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Pull Ups vs. Chin Ups for Lats: Which is Better?

Updated: Jan 28, 2022

When it comes to back training, pull ups and chin ups are both some of the best exercises you can do.


But which one is the better exercise?


Which one will lead to more gains?


These are questions that you'll hear loads of beginner trainees asking, and it's important to understand the pull ups vs. chin ups for lats debate when you're deciding on the best exercise for you.


We'll be looking into how to perform both exercises, the benefits of these two exercises, differences in muscles worked, common mistakes to avoid, and how to incorporate these exercises into your routine. Then, we'll draw a conclusion.



Comparison between pull ups vs. chin ups for lats and biceps


NOTE: The neutral-grip or hammer grip pull up is sort of a mix between the pull up and the chin up. However it is more similar to the chin up, and will work the biceps brachialis a little more.


How To Perform the Pull Up


The pull up is a fairly easy exercise to perform in terms of form.


However, along with the chin up, they are both difficult bodyweight exercises that many will struggle with at first.


To do a pull up, you'll want to:


  1. Grab the bar with a double overhand or pronated grip (palms facing away from you) and have your hands just outside of shoulder width to start with.

  2. Relax and hang at the bottom.

  3. Retract the scapula by pulling your shoulder blades down and back. (See video below)

  4. Pull yourself up until your chin reaches just under the bar level.

  5. Pause for a split second.

  6. Lower yourself down in a controlled manner.


Check out Perform 360's awesome video on how to retract the scapula! (Happens at 00:20)


The retraction of the scapula might feel weird at first, but you'll get used to it.


How To Perform the Chin Up


The chin up is very similar to the pull up in terms of form. The only difference is that your hands will be in a supinated grip (palms facing towards you) instead of a pronated or overhand grip.


  1. Grab the bar with a double underhand or supinated grip (palms facing towards you) and have your hands just outside of shoulder width to start with.

  2. Relax and hang at the bottom.

  3. Retract the scapula by pulling your shoulder blades down and back. (See video above)

  4. Pull yourself up until your chin reaches the just over bar level.

  5. Pause for a split second.

  6. Lower yourself down in a controlled manner.


They should look like this:



Benefits of Pull Ups and Chin Ups


You'll find lifters of any fitness level utilizing these exercises, and for good reason. The benefits they provide are incredible.


Both exercises build strength and muscle in the upper body, namely in the back and in your arms.


They're also somewhat of a milestone exercise, as achieving the first ever pull up can be pretty exciting for beginners.


Pull ups require close to no equipment, and really only require you to have a bar that you can hang off of.


This means they can be done almost anywhere, provided you have a high surface to grip onto.


And as they're relatively challenging exercises, you can get a pretty good workout in quickly if you're short on time, and can also get a lot for your money if you buy a bar for your home gym.


Functional Strength


Pull ups, chin ups and bodyweight exercises in general are better for building functional strength than their common weighted counterparts.


A pull up or chin up is going to be better for athletes than a lat pulldown would be. This is because of the exercise demands that you have control over your bodyweight, and you'll generally work more stabilizing muscles due to this.


They're also great for those looking to build up strength for their deadlifts, as having a strong back and grip in particular will really help boost those numbers.


Muscles Worked


In terms of the muscles worked, both the pull up and the chin up will work the same general muscle groups.


The primary drivers of the movement will be the lats, with assistance from the upper back (traps, rhomboids, rear delts), biceps, forearms and abs.


The main difference between the two is that the chin up will bias the biceps a little more, and the pull up will work the lower traps and overall upper back a little more.


In terms of the pull up and the chin up for lats, they actually work the muscle group through slightly different functions.


A pull up will work your lats through shoulder adduction, which is bringing your elbows close in towards your body, like you would on the upward phase of a pull up.


A chin up works your lats through shoulder extension, which means to bring your elbows back behind your body, which you do in a chin up.


And although most of the time your elbows aren't going to necessarily track behind your body, your lats are still responsible for going through that range of motion and will be doing the brunt of the work.


To get the best of both worlds and build a better rounded physique, we would recommend incorporating both exercises into your routine.



You generally work each muscle group two or three times a week, so you can alternate between the two variations to be able to enjoy the benefits and gains of both.



Common Mistakes to Avoid


The next step to the pull ups vs. chin ups for lats debate is to know the common mistakes that people make around these exercises and how to avoid doing them.


When it comes to any exercise, there are certain mistakes that you want to avoid making, to ensure you get the most out of each rep you do and don't want any time.


And while the pull up is a relatively simple exercise, there are several places you can go wrong.


Here we'll look into what these mistakes are, and how you can avoid them.


Swinging


Swinging or creating momentum is a form of cheating, and you should definitely avoid it if you're looking to build muscle in your back and arms.


Forcing yourself to keep in control during the movement will engage the stabilizing muscles, as well as help increase activation of the target muscles you're trying to hit.


You can cross feet together, and have them hanging slightly out in front. This will engage the abs more, and really help to not only stabilize your body, but also increase activation in your primary and secondary muscle groups, as well as the other support muscles.


This will make each rep you do far more effective and productive, leading to more gains over time.


So avoid any kicking or swinging, as it'll just draw attention away from the muscles you're actually trying to target.


Not Doing The Full Range of Motion


Generally, a full range of motion is best on any exercise. The pull up is no different. You'll want to get your chin over the bar on a chin up, and reach to or just under the bar level on a pull up.


You also should make sure you're reaching a full dead hang at the bottom of each rep, and making sure you're stretching the lats nicely.


This full range of motion will increase the total amount of work you do, and make each set and workout that much more effective at building strength and muscle.


Not Keeping The Scapula Retracted


If you don't keep your scapula retracted like demonstrated in the video near the beginning of this post, you'll be sacrificing muscular activation and gains.


Retracting the scapula will only help make you stronger in that position to do more reps, but also work the muscles of the back more and prevent as much cheating.


Thinking That a Wider Grip Will Mean a Wider Back


It's actually common misconception that taking a wider grip on both pull ups and lat pulldowns will lead to a wider looking back.


However this is most certainly not the case. Widening your grip will only make you weaker during the movement and cause you to do less reps, you'll also shorten the range of motion of each rep, and therefore leave gains on the table.


We know that a longer range of motion is usually better for muscle gain, and taking a wider grip with no specific purpose will just shorten that range of motion. It may not seem like much, but over the course of 6-12 reps in a set, it will add up very, very quickly.


How To Incorporate Them Into Your Program


Fit and strong woman doing pull ups on gymnastic rings to build strength and muscle in her lats

The pull up and chin up are both excellent upper body exercises. We'd recommend doing both, even if you do favor one more, and only do the other from time to time.


That way you'll be able to get the major benefits of both exercises, and help build out a better rounded physique.


Generally, you'll want to do 3 to 4 sets of 6-12 reps, but you can go higher or lower if you wish.


However if you find yourself struggling to hit 4 reps with good form, or you find yourself easily hitting 20 reps with proper form, you can use an assisted pull up machine or a band to help you, or add external resistance with a dumbbell between your legs, or a dib/pull up belt.


Both of these exercises should be done close to the beginning of your workout, before any machine exercises. As a general rule of thumb, you should prioritize free weight and bodyweight exercises before any machine work you do.


Also, you might find that your grip is slipping and beginning to falter towards the end of each set. In that case, you could look to put on some wrist straps, if you don't mind sacrificing some grip strength gains.


They'll help you work the muscles of the back more. We want the target muscles to be the limiting factor of our sets, and not our grip.


But we'd still recommend trying not to use straps if you can, as the increased grip strength will roll over to lots of other exercises you do in the gym, and help in everyday life as well.


So Which is Better?


We hate to say it, but they're equally as good as each other.


It all depends on your fitness goals, and the muscles that you want to target more. The pull up and chin up are both great for lat development, and it's up to you to decide which one you want to perform by looking at the muscle activation in other parts of your upper body.


However, remember that they do both work the lats through different functions and range of motions, and you should ideally be looking to incorporate both or alternate between the two exercises.


The pull up will work the upper back more, and the chin up will bias the biceps a little bit more.


Ultimately, you can either do both, or just pick one that you enjoy doing more. Only doing one of them won't have a serious effect on your gains.


Wrapping It Up


Ultimately, the pull up and the chin up are both great exercises for the lats.


They will both work the lats through separate functions and ranges of motion, but are both superb exercises for lat development.


Picking the right one for you all comes down to looking at the muscle activation in other muscles and deciding from there.


We hope this information has been useful to you, and that you enjoyed reading through this blog article!


If you did, go ahead and share this post with your friends so that we can reach more people and help more people achieve their goals in fitness this year!


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