Pull Ups and Chin Ups are great exercises to increase overall upper body strength. Although these exercises directly target various back muscles, there are many other upper body muscles involved in performing these movements. Additionally, pull-ups and chin-ups can be done at a gym, your home, or even at a park.
Pull Ups and Chin Ups Anatomy
The pull-up and the chin-up directly target the latissimus dorsi, which is a large muscle of the back that spreads from the mid-back outward under your arm pits. Commonly referred to as the “lats”, this muscle is primarily responsible for the adduction, internal rotation and extension of the shoulder. It also assists in various movements of the scapula.
There are several muscles that play significant roles in assisting the lats to perform the pulling of your body upwards. These muscles are referred to as synergists. Both exercises share the following synergists:
- Brachialis – located on the front of your arm just below the biceps and above the elbow
- Brachioradialis – located on the upper and outer portion of your forearm between the elbow and the wrist
- Teres Major – located above the lats and outside the scapula
- Posterior Deltoid – located on the backside of your shoulder
- Rhomboids – located in the upper back, between the spine and the scapula
- Levator Scapulae – located on the outside of your neck above the upper trapezius
- Lower Trapezius – located in the middle of your back below the scapulas
- MIddle Trapezius – located in the middle of your back between the scapulas
- Pectoralis Minor – located outside of your pectoralis major, near your upper ribs
There are also a few synergists involved in a pull-up but not in the chin-up:
- Biceps Brachii – located on the front portion of your arm, between your elbow and shoulder
- Infraspinatus – located on the rear portion of your shoulder, outside of the scapula
- Teres Minor – located on the rear portion of your shoulder, below the Infraspinatus, outside of the scapula
The biceps brachii does play a small role in the chin-up but it’s only to help stabilize the elbow joint. Both exercises also require the long head of the triceps brachii to also assist in joint stabilizing. The triceps brachii is located on the rear portion of your arm, between the elbow and the shoulder.
Both exercises are traditionally performed on a station that has a pull-up bar.
- Begin by grabbing the pull-up bar with an overhand grip, outside of your shoulder width
- Use a step or a bench if you can’t reach the bar
- Transfer your weight from the ground, or the bench, by holding onto the pull-up bar and lifting your feet off the ground.
- Bend your knees with your feet pointing behind you
- Look up toward the ceiling and lean your torso slightly backward
- Stick out your chest and form a curvature in your lower back
- Pull your body upwards until your neckline is even with the bar and pause for a moment
- Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position
- Repeat this movement for the desired sets and repetitions
The chin-up is performed very similarly to the pull-up. However, there are a few slight modifications that ultimately make these exercises different:
- Grab the pull-up bar with an underhand grip so that your palms are facing toward you
- Position your hands no further than shoulder width apart
- Keep your torso upright at all times, do not lean back
- Pull your body upwards until your chin just passes the pull-up bar
For some individuals, using their bodyweight when doing pull-ups or chin-ups is too difficult. There are two variations that can help these exercisers perform pull-ups and chin-ups with less resistance.
- Assisted Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups: a spotter will hold your bent legs and feet as you perform the exercise. If you struggle, the spotter can help push you up or you can use the spotter’s hands to push off of.
- Machine Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups: this machine is typically called the gravatron machine. It has large platform that you stand on, which provides assistance when performing a pull-up or chin-up. It allows you to decrease the amount of weight you are pulling up by assisting you in the exercise movement.
If your bodyweight is not enough resistance then you can use a dips/pull-up belt to add more weight. These belts wrap around your waist and have a chain hanging down roughly 18 to 24 inches. This chain can wrap around a dumbbell or a weighted plate for additional resistance.
As with all exercises, make sure you use proper form to prevent the following potential injuries:
- Do not rock back and forth when pulling yourself up. This could cause you to lose grip of the pull-up bar and fall.
- Do not swing your legs when pulling yourself up as this could also make you fall.
- Keep your thumbs tightly wrapped around the bar to prevent loss of grip.
- Make sure you look upward to see where you are pulling. So that you don’t hit your head or face on the pull-up bar.
- Use a bench or step to reach the bars if you are too short. This will also come in handy when trying to let go of the bar, so you don’t have a far drop.