Pull-Ups vs. Chin-Ups: Muscles Worked & Benefits

Most intelligent personal trainers or strength coaches would list pull-ups and/or chin-ups as one of the best exercises to do. It is universally considered one of the top exercises for building muscle and increasing strength in the back and biceps. Pull-ups and chin-ups are two similar, yet different exercises with some obvious benefits and difference between the two. Here is a break down of the major differences between pull-ups and chin-ups.

Differences in Grip

The most obvious difference between pull-ups and chin-ups focuses on grip. When performing pull-ups, you hold the bar with the palms of your hands facing away from your body. You perform chin-ups by holding onto the bar with the palms of your hands facing toward your body. Pull-ups are typically executed with your hands shoulders width apart while chin-ups are generally done with your hands close together.

Differences in Strength

Chin-ups are easier to perform since your biceps are in a stronger line of pull. When you perform chin-ups, you are really just using your biceps to pull you up. On the other hand, pull-ups require more back and shoulder muscles and it is generally harder to execute, especially since your biceps are put in a weaker position.

Benefits of Pull-Ups

Pull-ups mainly target your back muscles but also put a lot of emphasis on the biceps and shoulders. There are many muscles in the back, but the main ones are the latissimus dorsi (lats) and rhomboids, which pull-ups can hit better than most other exercises. The wider your grip, the more the lat muscles are recruited. Pull-ups also hit your treres major (muscle above the lats) and trees minor (one of the four rotator cuff muscles). It also targets the lower trapezius (mid-back) and forearm muscles.Your chest muscles also get some action.

Benefits of Chin-Ups

Since chin-ups put your biceps in a stronger line of pull, they’ll typically hit your biceps more than doing pull-ups. The narrower your grip, the more you target your biceps, which is why chin-ups really hit this muscle. Chin-ups also work the lats and teres major, and also involve the middle and lower trapezius, rhomboids, and to a minor degree, the pecs. You’ll also hit the forearm muscles. Doing chin-ups can be a pure bicep workout in itself. It can be an effective substitute from the conventional bicep curls.


Since these are bodyweight exercises, both pull-ups and chin-ups are typically safer than other movements. First off, if you experience rotator cuff pain, you should minimize or even stop doing wide-grip pull-ups. The pull-up movement puts the shoulder joint in a compromised position of external rotation with significant loading on the rotator cuff muscles. In addition, avoid doing behind the neck pull-ups or chin-ups. These are probably one of the worst things you can do for your shoulders. It puts your shoulders in an awkward position and leaves you much more susceptible to neck strain. Lastly, just because you give yourself a wider grip doesn’t mean you’ll have wider lats. You will have a very reduced range of motion and a much higher risk to develop shoulder problems in the future. You should keep a grip no longer than slightly outside shoulder width.


Both pull-ups and chin-ups offer a range of benefits. Incorporate both movements at least once or twice a week in your workout routine to really maximize your strength and muscular gains.

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