Pull Ups vs Chin Ups – What’s The Difference & Which One Is Better?

If you asked any intelligent trainer or strength coach to list the top 5 exercises the majority of the population should be doing, pull ups and/or chin ups (or lat pull-downs) will usually be on every list.

It’s just universally considered one of the best exercise variations for building muscle and increasing strength in the back and biceps. It’s also a common “test” exercise used to show you’re at a certain level of strength and physical condition.

I of course agree with this completely, which is why every workout routine I ever create will ALWAYS contain some type of pull up, chin up, or lat pull-down movement.

The problem however is that many people don’t seem to realize that pull ups and chin ups are NOT the same thing. They’re similar exercises for sure, but using their names interchangeably is just flat out wrong.

In fact, there are actually quite a few differences and pros/cons between them, and you’d need to know them all to figure out which one truly is best for you.

So, here now is a break down of the major differences between pull ups and chin ups…

(*NOTE* Everything in this article also applies to lat pull-downs just the same.)

Differences In Grip

The first and most obvious difference between a pull up and a chin up is the type of grip being used.

  • Pull Ups = A pronated (overhand) grip where your palms point outwards so that they are facing away from you. The most common grip width is just slightly wider than shoulder width.
  • Chin Ups = A supinated (underhand) grip where your palms point inwards so that they are facing you. The most common grip width is shoulder width.

There are a few other less common variations of these exercises that involve other types of grips, but I think the only other one truly worth mentioning now is the neutral grip.

  • Neutral Grip = A “semi-supinated” grip where your palms are facing each other.

Differences In Movement

While both exercises take place in the vertical pulling movement plane, and they both primarily target the back (specifically the lats) and biceps, the way they do it is slightly different.

Pull ups typically use shoulder adduction, where the elbows come down and back from the sides.

Chin ups on the other hand use shoulder extension, where the elbows come down and back from the front (neutral grip fits in this category as well).

The difference isn’t huge and it doesn’t make one exercise better or worse than the other.

It just means that both exercises train the lats in a slightly different way, and if your goal is to build muscle/get stronger (and avoid overuse injuries), it would probably be a good idea to avoid always neglecting one type of movement in favor of the other.

Differences In Strength

Chin ups put the biceps in a stronger line of pull, so most people will usually be stronger at chin ups than they are at pull ups.

For example, if you can normally do 10 chin ups, you may only be able to do 6 pull ups. And if you’re using a lat pull-down machine with these grips or doing pull ups/chin ups with added weight, you’ll often find that you can use more weight with chin ups than you can with pull ups.

Similarly, most beginners to either exercise (or just beginners in general) will usually find that they’re able to do a chin up before they can do a pull up.

For me though it’s actually the other way around, which is definitely rare and kinda strange. It’s probably because pull ups were the only vertical pulling exercise I did during my first few years of training. For most people though, chin ups will be your stronger exercise.

Differences In Which Muscles Get Trained

Again, both exercises will primarily train your back/lats and biceps no matter what. However, there are some slight differences in the degree in which those muscles get trained.

Since chin ups put your biceps in a stronger line of pull, they’ll typically hit your biceps a bit harder than pull ups will.

Conversely, pull ups may hit your lats a bit harder, mostly as a result of your biceps being in a slightly weaker position.

Grip width also plays a role here too. The narrower your grip is, the more it will train your biceps. The wider the grip, the less it will train your biceps.

Now, it was always believed that the difference in lat/biceps usage between pull ups vs chin ups was pretty significant. However, recent EMG testing shows that, while these differences definitely do exist, it’s not that significant and definitely not worthy of being the sole deciding factor in picking one exercise over the other.

I will mention though that if you tend to have a problem actually feeling and using your back during back exercises instead of your biceps, you may benefit from using pull ups instead of chin ups when trying to correct this problem, at least initially.

Differences In Safety & Comfort

Like ANY weight training exercise, both chin ups and pull ups are perfectly safe… unless you do something incorrectly. There’s just way too many stupid things I’ve seen people do during these exercises to cover them all here, so I’ll just simply say to use proper form always.

However, there are some other general recommendations to keep in mind with these exercises.

For starters, any type of pull up, chin up or lat pull-down done behind the neck is potentially one of the worst things you can do for shoulder health. Some people can do it this way for years without any problem ever, but many people will usually develop problems over time. I don’t recommend it.

At the same time, a VERY wide pull up grip is another common cause of shoulder injuries. People (usually dumbasses and clueless bodybuilders) tend to think a VERY wide grip equals VERY wide lats. Um, no.

A VERY wide grip just means a VERY reduced range of motion and a VERY high risk of shoulder problems. I personally don’t recommend using a grip any wider than just slightly outside of shoulder width.

Beyond that, people with a preexisting history of shoulder problems may find that a chin up grip is a little less stressful on their shoulders than a pull up grip. On the other hand, some people may find that a pull up grip is a lot more comfortable for their wrists and forearms than a chin up grip.

And in terms of being the most overall potentially safe and comfortable grip for people with one or both of the above issues… it’s probably the less-often-available neutral grip. But again, that’s just a generality.

A lot of people will never have a problem with any type of grip. And the ones that do will just need to experiment and figure out which one feels best for them.

Which Do I Use And Recommend? Which Is Best For You?

I honestly like and use both exercises, but if you put a gun to my head (and why would you ever do such a thing?), I’d say that I personally like pull ups done with a slightly wider than shoulder width grip more than any other type of chin up or lat pull-down variation.

My current personal record with this grip is my body weight plus an additional 65lbs for a solid 6-8 reps. It’s one of my all time favorite (and strongest) exercises.

However, this is nothing more than a personal preference. I don’t think this grip will work any better or faster than anything else… I just personally feel strongest and most comfortable with it. Will you? I have no idea.

So then, which will work better and faster for you? Which would I most often recommend?

Well, putting the true best answer of “do what’s best for you” to the side for a second, I’ve found that the best (and safest) results come from using a mix of different grips.

Maybe do pull ups for lower reps one day, and then chin ups for higher reps another day (like I recommend in The Muscle Building Workout Routine).

Maybe do chin ups for 8 weeks, then pull ups for the next 8 weeks. If your gym has neutral grip handles available, maybe give that a shot for the 8 weeks after that and then start the cycle over again with chin ups.

Of course, if you find that a certain grip feels more or less ideal for you, you should make the obvious smart decision of using that grip more or less often.

Whatever it ends up being, some type of vertical pulling movement (be it pull ups, chin ups, or lat pull-downs) should almost always be a major part of your overall workout routine, just like it is in ALL of the highly proven workouts included in my brand new premium guide, The Best Workout Routines.

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64 Comments

  1. Ashwin says

    Great piece of advise bro… i guess this clarifies all my doubts regarding chins & pull ups…
    I sometimes tried doing pull ups behind the neck or with a really wide grip, and wondered why are they called “tougher and better” than normal pull ups- cause they would strain my shoulders…But now i can grab the bar happy and confident

    By the way…additioanl 65lbs is damn impressive!! \m/

  2. Jeremy says

    Hey i can do 18 chin up’s and 10 pull up’s. do you have any tips on how i should go about trying to learn to do a 1 armed chin up/ pull up ?

    • says

      That’s actually one aspect of pull ups I don’t have much experience with, but it’s definitely been on my own to-do list for a while. One of these days I’ll probably give it a legit try and see how it goes.

      I’d imagine it would be just like training to be able to do a normal 2-armed pull up if you couldn’t. Use some type of assistance (like bands) to take some of your weight off, or try negatives, or a little of both. And then just gradually build and build until you can get one done. And from there, go for 2.

      • Robby says

        there are several variations that focus on one arm over the other, while the other arm assists, that will build up power and get you closer toward the one arm chin up. cliffhanger pull ups are pretty good, as are one hand chins (where you grab your wrist with the other hand). with the one hand, to make it harder you simply grab lower and lower on your arm, until ultimately you can move on to one arm negatives. but my personal favorite is the archer pull up. check it out, it’s a fantastic and quite difficult variation.

  3. Kyle says

    Alot of stuff you said about pull ups/chin ups was quite accurate and helpful. Im in the marine corps so i know uite a bit about pull ups myself; pull ups are without a doubt my favorite exercise because after ou get pst the mental difficulty of them nd just start doing them, they are extremely beneficial. What i personaly have found to work so you dont favor pull ups over chin ups is this: Ill do pyramid style chin ups where you start at 1 and add 1 chin up every set until you get as high as you can, i usually get to 8-10. Then, subtract 1 every time until you get down to 1 again. THEN you go back up, only in a pull up form and do the same you did for pull ups. The next day, you start with pull ups and then do chin ups. Since i developed this for myself several months go, i have drasticaly increased the number of pull ups i can do, and upper body strength. Just thought i would share it with you. And on a personal note, i wouldnt advise anybody to waste time on the lat pull down machine. it doesnt use your stabalizing muscles which are far more important than you think. dont use a pull up asisst either. Good article though!

  4. Tom says

    Excellent article, bro. One extremely comfortable and versatile grip variation at some pullup stations is the 45 degree grip handles (rotataed 45 degrees back from pullup pronated grip). It allows slightly different muscle load assignment by changing the elbow projection. If you have this grip available, try it out. It looks a bit funny, but you will like it.

  5. Tom says

    One arm pullups ? This is one way to get there. Wrap a thin hand towel around the pullup/chinup grip, and twist it around itself thightly. Let’s say it’s on the left. Normal grip on the right, grip the towel on the left a couple of inches below the bar. As you become stronger over time, you will be able to grip the towel lower and lower, allocating most of the load to the arm that is gripping the bar, until you can do completely without the arm on the towel grip. By all means, lower the grip only a bit at a time, over time, and STOP if you feel any pain. You will be alternating sides for the towel grip, of course. Good luck, this is not easy.

  6. Dylan says

    Awesome article man but i kind of need to know something, my main workout right now is im using the irongym bar and doing 15 pushups 30 dips and 15 pullups and repeating that 3 times and then i take whey protein i can definitely see im making progress and ive been doing this for quite awhile working up on reps i can do 25 pullups in a row if a start out on that but i dont know if theres some main muscles im neglecting only doing 3 workout exercises (btw i mainly only care about upper body)

  7. Robert T. says

    If one is light enough and strong enough, can they choose to do overhand grip pullups for their back and then close grip chin ups for their biceps on a Push/Legs/Pull split? Would the close grip chin up be consider both a vertical pulling and an elbow flexion movement pattern or just vertical pulling pattern?

    • says

      Both pull-ups and chins will hit your biceps plenty, but they are back exercises and should be primarily used as back exercises in my opinion. They are still providing that biceps stimulus just the same, only without creating the problems that would arise from trying to using a back exercise as a bicep exercise.

      On a related not, close grip chins may eventually destroy your elbows.

  8. says

    I’ve found that I can do chin ups much easier than pull ups. It’s been like this for months now. Although chin ups recruit the biceps more than pull ups, according to this article, I actually feel chin ups (or closed-grip lat pulldowns) more in my lats, while wide grips seem to put more load on my biceps.

    I need to do more research on the proper grip width. I’d been trying to go as wide as possible as per the advice of Chris Jones from Physiques of Greatness, but reading this articles makes me want to rethink that. I haven’t hurt my shoulders wide an extra wide grip, but if it’s not going to help to make my back any wider, there’s no point in doing them that way when a grip just beyond shoulder width makes it easier to get more reps in.

    • says

      Going “as wide as possible” is pretty bad advice for a whole bunch of reasons. It won’t make your back wider, it’s a lot more stressful on your shoulders, it reduces your range of motion, and if you’re using an underhand grip to go extra wide, that will destroy your wrists and elbows over time.

  9. Gabrielle says

    Thanks for the info! I have been doing chin ups with a program I’m on that clearly states pull ups.
    My issue is that I’m a total beginner. I can not do a chin up (remember that all I’ve been doing) to save my life without assistance. Maybe its because I’m a woman, and I’ve just started weight training. I lost 40 lbs about 4 years ago and have kept it off. I have pretty decent strength, its just those pull ups (chin ups…lol) are a doosy! (and dips too quite honestly). Do you have any suggestions on how I can get to the level of pulling my body weight?

    • says

      It’s mostly just a matter of doing some assisted version of them so that you’re actually doing the reps and sets and training those muscle groups that do the work. Over time, as those muscles get stronger and stronger, your goal is to gradually start using less and less assistance. With sufficient time and consistency, you’re going to reach a point where you won’t need any assistance at all.

      At that point, it’s just a matter of working to gradually increase the amount of them that you can do… 1 rep at a time.

  10. Mike says

    I know you mentioned the idea of doing one grip for 8 weeks and then switching to the next – but what are your thoughts on varying the grips during each day’s sets?

    For example, on a day with Pull Ups scheduled:

    Set 1: Pull Up

    Set 2: Chin Up

    Set 3: Neutral

    I’m using your beginner workout routine and really liking it. Been doing it for couple months. Thanks for all the insight.

    • says

      Could work fine, but I’d lean towards thinking that for progression purposes, your body will usually get better at something faster if you do it more often. Meaning, would your body get better/stronger at doing chin-ups if you did just 1 set of them per workout along with 2 sets using some other grip, or 3 sets of them per workout using that specific grip?

      Only way to know for sure would be to try it both ways and see which way you progress better.

  11. v-dubz says

    great article. I’m training pull ups (palms facing away) almost exclusively since my back is pretty weak and I can’t do many of them yet. I don’t need extra training on my biceps so I don’t really do chin ups.

  12. Anonymous says

    Thanks, I’ve found this informative. I’ve been wondering the what’s the difference lately because I recently started working out. Personally I find chin ups to be preferable, because I have very long arms. I used to be able to only do 5 chin ups (pretty sad, I know) but now I can do 20 after just 3 months of daily pull ups! I might add that they are pretty much the only exercise I do, as I don’t have any weights and I hate when all your blood goes to your head during push ups, so I’ve found that they are clearly a great exercise for anyone to do even if they don’t have a real work out routine.

  13. Pok says

    What about Muscle Ups? I want to be able to do these as they look good and I’ve seen the people who can do these have massive backs. But I just cant get up there. Any tips on going about this? FYI, I can do pull ups of my own weight to about 8-10 reps

      • Pok says

        I can do 10+ dips as well – and that’s all the way down where my arms are passed 90 degrees. But I just cant link the two together. The hardest part is to push the upper body up over the bar..

        • says

          In that case, I have no idea. My best guess would be to find some way to have assistance at that mid point to help you get through it. Then, gradually reduce that assistance until you can do it yourself.

  14. Jake says

    What an awesome and inspiring article man!
    I love your personal best, maybe one day I’ll be able to reach those lengths, but not for some time yet!
    Hahaha.

    I just got home from the gym, and I actually had an attempt at doing some chin ups. I have been working my biceps in preparation for the chin ups on the bicep curling machine, and I also use the assisted chin up machine to help me complete the chin ups. My question would be: if I keep doing those two things I mentioned; the biceps machine, and the assisted chin up. Will that help me develop extra strength to be able to do chin ups without the assisted chin up?

    I saw some guys at the gym doing a non-assisted version of a chin up and they smashed it.
    I wanted to ask them, but was too nervous to ask them.
    Haha.

    I managed to do 9 chin ups. I guess that is okay for me?

  15. Lucas says

    Hello.
    A question about programing: In your opinion, what is the best set/reps scheme to use in the weigthed chin-ups?
    I had been doing 1 set of 5 close to faulire then 1 back-off set of 8 reps. Currently I had stalled at BW + 72 lbs whit 4 reps (can’t do the 5 rep). I am 5’9”, 160 lbs.
    Thank’s

    • says

      Anywhere from low reps to high reps is all useful in some way. But, generally speaking, lowish reps (especially on a consistent basis) are probably not a great idea for your elbows which tend to get cranky from that sort of thing. Pull-ups/chin-ups are probably better suited for 6 reps and up for that reason.

      And the specifics of sets/reps also depends on the overall setup of your program and what kind of volume is needed.

  16. Jose says

    Would the neutral grip hit my biceps as well as chin-ups do?
    This seems to be the most friendly grip to me of all 3, but i wanted to know if it really gives you the benefits of the big 2.

    • says

      Chin-ups put the biceps in a stronger line of pull than any other grip, so they tend to be the version with the most biceps recruitment. Neutral grip tends to be the least.

      But, it will all hit your biceps just fine anyway. And what matters more than anything is using the grip that’s most safe and comfortable for you.

  17. AVM says

    This is a great article! You’re so right about a lot of things here!

    I have a recurrent shoulder dislocation problem, so chin-ups are way better / easier / safer for my shoulders than pull-ups. And glad to know that the difference between them isn’t something substantial.

    Also, I tried closed grip chin-ups and I immediately started getting a pain in my elbows! Thanks for the tip that it’ll eventually destroy my elbows – I’m not trying this out again!

    Again, thanks for the great article! :)

  18. AJ says

    Hey, quiet an informative article, pretty useful.

    I just needed to ask that do pull-ups or chin-ups lead to a very wide back (i.e V shaped but more pronounced) coz i dont want to develop that kind of a back, as i’m not quiet tall.

    Plus, could you advise on how to avoid getting a body that does not go well with the overall personality so that one does not look disproportionate.

    I am basically into getting a FIT AND LEAN physique and not body building.

    Some advice would be appreciated.

    Thanks.

    • says

      Pull-ups and chin-ups primarily train your lats, which are the muscles that give your back “width” and that V shape most guys want. But, you’d have to build quite a bit of muscle over the span of years before you’d look in the mirror and think “wow, my back is too wide!!”

      In fact, for most guys, that’s a point they’ll never reach no matter how hard they try.

      • AJ says

        Hey thanks for the reply.

        But i still got 1 left.
        – anything (i.e. article or website) to assist in achieving LEAN body

        and yes, do the grips of pull-ups or chin-ups influence width of the back.

        thanks.

        • says

          First question: getting lean is strictly a matter of lowering your body fat percentage, which is strictly a matter of creating a caloric deficit.

          Second question: probably not enough to matter with all else being equal.

  19. Darryl says

    I have read a lot of articles on this topic and this is actually my second read of this one. It is by far the most informative and reassuring between right and wrong good or better. The first read I was having shoulder pain and started doing chin ups and neutral grip after reading your article. This allowed me to get stronger over time. That was two years ago. Now I can do pull ups and have started adding weight for additional strength gains. I think your simple advise to do what feels best is very wise and productive to overall gains in strength and conditioning while being safe. I need to read more on your site but this one article alone was worth the visit. Thanks.

      • Jesse says

        Hey there great article by the way. I basically want to know how close grip chins up destroy your elbows? Those are the only form of chin ups I do because I want to target my biceps the most. I been doing them for a while now and started adding weight, so far I am at BW + 25 lbs and don’t feel any pain in my elbows whatsoever so I was wondering how they destroy them.

        • says

          It’s not that they’re guaranteed to destroy everyone’s elbows, it’s just that of the 3 different grips you could be using, underhand is the one that’s most well known for causing elbow issues.

          It’s possible you’ll be able to do them for you’re entire life with no problems at all. Then again, it’s also possible you’ll have issues as some point. No way to know for sure, which is why the best general advice I can give is letting you know that an underhand grip increases the risk of elbow issues compared to overhand or neutral.

  20. Dj says

    How many pull-ups/dips should you be able to perform before the muscle-up?

    I can do about 15/16 wide-grip pull-ups where my arm is fully extended at the bottom.. and about 11-12 dips.

    Thanks

  21. Bill says

    Nice article. Back in my early 30s I would work out with weights a lot and was able to do 15 wide grip pullups, then do more sets until failure. Yes these were wider grip than average. Nowadays, about 20 years later, I’m getting back into them. Had neglected weight lifting in favor of swimming and running for the duration. I will certainly start to work in chin ups as a variation. I can only do a modest 3 pull ups (in strict form). But I noticed the familiar type of muscle pain that means growth and response. I do these three days a week and pushups three days a week. And as for my pullups, I will do as you say, use slightly wider than shoulder width.

  22. Manuel says

    I am a rower. What is the best exercise for rowing? chin ups or pull ups? If you have to choose one which one would be?

  23. Nefig says

    Thanks for the article! I wish someone told me NOT to do extra-wide behind-the-neck pullups. Been doing them almost every day back in school. That would’ve saved me from dislocated shoulder and 2 surgeries to fix it! Still suffering from it though, been more than 20 years and my shoulder still screwed

  24. Keith J says

    I’m 41 and workout regularly, I’ve been bulking for six months and intended to use chin-ups and pull-ups during my cutting, however because i have a pull-up\chin-up dip tower I’ve started incorporating them in my back and bicep routine. Chin-ups have tortured my lats in ways that I’ve never felt with pull-ups, i will continue to do both increasing reps as i get stronger, currently at 7 pull-ups, 10 chin-ups. This article was very informative and inspirational. THANKS

  25. Amy says

    Thanks for the article. I started working out in Sept and it has been my goal to be able to do pull ups. However, I have an odd shoulder blade abnormality that causes my left shoulder to pop when doing them (assisted). Seems like focusing on chin ups is a better way to go at this point as those don’t seem to bother my shoulder the same way. Thanks again. I’ve learned a lot from all of the articles.

  26. Andy says

    interesting comments which have helped me make my mind up on the best grip for me.
    i injured my shoulder and had an operation 11 yrs ago which unfortunately has come back with a vengeance. therefore i decided at xmas that i would start doing chins/pull ups super setting with press ups.
    i do 6 sets of each grip but my physio has advised to rest for a bit which i struggle with so dropping the wide grip for a bit should help me. I’m 44 and train at 6.30 am 5 times a wk so probably my age could be a factor? i can usually do about 200 chins/ pulls over 12 sets so figure its not a bad workout, which gives me a firm physic. thanks for a good informative article.

  27. ringostore says

    Appreciate the article! As you stated in bold, use various grips for safety. I believe this to be true, because I possibly over trained. Normally before 2014 I was doing various grips, but for January and partially of February I tried doing just one variation of pulling. I always follow the twice a week protocol for pulling and twice a week for pushing. 12 sets of 8 reps, 100 reps total for a optimal workout. Maybe 140 + for a heavy workout.
    So I tried doing just chin ups, close hand. After a couple weeks, I felt aching in my arms, even at rest. Obviously too much volume doing one grip only. It was a great arm blast, but definitely over done. Maybe if it was done only once a week, then rest would settle things down. But I abhor once a week body area workouts. Twice a week is much more beneficial. Gains and progression is consistant.
    I think there is nothing wrong with doing a high volume of sets twice a week, but the muscles have to be attacked at different angles. Even a slight change such as the neutral grip as you mentioned, can angle the muscle for relief.

    Thanks for the article!

  28. Elliott says

    When is an ideal point to add weight? After a certain number of reps are achieved? I’m 5’6 and average about 116lbs – trying to gain. All of my strength is upper body, so it’s quite easy for me to do chin ups, even one-handed, after having just bought a pull up bar about a week ago.

    • says

      Depends on what rep range you’re working in. For example, if your goal is 3 sets of 8 reps and you can do 3 sets of 8 reps (with good form), then you’re ready to start adding some weight.

  29. David says

    So I don’t think I saw this posted in any of the questions… but do you recommend a dead hang for each rep, or just go down to 90 degrees and back up?

    I’ve seen arguments on each side.

    Thanks!

    • says

      If it doesn’t bother your elbows, a dead hang is good general recommendation. However, stopping slightly before that point will be fine as well, especially in terms of elbow health.

  30. Logan says

    This may sound strange but I can do 4-5 sets of 12 chin ups, good form.. can’t even do one pull up /i have no idea why, and how I can improve?

    • says

      Spend less time doing chin-ups and more time doing pull-ups. Start with some kind of assisted version, and then gradually lessen the assistance until you’re doing it all on your own. And then from there, just gradually work to add reps.

  31. Madhav says

    Great article hat dispels many shockingly prevalent myths about pull ups and chin ups, keep up the great work! I had a couple of questions. I’ve been doing pull ups for a couple years now and both the chin ups and pull ups are becoming a little easy to do (3 sets of 8-10 reps). So should I increase the reps per set or start using weights (I haven’t used weights for pull ups before). What do you recommend?
    And is ding quick pull ups as apart of a cardio routine safe?

    Thanks so much!

    • says

      Depends on your goals. Do you want to do more reps? If so, do more reps.

      Do you want stay around this rep range, but still make progress? If so, add weight.

      And no, I would absolutely not make pull-ups a form of cardio.

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