Last updated on January 9th, 2023 at 04:28 pm
This is an issue I hear about time-and-time again.
Folks being able to perform X number of chin ups, but not even a single pull up.
In fact, I was extremely surprised to read about a Quora user who claims that he’s capable of performing 15 chins up, but not a single pull up.
Personally, I believe that he’s using poor form for his chin ups.
Yes, I agree that most people are able to perform more chin ups, but there definitely shouldn’t be such a huge disparity.
Chin ups are easier to perform than pull ups. Therefore, you should be able to perform more chin ups. However, this can lead to you focusing far more on chin ups. So, your chin ups will improve, while your pull ups stagnate, or even decrease. This may cause certain muscle imbalances, especially in the upper back, lats, forearms, and your grip. Unfortunately, this will simply make pull ups even harder for you.
Chin Ups Are Easier Than Pull Ups
There’s no two ways about it, chin ups are definitely easier to perform.
There is one obvious reason for this, which I’ll get to in a moment.
However, there are also a couple of technical aspects to both movements that will always make pull ups harder.
You’re Closer to the Bar With Chin Ups
Your grip position with both exercises can either move you closer or further away from the bar.
Admittedly, the distance from the bar isn’t exactly huge, but it will explain why chin ups require less effort.
Firstly, pull ups use a pronated grip (hands facing away from you), whereas chin ups use a supinated grip (hands facing towards you).
So, with a supinated grip you immediately move closer to the bar, which in turn means that your centre of mass is also closer to the bar.
This becomes more obvious at the top of the movement, as with chin ups you can see that you’re closer, which also means that it’s easier to get your chin over the bar.
With pull ups it almost feels like you have to stretch further to get your chin over the bar.
This is something that I hadn’t previously paid much attention to, but once I was aware of it, it was obvious.
I almost find that I have to use a second movement to get my chin over the bar during pull ups.
But, with chin ups it feels like one smooth movement.
Chin Ups Provide Better Leverage
This is all about elbow position.
You’ll notice with pull ups that your elbows are out to the side.
This means that your elbows are further away from the midline of your body.
And this becomes even more obvious at the top of the movement, as you’re trying to bring your chin over the bar.
Therefore, you have a longer leverage, which makes the pull up harder.
When it comes to chin ups your elbows are in front of the body.
This in itself makes chin ups a much more compact movement, plus the leverage is shortened.
And a shorter leverage makes the movement easier.
This also means that it is much easier to get your chin over the bar during chin ups.
There’s More Bicep Involvement With Chin Ups
This is the factor that everyone seems to quote, but your biceps are far more involved during chin ups.
The supinated grip obviously brings the biceps far more into play.
Furthermore, at the top of the chin up your biceps literally take over.
However, during pull ups, due to the pronated grip, there’s far less bicep involvement, especially at the top of the movement.
So, the simple fact that your biceps provide more assistance makes chin ups easier than pull ups.
You Perform Chin Ups More Often
As I’ve already alluded to, the fact that chin ups are easier means that you’re more likely to perform them.
In truth, we should all be performing harder exercises if we want to get bigger and stronger.
In fact, I was once given some advice that has stayed with me ever since – The exercises that you find most difficult are the ones you should be performing more often.
Pure and simple, if you “hate” a specific exercise it’s likely because you find it difficult and it really tests you.
But, what better way to improve your overall physique by regularly doing these tougher exercises?
However, unfortunately, the human mind just doesn’t work like that.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure we all push ourselves occasionally while working out.
But, more often than not we take the easy route.
And this is potentially why you’re great at chin ups but suck at pull ups.
Basically, the more often you perform a movement, the more efficient you’ll become at it.
Conversely, the less often you perform a movement, the more your efficiency will decline.
In fact, the first time most people grab a bar they automatically go the “easy route” and start out with chin ups.
However, after a few weeks of doing chin ups, and seeing your numbers dramatically improve, performing pull ups doesn’t seem like such a great idea.
It’s likely that you’ll struggle, and potentially find them even harder than if you’d simply started doing pull ups from day one.
Personally, if I want to get better at an exercise then I’ll perform that exercise more often, even if this means using modified versions to increase strength.
So, if you want to get better at pull ups, start doing them, or at least easier variations.
This could involve simply performing dead-hangs while contracting your working muscles.
Then again, you could use an assisted pull up machine, resistance bands, or simply perform negatives.
Whatever you decide, the more often you practise the actual movement, the better you can expect to get at it.
You Have Muscle Imbalances
The final factor that may affect your ability at doing pull ups (and not so much for chin ups) is muscle imbalances.
Realistically, what I mean is that certain muscles required more during pull ups are weak.
These are specifically your upper back and lats, your forearms and your grip.
In fact, you’ll often hear trainees state that they feel pain during pull ups, especially in the forearms.
Now, don’t get me wrong, all these muscles are worked during chin ups, but not in exactly the same way as when you do pull ups.
Plus, if you are constantly doing chin ups (because they’re easier) and avoiding pull ups, these muscle imbalances/weaknesses will simply get worse.
You can of course train each of these muscle groups separately without the aid of pull ups.
My suggestions are as follows:
- Upper back and Lats – Bent-over rows, one-arm dumbbell rows, and lat pulldowns.
- Forearms – Reverse curls and hammer curls.
- Grip (which will also train forearms) – dead-hangs and farmer’s walks.
That said, much like I’ve mentioned earlier, if you want to get better at pull ups, then do more pull ups.
And doing so will obviously help to shore up these weaknesses.
Don’t get me wrong, the exercises I’ve mentioned above can be incorporated as part of a “pull-day”.
And it also makes sense to have some variety to your training.
Frequently Asked Questions
The following FAQs are geared towards those of you who can perform chin ups, but tend to struggle with pull ups.
Is it OK to Only Do Chin Ups?
Firstly, why are you looking to only do chin ups?
If it’s due to you finding pull ups, and other back exercises extremely uncomfortable, perhaps there’s even the potential for injury, then it’s okay to just do chin ups.
However, personally I would like to work on the factors that are bothering me and find a solution that allows me to train my upper back with more variety.
That being said, if you only want to do chin ups because you find pull ups too hard, sorry, but this is a complete cop out.
Granted, you can still train and only use the exercises that you like, as long as you’re still progressing with those exercises.
However, some of the greatest gains, whether strength, muscle, or fat loss, typically come from doing the things we don’t like.
So, for me, I would never just stick to chin ups, and I would want to constantly test myself with different exercises.
Do Chin Ups Make You Bigger?
I don’t wish to get into the chin ups vs. pull ups argument, but yes, chin ups can certainly make you bigger if you’re training them in the correct way.
You’ll typically hear that pull ups are better for lat development, whereas chin ups are better for biceps.
While there is something to this, it isn’t strictly true.
In fact, there have been studies which prove that chin ups and pull ups are equally effective for lat development.
The main difference, in terms of which muscles you hit, comes down to grip width.
A wider grip for either exercise will work the lats more effectively, whereas a closer grip will focus more on bicep development.
So, you can train either chin ups or pull ups to get bigger.
This comes down to training in both the strength and hypertrophy rep ranges, as well as ensuring that you’re eating at a calorie surplus with nutrient-dense foods.
Is it Better to Do Chin Ups Fast or Slow?
Much the same as any other exercise, there is no “perfect” speed at which you should perform your chin up reps.
When training for strength or building muscle it makes more sense to go slow.
This allows you to properly go through a full range of motion, while increasing time-under-tension.
However, if you’re looking to train for power and speed then clearly fast chin ups are the way to go.
That being said, I would never suggest fast or explosive chin ups for complete beginners, as your technique needs to be sound, and there is the potential for injury if reps aren’t completed with correct form.
Key Learning Points
- Chin ups are easier than pull ups.
- You’re closer to the bar with chin ups, have better leverage, and your biceps are more involved.
- Many athletes focus solely on chin ups as they’re easier. This will lead to improved chin ups and declining pull ups numbers.
- Pull up difficulty could be due to muscle imbalances or muscle weaknesses.
- Focus on improving your upper back, lats, forearm and grip strength.
- Perform pull ups more often, even modified versions such as negatives and assisted.
- Don’t avoid pull ups and just stick to chin ups, as this can limit your overall strength and muscular development.
- Grip width is the main factor to which muscles you work harder. A wider grip is more lat-focused, whereas a narrower grip hits the biceps better.
- Perform chin ups and pull ups slowly for strength and hypertrophy, and fast for power and speed.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.