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From the Desk of Dr. Len

Pull-ups or Chin-ups

Dr. Len Lopez - Friday, October 25, 2013

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What’s the difference between pull-ups and chin-ups? And which is better? 


The simple answer is that both exercises are great for targeting your back and biceps. You will work your latissimus dorsi muscles (lats), the ones that give you that beautiful V-shape, about the same, whether you do pull-ups or chin-ups.


There is more emphasis on your biceps when doing a chin-up over a pull-up, but you also recruit your forearm muscles into the exercise when you do a pull-up, as opposed to a chin-up.


That being said, you target three main muscle groups, lats, biceps and forearms when doing a pull-up, whereas you target mainly your lats and biceps when doing chin-ups. In other words I can work more muscle groups with a pull-up than I can with a chin-up, which is why I prefer pull-ups.


Injury Prevention


A second reason why I prefer pull-ups has more to do with injury prevention. The over-handed grip, which is what you do with a pull-up is a more natural hand position than the under-handed grip that comes with a chin-up.

Think about it, if you were asked to grab a bar in front of you, the natural tendency would be to grab with an over-handed grip. The reason for that is that as your arms hang from your side – your palms face primarily backwards (stand-up and see how your arms hang). That’s their normal position, so as you grab a bar the more natural position would be to follow that same bio-mechanics.pull ups or chin ups,pullups versus chinups;


When you grab the bar under-handed as you do with a chin-up, you rotate your wrists and elbows about 180 degrees. This puts additional stress on your wrists and elbows as you hang from a bar with your complete body weight.


Now, I’m not saying you can’t safely do chin-ups. I’m merely stating that bio-mechanically the over-handed grip from a pull-up places less stress on those joints, which can help keep you pain free. Therefore, as a result of time and injury prevention, I prefer pull-ups.


FYI…The same rules apply to modified pull-ups for those who can’t do pull ups. Modified pull-ups are great for targeting your lats, biceps and forearms, but you also work your upper back muscles, your rhomboids and mid trapezius muscles.


From a sports medicine perspective, the reason these muscles are so important is because they are the direct antagonist to your chest muscles. Tight pecs’ are notorious on people who work at a desk, computer or with their shoulders pulled forward throughout the day (dentist, chef, moms, stylists, pharmacists, etc). Not to mention those folks who over-train their chest and neglect their back muscles.


Muscle imbalance (tight pec’s) is the biggest cause of upper back pain and a lot of that problem can be alleviated by targeting those upper back muscles by any type of rowing or pulling motion to your chest. This is why I like modified or inverted pull-ups, it makes impossible pull-ups – possible for the 85% of the population who can’t do pull-ups. For convenience try the portable pullup bar by Work Horse Fitness, it’s my little contribution to the fitness industry.

I hope the information was helpful. Let me know which exercise you like best? You can post it to my facebook page.


by Dr. Len Lopez

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