We’ve received many questions about the difference between a pull up (palms facing away from you) and a chin up (palms facing you). The range of motion is the same: full extension at the bottom with active shoulders, chin over the bar at the top. However, the muscles used to complete these movements are slightly different.
Mike Reinold, a physical therapist with a great understanding of the lifts we do, wrote an article about these differences. While both are compound movements (movements that require more than one joint to move) and are functional in that they are applicable to movements we may need to utilize in real life, there are some differences:
Is there a superior one to the other? Well, some (including Mike Reinold) say that the chin up is better suited for “beach muscles” but it does have its place in training. Reinold says the pull up is generally better for improving “posture, shoulder function, and general athleticism.” For those with shoulder strength issues, the pull up is generally better as you minimize the pectoralis involvement and maximize your trapezius involvement.
On the flip side, those coming back from shoulder (or elbow) injuries may find the positioning in a chin up allows them to be more careful not to re-injure themselves. If you have a hard time keeping your shoulder active, you can come down to near full extension while keeping your shoulder slightly closed so you don’t drop down.
Long story short, both movements are beneficial. The pull up can be more beneficial overall, so we do focus more on this version. However, if you find that you need more supplemental work in the rope climb or muscle up, feel free to do supplemental chin up work, or do pull ups on rings on occasion.
Press 3×5 or Wendler
1 Chin Up
3 Push Press
3 Chin Ups
Max Push Presses
Rest 90 seconds