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Health and Fitness Tips

Pull-Up or Chin-Up?

The terms "chin-up" and "pull-up" are often used interchangeably, even though they are two distinctly different exercises. The muscles worked are essentially the same for each, but the emphasis is significantly different for certain key muscles.

The distinguishing and most visible difference between the chin-up and pull-up is hand position: The chin-up uses a supinated grip (palms facing your body), whereas the pull-up uses a pronated grip (palms facing away). Standard grip width for the chin-up is shoulder-width or less, while a shoulder-width or wider grip is customary for pull-ups.

Muscles Used
Except for the trapezius (traps), the muscles involved in the chin-up and pull-up are the same. The latissimus dorsi (lat) is the primary muscle group, but the pectoralis major (pecs), teres major, rhomboids and biceps are also called upon. Muscle recruitment is similar for each exercise, although the angles of stress are slightly different. Lat involvement is the notable exception, in which emphasis switches between upper and lower regions.

The supinated grip of the chin-up keeps the elbows in making shoulder extension (movement on the upper arm down toward the body in a horizontal plane) the primary movement. Shoulder extension incorporates the lower lats, the muscled area on the sides of the middle-lower back. Near the end of the movement as your chin approaches the bar, the rhomboids help rotate the scapulae (shoulder blades) while the middle traps adduct them (pull them together). For maximum rohmboid and traps contraction - and upper-middle back development - concentrate on pulling your elbows down and back as you squeeze your shoulder blades together.

Don't worry if you can't decide whether to do chin-ups or pull-ups - you need to do both. Use chin-ups to hit lower lats, adding thickness and meat to the sides of your middle lower back. Chin-ups can also be useful when you want to work the biceps a little differently, even though your main concentration should be on back development.

You need to do pull-ups, too. They build the highly visible "wings" which, when developed properly, will truly give you that body-sculpted look. To really emphasize the upper lats, you can try pulling the back of your neck to the bar and experiment with grip widths. As you pull-up, grip wider, lat tension increases and the emphasis shifts even more to the upper lat region. Range of motion consequently decreases though, so there's a limit to how wide you can go. You'll have to experiment to find the grip width that works best for you.

I encourage my clients to do three sets of both chin-ups and pull-ups with ten repetitions in each set. This is a great way to sculpt your lats and moves you in the right direction of body-sculpting.

Rick Gusler is a certified personal trainer and diet nutritionist who serves his clients through Gusler Body Sculpting Fitness Center in central Denver. To schedule a free consultation, or to learn more about the Gusler method of body sculpting, spin yoga, or Rick's Boot Camp, please contact him at 303.860.7131 or online at

Gusler Body Sculpting Fitness Center, LLC
459 Acoma Street · Denver, Colorado 80204 · 303-860-7131
Hours: Monday-Friday: 6am-8pm · Saturday: Closed · Sunday: Closed