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The Chin Up vs. Pull Up

Updated on June 17, 2018
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My name is Christian Montalvo and I am a health coach in NYC. One of my passions is to research and develop content.

Upper body Chin-up and Pull-up

As a fitness coach one of my “GO TO” upper body strength exercises is the pull up and chin up for several reasons. I use this exercise as a starter in order to increase weight and add other variations later on. Learning how to incorporate different variables makes it fun yet challenging.

The pull up or chin up exercise helps improve strength and help build lean muscle. Working big body parts utilizes more energy than single joint exercises. Different handgrip positioning activates specific muscles groups. One reason why you may want to know the difference between the two exercises is that it may help your overall program.

So what is a pull up? What is a chin up?

In general a “pull- up” or “chin up” is an upper body strengthening exercise that concentrically utilizes pulling muscles and eccentrically utilizes pushing muscles.

These 2 variations of exercises are actually part of the same family. You are building strength by utilizing your own body weight and generating force to pull yourself up and allowing your body to lower itself. They are also identified as closed kinetic chain exercises. A closed kinetic chain exercise is when it’s distal ends (foot or hands) are restricted and inhibited from free motion.

Why the Chin-up and Pull-up?

The Chin and up and Pull up is one of the key exercises to develop upper body strength. It can be used to build general endurance and key for incorporating other exercise variables.

Utilizing the pull up may also help improve posture. Putting your pectorals in an over activated position. Stretch your chest and add shoulder mobility exercises if this sounds like you! Sitting at a desk all day can put your shoulders in a rounded position, having the ability to reduce upper body strength.

When a muscle is not contracting properly, or not properly engaged that presents problems. These problems lead to neuromuscular inefficiency. Muscles that don’t “fire” long enough, or just don’t want to contract at all presents “weakness”. This flaw leads to other muscles having to either to over work or recruit muscles that help compensate for the inefficiency creating faulty movement and imbalances.

The Chin and pull up can be a start to your upper body exercise program. For example I like to add the rogue 5.11 weighted vest that contains 2 (8.75lbs) weighted plates. I can max out at about 140 total repetitions. Not my best but I continue to increase my overall weighted pull-ups, getting stronger. I also challenge myself by monitoring time to completion. Doing more reps in a shorter amount of time.

What grips can I use to do a pull up or chin up?

Now we are going to look at the differences within grips. We have the wide under handgrip or (supinated), neutral grip (palms facing each other) and over hand (pronated grip).

When performing the chin up your hands are either in a neutral grip or underhand grip position. When you are performing the pull up your hand is in a pronated grip (hands facing out).

Eccentric neutral grip position chin up

When your body is in an eccentric position, there are specific muscles that activate while also allowing the reciprocal muscle (s) to relax. This phenomenon is reciprocal inhibition. One set relaxes while the other activates.

But I must tell you, if you have overactive and underactive muscles that are associated with a chin up or pull up, it will hinder your overall performance. Strive to have equal balance.

The muscle groups that are applying the work during the eccentric phase include Deltoids (shoulder flexion), the triceps brachii lateral head (elbow extensor), triceps medial head (elbow extensor), Anconeus (wrist extensor), Pronator Teres (slight pronation), Teres Major (medially rotates shoulder) Deltoids (flexes and extends shoulder), pectoral major (flexes, adducts the shoulder), Latissimus Dorsi (Medially rotates shoulder), Tranversus Abdominis (compresses abdomen), Internal Abdominal obliques (compresses abdomen)

While in the lengthening position (eccentric) I recommend keeping your rhomboids activated. The rhomboids will help generate force for concentric muscle action.

Shoulders are locked in an external rotation (rotator cuffs), giving good shoulder stability. I like to engage my deep pelvic floor muscles (inner buttocks) to maintain stability not allowing me to swing my body. That will take energy from you and less repetitions generated.

Concentric neutral grip and underhand grip position chin up (pulling ourselves up)

Concentric neutral grip and underhand grip position chin up (pulling ourselves up)

Now that we have the right muscles activated during eccentric position now we will discuss how to perform the concentric part of the chin up (neutral or underhand grip). You will notice that when you are raising your body up, there’s a great deal of contraction within your biceps. This is one of the reasons is why I like to add biceps with back day. I fatigue my biceps, through out the session. Super jacked biceps!

Muscles that are contracted during this concentric phase include your elbow flexors (brachioradialist, ) slight pronation (pronation teres, flexes elbow), Coracobrachialis (adducts and flexes shoulder), pectoral major (flexes the shoulder, medially rotates shoulder), rhomboid major ( adducts shoulder, rotates scapula downward), rhomboid minor ( adducts shoulder, rotates scapula downward).

Your muscles should all fire, in order to get the full effects of the exercise. The muscles being applied should be contracting in unison applying smooth coordinated movement.


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