Pull-up variations: Pull up vs. Chin up
Not all pull-ups are the same. There are surprisingly many variations of this basic exercise, all of them with a right to exist in a balanced training.
Two variations whose distinction is confusing again and again: The pull up and the chin up.
We explain the subtle differences in execution and involved muscles and show why you should give both variations a chance.
The execution: Pull up vs. Chin up
Pull-ups is the English term for the classic pull-up. The literal translation: “pull up”. There also different types of pull-ups, such as wide grip vs. close grip pull-ups.
An overview of the pull-up version: Hold the pull-up bar slightly wider than shoulder width. In the free slope, your arms are completely stretched out.
The back of the hand is pointing upwards – the so-called overhand grip. Now pull up your body until your chin is above the bar. Keep the whole body straight and avoid swinging from legs and hips.
Chin-ups can be translated as “chin up”. This term is misleading: It describes the final goal of the exercise, which is no different from the pull-up.
The chin-ups differ from the conventional pull-up only by the type and width of the grip: Close the chin-up bar so that your palms are facing you – the underhand grip.
Grip a little tighter than with pull up, the lever ratios are favored by this. Now pull yourself up again from the free slope of the pull-up bar until your chin towers above it.
Which muscles does the pull-up train, which muscles do the chin up train?
Both pull up and chin up are vertical pull-up exercises. As such, they mainly train the upper back and the biceps. The difference lies in the focus of muscle recruitment.
The wide overhand grip pull-up involves the back muscles particularly strongly. Especially the latissimus dorsi – the broad back muscle that is responsible for the V-shape of the body – profits from the pull-up.
1) the range of motion of the shoulder in the pull up is generally greater than in the chin up, and
2) the elbows are next to the upper body during the whole movement, the broad back muscle is stressed more intensively.
The chin-up in the underhand grip is known as one of the best biceps exercises, even before the classic curls. In fact, a strong bicep activation in the chin up compared to the pull up could be proven in electronic measuring procedures. The (main) reason:
The strong elbow flexion in front of the upper body – a function of the biceps muscle.
But once again: Contrary to a widespread misconception, both the pull-up and the chin up requires exactly the same upper body muscles:
- Inner back muscles – upper, middle and lower part;
- Upper neck musculature;
- All three shoulder heads;
- Chest musculature;
- as well as parts of the front and lateral abdominal muscles.
Neither does the upper grip isolate the back, nor does the pull-up in the lower grip train the biceps alone. However, as described above, the main focus of the exercise is still on the load.
Why do I perform more Chin-ups than Pull-ups?
Most athletes will find that they can do more chin ups than pull-ups in one piece – often the difference is between 30 and 40%! You may even be able to do chin-ups even though you can’t do a single pull-up.
The reasons for this:
The chin-up involves the biceps, the pull up the upper back muscles. The bicep is used more regularly in everyday life than the back and is, therefore, better developed in most people.
Many strength athletes, especially beginners, regularly perform isolated biceps exercises – for the sake of appearance. The shoulder is better fixed in the Chin up than in the chin-up in the upper grip.
Due to the additional stabilization work in the pull-up, energy is lost, which is reflected in lower repetition rates.
Pull up or Chin up – which exercise is better?
For a varied and balanced workout, it is recommended to alternate between upper and lower grip pull-up.
Especially if you are doing cross training and many weight lifting exercises (Deadlift, Clean, Snatch etc.) in the upper grip, you should at least regularly use the pull-up bar in the lower grip.
If you want to get better in bar muscle ups, you have to perfect the pull-up, because every muscle-up starts with a classic pull-up.
The chin-up, not to be confused with the pull-up, is a fantastic exercise that should not be missed in a training program.
It is one of the few exercises that can make someone 60 kilos strong in addition to a 120-kilo weighing beast. But, this too is an exercise that is often done wrong.
Tips to improve your chin up:
1) Avoid waving your body
Despite the arguments that when you can do more repetitions than normal due to the swing movement (momentum).
After all, you want to get the most out of the back muscles you train and this is only possible without momentum.
So keep your body the whole exercise in one and the same posture (let yourself hang). When it is too heavy you can use the help of the chin up tower, which most gyms have nowadays, to give you that extra push in the right direction.
But remember, do not make it too easy for yourself, the tower does not have to be trained, but your back is.
2) Bring your sternum to the rod instead of your chin (I know, people call it chin-ups!)
This encourages you, on the one hand, to draw more with your back and on the other hand to do less with your biceps.
This also ensures that your shoulder blades are in a nice, seated position.
This strengthens the stability of your shoulder blades (and thus also helps you to swing less).
3) Keep your body tense and stable during the entire exercise
If you pinch your buttocks, your belly retracts, and thus as many muscles as possible next to your back and biceps tighten, it becomes a kind of full-body exercise. Nice bonus!
4) Use a long movement path
Just like with the push-up, no one is impressed if you can do 100 repetitions when you only drop a few centimeters.
Try to make the negative repetition as long as possible, to the point that you just do not ‘hang’. Find the point where you still have tension on your back.