What’s The Better Exercise: Chin-Ups Or Pull-Ups?

The internet loves a good debate.

Millions of people waste countless hours arguing the color of a dress or what is the most effective form of exercise.

The answer is was a stupid dress who gave a damn anyways?

And deadlifts. Always deadlifts.

2016 will be full of even more debatable topics as the election year heats up.

Recently, I had a client ask me what was better, the pull-up or the chin-up?

Both exercises are great for building a strong back, shoulders, and arms.

Chin-ups are performed supinated (palms towards you) and pull-ups pronated (palms away from you). If they both use the same muscles, is one better than the other?

The answer?

It depends on your goals.

What Muscles Are Involved

The Lats:

These bad boys are the primer pullers targeted during a pull-up or chin-up. They’re among the strongest muscles in your back and assist in proper rotation of the shoulder.

Any time you move your elbow towards your hips or abs you engage your lats.

The Biceps:

Suns out. Guns out.

Both the pull-up and chin-up recruit the biceps to assist in pulling your body upwards. Each targets the biceps differently. But each movement focuses on bringing the forearms towards your guns.

Posterior Delts:

If you want three-dimensional shoulders you can’t forget the rear delts. Skipping your sets of face pulls or rear delt raises can harm your bench press as well.

When you execute a pull-up or chin-up. The posterior delts have to activate to keep your shoulders rotated backward. If you want to do a pull-up or chin-up and not hurt yourself, you need strong posterior delts.

The Traps:

(insert Admiral Ackbar reference)

Your traps are also crucial to pull-ups and chin-ups.

You may not feel them working as hard as other muscles. But they’re there supporting your shoulders and shoulder blades as you raise yourself over the bar.

The Rhomboids:

These are the missing link in most lifters programs. They function to adduct and elevate the scapula (shoulder blade).

When you’re hanging from the bar your scapula elevates, stretching the rhomboids. Weak rhomboids affect your initial pull from the bottom position.

How Are They Different?

For both exercises, I’m covering the traditional non-weighted and standard grip versions of each.

The standard pull-up is performed with a shoulder-width grip and pronated hands.

Keeping your shoulders back and leaving a small arch in your back, pull your chest up to the bar. As you rise to the top position the distance between your forearm and bicep decreases.

The standard chin-up is performed with a closer than shoulder width grip and supinated hands.

Start the movement by pulling with your lats and bringing your shoulder blades down. From here your biceps will fire as you “curl” your bodyweight towards the bar. You’re finished once your chin has reached the zenith of the bar.

Performed in the vertical plane of movement. Each exercise targets the back and arms differently.

Shoulder adduction happens when your elbows come down and back from the sides as in the pull-up.

If you want to hit more shoulder extension (meaning your elbows come down and back from the front) then the chin-up is your best bet.

Better? Best? Ideal?

Chin-ups hit your biceps a lot harder as they have a stronger line of pull.

Since your biceps are in a weaker position for pull-ups, your lats get hammered harder.

Of course, different grip widths will change the muscles you train. The wider the grip, the more lats you use. The more narrow, the more biceps you use.

Looking to build bigger biceps or level up your strength for barbell curls? The chin-up is the way to go.

If your goal is to get stupidly strong, pull-ups may be the ticket. Most new lifters find that they can do a chin-up before they can do a pull-up.

The main key here is to use both in your training. Hit chin-ups before a heavy arm day. Leave the pull-ups for a warm-up or finisher for an intense and heavy back day.