Chin Ups and Pull Ups

What are chin ups and pull ups?

Chin ups and pull ups are bodyweight exercises for the upper body. They are also multi-joint, compound exercises, meaning they use more than one muscle to perform the exercise.

To perform the chip up and pull up, you pull yourself up and down by your arms, suspended from a high bar, lifting and lowering your own body weight.

Chin ups and pull ups work in the opposite way to dips during which you lower and raise your body between parallel bars.


Chin ups and pull ups are notoriously difficult for those with less developed upper body strength. Women often find chin ups and pull ups difficult because of their naturally lower upper body muscle compared with men.

Even if you cannot complete a full bodyweight pull up, you can still enjoy the exercise by using the assisted pullup machine in the gym.

This will help you develop enough upper body strength to perform them eventually with only your arms. However, some people always use the assisted pullup machine and do not feel the need to perform regular bodyweight pull ups.

Assisted Pull ups

What muscles do chin ups and pull ups use?

Chin ups and pull ups both target your lat muscles (latissimus dorsi) and your biceps.

What is the difference between chin ups and pull ups?

Chin ups and pull ups are very similar exercises because they both require the lifter to use their arms to pull themselves up. Both exercises use the biceps and lats but they target them in slightly different ways by using a different style of grip:

Chin ups

Chin ups are performed by using an underhand grip, around shoulder width. Take the bar with an underhand grip and pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar, then lower back down in a slow, controlled motion.

Chin ups tend to use shoulder extension, where the elbows come down and back from the front. Chin ups require a little more bicep power than pull ups. The narrower your grip, the harder the exercise is on your biceps.

chin ups and pull ups bar

Pull ups

Pull ups are performed using an overhand grip, wider than the shoulder width grip. Take the bar with an overhand grip and pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar then lower back down again in a slow, controlled motion.

Pull ups tend to use shoulder adduction, where the elbows come down and back from the sides. Pull ups require a little more lat power than chin ups.

Be careful not to grip too wide with pull ups as this restricts your movement – just wider than shoulder width is enough.

pull ups outside

Position for chin ups and pull ups

To prepare for chin ups or pull ups, hang from a pull up bar, using the appropriate grip (underhand for chin ups, overhand for pull ups). Take a deep breath, then begin your lift.

Performing chin ups and pull ups 

When performing chins ups and pull ups, pull your body up using your arm muscles, until your chin is above the bar. Avoid swinging your body during the lift and try to maintain a controlled, smooth motion. Focus on contracting your lats during the lift.


Once you are at the top of your lift, lower your body down again in the same controlled manner until you are back in your starting position, ready to perform another rep.

Related exercises to try:

Read about the dips exercise, which works the body in the opposite way to chin ups and pull ups, so it is the ideal complementary exercise.

If you have access to a gym, the lat pulldown also works the same muscles as pull ups – the lat pulldown machine also makes it easy to adjust the weight you lift, so it is ideal for people who can’t yet perform bodyweight pull ups.

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