chin Ups

Gymnastics with a towel! This variation is a grip training exercise. You perform the pullup with the support of one or two towels wrapped over the bar. Towel pull ups and chin ups will help build your forearms and gripping muscles.

Towel Pull Ups

Towel Pull Ups - fitmw.com

However, this variation is more challenging than the regular pull/chin ups since you grasp a towel wrapped over the bar when performing it.

Eccentric Chin Ups

The eccentric chin up, a calisthenic exercise, mainly works your lats, but at a less degree it strengthens your biceps, middle back, and shoulders. It is designed for gymers with the intermediate competence of physical fitness or exercise experience.

And the list goes on...

There are as many variations of pullups and chinups as there are flavors of ice cream, a few must read guides on various pull up progressions can be found on our very own website, check out:

How to Conquer Neutral-grip Pull-Ups With 5 Supporting Exercises - this article deals with growing your strength to the point where you are able to do a few reps of a neutral grip pull up with great form.

How to do ring pull ups - this post takes a look at ring pull ups, which is great for those who have wrist problems, and also discusses the much maligned upside down pull up..yes that exists!

Pullups vs chinups, do we have a winner?

Pull ups and Chin up are the staples of your calisthenic workouts, but some advanced technique are required to perform these gymnastics. 

When all is said and done, I try to work both into my workout routine. They target similar muscle groups, so if you have trouble with one, (usually people find pull-ups harder than chin-ups) then stick to the one you find easier until you build some more strength, or lose some weight 🙂

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