Pullups and chinups are two commonly used bodyweight exercises used to strengthen upper-body muscles.
Both exercises involve grabbing a hanging, horizontal bar with your hands and pulling yourself up as high as possible, with the ultimate endpoint being when the top of your chest reaches the height of the bar.
The technique difference between the two exercises lies in the grip.
With the pullup, your hands are in a pronated position with your palms facing away from you. Meanwhile, with the chinup, you have your hands in a supinated position with your palms facing toward you.
When performing pullups, your hands will typically be wider apart than when performing a chinup, which takes a narrower grip.
This change in grip results in slightly different muscle activation and difficulty between the two exercises.
The following article breaks down the differences between pullups and chinups, including the techniques used, muscles worked, modifications, and how to incorporate them into your routine.
The short answer — no. Both exercises offer relatively equal challenge and are fantastic choices for strengthening the muscles of the upper body.
That said, one may be a better choice for you depending on your goals, and one may feel easier depending on your current strength routine, body proportions, and muscle firing patterns.
Research on muscular activation comparing the pullup and chinup suggests the chinup works the same muscles as the pullup, albeit with a greater emphasis on the biceps and pectoral muscles and slightly less emphasis on the latissimus dorsi and lower trapezius (2, 3).
To put it simply, the chinup will emphasize the muscles in your arms and chest, whereas the pullup will emphasize the muscles in your back and shoulders.
Those who are just starting to incorporate chinups and pullups into their workouts may find that chinups are easier to master. Why? The narrower, supinated grip allows you to recruit more muscles in your arms and chest, and it keeps the line of pull closer to your center of gravity.
The pullup is a classic bodyweight exercise used to train the upper back for strength, muscle building, and general fitness.
The only equipment you need is a pullup bar, which can realistically be any straight object hanging horizontally that’s thin enough to grip with your hands and strong enough to support your body weight.
To perform a pullup:
The pullup works most of the major muscles in the back and upper body (1).
The primary muscles worked in a pullup include:
Additional secondary muscles worked include:
Given this wide range of muscles worked during pullups, they’re an excellent method to strengthen the upper body as a whole.
Over time, pullups will result in significant muscle gains in the upper back and arms.
Additionally, pullups build substantial core and shoulder-stabilizer strength.
The pullup is performed by lifting your body from a hanging bar with a pronated grip. Pullups work many upper-body muscles, especially the latissimus dorsi.
Chinups are similar to pullups in that you grip and hang from a straight, horizontal bar and pull your body up toward the bar, ideally to chest level.
The main difference is the grip variation. Chinups use a supinated grip, meaning your palms face you.
This supinated chinup grip is also typically narrower than the pullup grip and can more easily allow you to clear your chest all the way to the bar, compared with the pronated pullup grip.
Chinups begin by gripping the bar with your palms facing toward you, typically slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart.
To perform the chinup:
In general, the chinup will build muscle and strength in the upper back and biceps, as well as stabilizing strength in the core and shoulders.
The chinup exercise involves pulling your body up to a hanging bar using a supinated grip. The chinup trains the muscles of the upper back, chest, and arms with extra emphasis on the biceps.
Pullups and chinups are both effective exercises for building substantial upper-body strength and stabilization.
Research suggests substantial improvements in these areas will occur with either exercise (4).
Generally, chinups are a little bit easier than pullups, meaning that you can probably do more repetitions using a chinup grip than a pullup grip.
This is likely due to increased activation of the biceps during chinups, whereas pullups rely more heavily on the latissimus dorsi and do not allow as much bicep involvement.
Additionally, pullups offer less mechanical advantage than chinups due to the wider grip. This results in more muscle contraction required for a given range of motion.
If your goal is specifically to target the latissimus dorsi to build a wider back, then pullups may be the better variation for you due to the emphasis on this muscle.
If your focus is more on biceps, consider doing chinups instead of pullups.
Finally, if you deal with elbow, wrist, or shoulder pain, you may find one variation causes pain while the other doesn’t. In this case, choose the pain-free variation.
Pullups and chinups are appropriate for all healthy individuals.
Overall, pullups and chinups are both good candidates for upper-body strength training exercises. Consider cycling in each variation over the course of your training or include both exercises in the same workout.
Pullups and chinups offer similar benefits but emphasize slightly different muscles. Include both variations throughout your training for maximum effectiveness.
Although the pullup and the chinup appear simple, they’re an intermediate-level bodyweight exercise that most people must build up to.
The following modifications can be used to progress you from beginner to advanced bodyweight trainee.
Start with the first modification and go down the list until you find a modification level that allows you to complete the exercise with moderate difficulty.
The difference between pullup and chinup modifications is the same as for the normal variations — pullups use a pronated grip while chinups use a supinated grip.
Assisted pullups and chinups use external resistance to offset your body weight, allowing you to perform either exercise using less than your full body weight.
The first standard option for assistance is using thick rubber resistance bands that loop around the bar and allow you to position your feet inside the band.
The elasticity of the band pushes your feet upward, which removes some of the load from your arms. Be sure to keep your core and legs engaged or the band will slingshot your feet upward and can cause injury.
Start with the thickest band available before moving down to the next lighter band as your strength improves.
The second common assistance option is an assisted pullup machine. This machine has a pad for your knees, which pushes upward to assist you, as well as a selectorized weight stack to choose the amount of assistance weight.
Assisted pullup machines are useful because they allow precise amounts of assistance.
However, the band-assisted variations use a more realistic body position that transfers better to standard bodyweight pullups or chinups.
If you have access to bands, these are usually the best option for assisted pullups and chinups.
Hanging from the bar using either the pullup or chinup grip is a good way to build the grip and forearm strength needed for the full exercise.
Start by grabbing the bar with your selected grip variation. Lift your legs to suspend yourself and hold your body up for as long as possible.
As you hang, work to keep your core and shoulders engaged by bracing your abdominal area and drawing your shoulder blades down and together.
Start with just a few seconds and work up to hanging for 30 seconds or more.
Note that you can use bands and assistance machines to help you with hanging from the bar if it’s too difficult with your full body weight.
Scapula pullups are a pullup variation for building stabilizing strength in your shoulders to transfer toward full pullups.
To perform a scapula pullup, start by hanging from the bar with a pronated pullup grip.
Let your shoulders shrug up by completely relaxing. Then, engage your shoulders by pulling your shoulder blades together and performing a reverse shrug to pull your shoulders back into the socket and raise your body slightly.
This exercise is best performed with a pullup grip but transfers to both pullups and chinups.
Perform 3 sets of 5 scapula pullups at least twice per week as you build the strength for the full exercises and as a warmup for your training routine.
In negative (or eccentric) pullups and chinups, you start at the top of the bar in what would be the top of the pullup or chinup, then lower your body as slowly as possible.
You can either jump up to the top position or use a stool or other platform to assist you in getting to the top of the bar.
The key with eccentric pullups is trying to lower as slowly as possible and stay contracted throughout the motion.
You can perform negative pullups as a separate exercise as you progress toward full pullups.
Even if you can perform a few normal pullups or chinups, the negative variation is a good way to accumulate more pullup training when you’re too fatigued to perform the full exercise.
For example, perform 4 full pullups to exhaustion and then do 6 negative pullups to make a set of 10 repetitions.
Once you can perform sets of 10 or more full pullups, you may benefit from adding external weight to continue driving strength and muscle gains.
You can use a dip belt with a chain and carabiner to attach a weight, such as a plate or kettlebell, to your body for added resistance.
Start by adding 5 pounds (about 2.2 kg) to the belt and working up to sets of 10 before increasing the weight to 10 pounds (about 4.5 kg).
The use of the weight belt allows you to use pullups and chinups as an advanced upper-body exercise and maintain sufficient difficulty to keep building strength and muscle.
Pullups and chinups offer multiple progression options to scale the difficulty up or down.
Pullups and chinups are both excellent exercises to build upper-body strength and muscle.
Both exercises involve pulling your body up from a suspended horizontal pullup bar. The pullup uses a pronated grip with your palms facing away, while the chinup uses a supinated grip with your palms facing toward you.
While each exercise emphasizes slightly different muscles, both exercises are appropriate as a primary upper-body resistance exercise.
Additionally, modifications allow you to scale the difficulty up or down based on your current level.
Adding pullups and chinups to your fitness training will allow you to reap the benefits of these excellent upper-body strengthening exercises.
Last medically reviewed on May 25, 2021
Pullups and chinups are two commonly used bodyweight exercises used to strengthen upper-body muscles.