Chin Ups vs Pull Ups: Which Exercise Wins In Achieving A Strong Back

So you want to develop a stronger back and you have been eyeballing that pull up bar at your gym but have been wondering which exercise is best.  Which exercise is the most effective? Let us break it down and see who wins in the debate of chin ups vs pull ups when working on the back.

There are different exercises that develop the back such as rows, low rows, high rows and different ways of doing pull ups that target the back.  Some of these exercises focus more on the lats, others the middle back, or the upper back region.

It is important to note that in order to achieve the best results and best back development you have to use a variety of exercises to really build stronger back muscles.  With that being said let us look at what pull ups exercises and chin ups exercises mostly target.

The Differences Between These Two Exercises

Chin ups are performed using palms in grip (underhand) and the hands usually close together.  Pull ups are performed with the palms facing outward (overhand) and the grip can vary either neutral, close or wide grip.  Although many people confuse the difference between these two exercises this is the distinction between the two.
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Muscles Targeted By Chin Ups Exercises

Chin ups exercises are excellent at working the back, primarily the upper and middle back and the biceps to a great extent.  Other muscles that are targeted are rear deltoids.  Although other muscles like rear deltoids and the lats are stimulated they are done so at a lesser of a degree.

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Muscles Targeted By Pull Ups Exercises

Pull ups are known as one of the granddaddies gym workouts.  Unfortunately they are not performed as often as they should be probably because they are considered difficult to perform.  This exercise really targets and stimulates the entire lats area.  For a good example of lats development just look at a gymnast or swimmer’s body.  The lats begin from right below the armpit all the way down below the ribs area.

Pull ups stimulate the lats in a way that makes them stand out more and give the back a wide appearance.

Although the biceps are also stimulated they are done so to a lesser extent than chin ups.  However it is clear that both exercises serve their purpose when working out the back.  It is also important to note that both of these exercises are excellent as they provide upper body strength if done on a regular basis.

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Who Wins Between Pull Ups vs Chin Ups?

This depends on which muscle group you want to focus on more.  If you had to decide on an exercise that focuses more on the back then pull ups exercises are ideal.  However there is nothing that says you have to do one or the other.

In fact, I would suggest using both in any back workout.  If you are doing strictly a bodyweight workout then you should definitely do both exercises.  If you are including weights in your workout you can do both or replace one of these exercises in place of lat pulldowns for example.

I advise doing as many repetitions as you can for these exercises.  If your rep volume is low just continue practicing them in your workouts until you can do more.

For a beginner I would advise doing chin ups for a few weeks to develop strength in the back and biceps that will then prepare you for more difficult exercises like pull ups.

In reality I would not look at it as a competition of chin ups vs pull ups but rather learning to incorporate the two for best maximum back and upper body results.

Comments

  1. Good distinctions between the two. Both can be difficult exercises for beginners. I find chin ups to be easier than true pull ups, but I try to do them both. I think these exercises are to the upper body what squats are to the lower body.

    • Sam Munoz says:

      Hi Tom,
      Absolutely agree with you on the squats comparison.
      There are just certain exercises that are classics and that should be included in anyones workout.
      -Sam

  2. I love both exercises its great you are highlighting these. I include them both in regularly and they never fail to help my development.
    I got to the point that the reps were getting high so I was fatiguing, so now i do lower reps but with a weight belt which is a nice variations. I probably go back to high reps later.
    raymond

    • Sam Munoz says:

      Raymond,
      I’m sure alot of people reading your comment envy you! Doing high reps is a challenge for so many when it comes to doing pull ups and chin ups. But it goes to show that if you do these consistently enough your upper body strength will increase.
      I have done variations with the weight belt and these can be fun and perfect if going for low reps.
      Thanks again,
      Sam

  3. I’m more of a pullup man myself as I love hitting the lats. What I also love though is that the pullup bar is the one piece of gym apparatus you never have to queue for, since they are real hard work!

    Michael

    • Sam Munoz says:

      Michael,
      Pull ups and chin ups are very convenient and that is the good thing. All you need to do is get a bar and put it up at home. It is an awesome way to develop the upper body in strength.
      -Sam

  4. Hi Sam

    I love both these but have always found them a struggle. I am working my way up to doing 25 straight but am a way off this at the moment. For anyone starting out I recommend doing inverted body rows or negative pull ups where you use a chair or bench to help you get to the top of the movement then slowly control your body as you fall downwards to the starting position. I found these really helpful to build strength before I attempted doing either of these exercises. Great post

    Cheers

    H

    • Sam Munoz says:

      Building up to 25 reps may take some time but it is definitely do-able. Using negative pull ups is a great way to build strength when you are just starting out or you can also use them at the beginning to warm up and and/or at the end of a pull ups routine to give yourself an extra push.
      Thanks for bringing this exercise up!
      -Sam

  5. I’m a big fan of both these exercises. I throw in some parallel pullups as well, just to mix it up a little. I think most people find chinups easier but done with proper form (all the way down, all the way up), I’d say they’re equaling as challenging as pullups.

    • Sam Munoz says:

      Dave,
      Proper form is definitely very important and a full range of motion gives the best results.
      I like doing parallel pull ups and I will sometimes throw them at the end of my back workouts. Glad you brought this exercise up!
      -Sam

  6. Sam,
    I love the article. I try to use both exercises, and feel that pull ups are much more difficult for me. So I try to do as many chin ups as I can and finish with pull ups to really make it tough. I’m not quite at Raymonds level, but I could probably use the weighted belt for chin ups.

    Love the comment about never having to wait to use the bar! So true
    Cheers,
    Jordan

    • Sam Munoz says:

      Glad you enjoyed this! Another option to try are assisted pull ups and work your way up from there.
      Thanks again,
      Sam

  7. I can’t tell you how many people don’t understand the difference between the chin up and the pull up. It bothers me at times to be honest.

    If I could choose one, however, it would most definitely be the pull-up. Not everyone can do a pull up. It’s truly a great sign of upper body strength. I like doing both my chin ups and pull ups weighted…I’ve gotten best results with this.

    • Sam Munoz says:

      I know what you mean. I have been looking through Youtube and see “instructors,” saying things like, “pull ups, also known as chin ups.” It drives me crazy because there is a difference.
      Both exercises are awesome and highly recommended. Weighted pull ups and chin ups are definitely something worth trying once you reach that level of strength.
      Thanks for stopping by,
      Sam