How to Do Pull-Ups and Chin-Ups Correctly

Pull-ups and chin-ups are both complete upper body exercises because they work all the muscles in the upper body, including forearms, lats, and biceps.

In addition, these moves also help to tone and tighten your abdominal muscles, as they must be engaged to help support your body in the lifting process.

Aside from being a terrific way to increase muscle tone, these moves are also used by personal trainers to determine a client’s overall upper body strength. According to fitness professionals, anyone that can perform 8 to 10 of either one of these moves is considered to be in good physical condition.

Can chin-ups and pull-ups improve physical fitness and burn fat?

Because your entire body weight is resting on your arms, pull-ups, and chin-ups are considered to be a few of the most difficult exercises utilizing bodyweight to perform, especially for beginners. Many personal trainers have new clients begin with bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, lunges, and air squats, and gradually add in pull-ups and chin-ups as their fitness levels improve.

Both of these moves are considered to be compound exercises, because they involve several muscle groups throughout the upper body, making them perfect for adding lean muscle mass and building upper body strength.

Most fitness experts state that by just performing push-ups, squats, pull-ups, and chin-ups, you can increase your physical fitness levels and burn large amounts of calories. All of these moves incorporate large muscle groups, which burn more calories than moves involving smaller muscles and possibly even cardio.

How many calories do chin-ups and pull-ups burn?

Below is the amount of calories burned by performing each exercise mentioned above, according to the American Council on Exercise. Please note that fitness experts state that depending on an individual’s actual body weight and intensity while performing the exercise, the actual amount of calories burned during these moves can vary. The numbers below are just a guideline.

Pull-ups: A 200-pound individual performing pull-ups at a moderate pace can burn between two and four calories per move.

Chin-ups: A 200-pound individual performing chin-ups at a moderate pace can expect to burn between two and four calories per move.

Pushups: A 200-pound individual performing push-ups at a moderate pace for a period of at least 10 consecutive minutes can expect to burn between one and two calories per move.

Squats: A 200-pound individual performing squats at a moderate pace for a period of at least 10 consecutive minutes will burn roughly 19 calories per minute.

What is the difference between pull-ups and chin-ups?

Although pull-ups and chin-ups are similar, they each have very different ways of affecting the body. The most noted difference between a chin-up in a pull-up is the type of handgrip that is being used. Pull-ups utilize an overhand grip, with your palms facing away from you. The hands are placed slightly wider than shoulder-width apart on the pull-up bar.

Chin-ups utilize underhand grip with your palms facing towards you, and your hands spaced shoulder-width apart. Depending on the type of equipment you are using, a neutral grip may also be used with your palms facing each other. 

Another difference between these two exercises is the varying differences in movement. Although both of these moves primarily target the biceps and back muscles, they do it in different ways. Pull-ups utilize shoulder adductions, meaning the elbows come down and extend back from your sides.

Chin-ups utilize shoulder extensions, meaning your elbows come down and then extend away from the front. These differences are not large and do not mean that one move is more efficient than the other. If your main fitness goal is to increase muscle mass and strength, fitness experts recommend alternating these moves and not favoring one over the other. 

Michael M. Reinold, PT, DPT, SCS, ATC, CSCS, world-renowned leader in the field of sports medicine, rehabilitation, fitness, and sports performance, states that according to his research, both of these moves are important for developing upper body and neither one is superior to the other.

Which one is easier?

According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, even though these moves are fairly similar, pull-ups utilize more muscle groups and are harder to perform than a chin up. Both moves require lifting your entire body weight utilizing your upper body muscles. Chin-ups engage your biceps, giving you a bit of assistance to pull yourself up to the bar, making them easier to perform. 

Many beginners find that they can perform a chin-up long before they can a pull-up. Developing your muscles on a lat pull-down machine can help prepare you for performing an actual pull up. It is advised that beginners learn how to properly perform chin-ups before moving on to pull-ups.

The benefits of performing pull-ups

We have already discussed that pull-ups help to tone and strengthen the entire upper body, but there is much more to them than this. Below we will discuss a few of the most well-known benefits of performing pull-ups.

Strengthening the lats: Pull-ups are great for strengthening the latissimus dorsi muscles (lats). These muscles extend from the outward top of the shoulder to the back. These muscles can be difficult to tone; however, it can be done quite easily by performing pull-ups.

Rhomboids: Rhomboids are located in the back, adjacent to the lats. Because they support the lats, rhomboids engage when performing pull-ups. This helps to strengthen the back and core, promoting proper posture.

Arm strengthening: Pull-ups work several groups of muscles simultaneously, which is one of their greatest benefits. For those looking for a complete arm workout, pull-ups help work the triceps, biceps, and forearms, which not only saves time but can provide you with a more effective workout than simply lifting weights.

Strengthens the cardiovascular system: Aside from building muscle strength, pull-ups are beneficial for boosting cardiovascular health. Because this exercise utilizes several muscle groups, it is likely to raise your heart rate. For cardiovascular exercise to be effective, it should be performed continuously for 30 minutes or more. Although it may be almost impossible to perform pull-ups for 30 consecutive minutes, they can be part of a larger exercise circuit.

By performing pull-ups quickly without resting, they can be an important part of a cardiovascular fitness routine. To get the most cardiovascular benefits that you can, combine pull-ups with other compound exercises such as burpees, squats, lunges, mountain climbers. etc.

The benefits of performing chin-ups

Just like pull-ups, chin-ups also offer their own list of benefits. We will discuss a few of them below.

Strengthens joints: Strength training moves such as chin-ups help to raise your basal metabolic rate, protect your muscles and joints from injury and help to improve your stamina. Because it works several sets of muscle groups, it helps to strengthen muscles and tendons, providing better support for your joints. This can help provide relief from conditions such as arthritis.

Strengthens the back: Just like pull-ups, chin-ups also work the lats, therefore strengthening the back muscles, improving posture and strengthening the core. 

Cardiovascular benefits: Although chin-ups are not as hard to perform as pull-ups, they are still taxing on the cardiovascular system. Because of their level of difficulty, it can be hard to perform enough chin-ups in a row to consider them a cardiovascular exercise within themselves. To get the most cardiovascular benefits that you can, combine chin-ups with other compound exercises such as burpees, squats, lunges, mountain climbers. etc.

Getting started with Pullups and Chinups

Many individuals who are new to fitness may not possess the upper body strength they need in order to perform a pull-up or chin-up. Performing a few upper body exercises for a few weeks can help prepare you to perform a pull-up or chin-up properly and without injury.

Although these exercises will not guarantee you will be able to perform a pull-up or chin-up, they can help you become better prepared. Perform the following exercises three times per week, on alternating days, for roughly 4 weeks.

Inverted row

This move helps to develop the same muscles used to perform a pull-up, except a different angle. Perform three sets of 8 to 10 reps. 

  1. To begin, lie on your back underneath a fixed horizontal bar. The bar should be no higher than an arm’s length above you.
  2. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip and your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keeping your body straight and your heels resting on the floor, pull your body upwards toward the bar.
  3. Hold for 1-2 seconds, then slowly lower yourself back down to the floor.

Tips: Wearing a weighted vest can add more resistance to this move.

Seated row

This exercise helps to work the biceps, lats and shoulders. Because these are the muscles used during a pull-up, seated rows are greatly beneficial. Perform three sets of 8 to 12 reps, increasing the weights each week.

  1. Sit in front of a low cable pulley machine that has a V handle attached. Plant your feet firmly against the machine and keep your legs straight.
  2. Reach forward and grab the handle. Sit up straight, keeping your torso stationary. Bend your elbows and push them behind you while pulling the cable toward your abdomen.
  3. Hold this position for a few seconds before extending your arms back out in front of you.

Bicep curls

Benefits: This move strengthens your biceps, which plays an important role in chin-ups. If your biceps muscles are weak, you will not be able to perform either one of these moves. This is where biceps curls can be of great benefit. Perform three sets of 12 to 15 reps.

  1. Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand, your palms facing forward and your arms down by your sides.
  2. Keeping your upper arms stationary, bend at the elbow and bring your forearms toward your shoulders. The upper arms should not move.
  3. Hold for two seconds and slowly lower arms back to the starting position.

Dumbbell rows

Benefits: Dumbbell rows helps to tone and strengthen your triceps and lats. Perform three sets of 12 to 15 reps. 

  1. Place your right knee and right hand on a weight bench. Your right arm should be extended.
  2. Grasp a dumbbell in your left hand. Bending your elbow, lift the weight until it is parallel to your ribs.
  3. Puase, then slowly lower your arm back to the starting position. After performing 15 reps, switch to the other side.

How to perform a proper pull-up or chin-up

Once you have worked on developing your upper body muscles for a few weeks, you are now ready to begin performing pull-ups and chin-ups. By utilizing proper form, you can perform your first pull up fluidly and without injury.

How to Do the Perfect Pullup

  1. Stand underneath the pull-up bar and grasp it with both hands using an overhand grasp.
  2. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart. Engage your abdominal muscles and let your body hang from the bar with your arms extended.
  3. Squeeze the bar with your hands and engage the muscles of your upper body. Do not strain your neck in order to make your chin clear the bar. Focus on lifting your body by pressing your elbows down toward your sides. Continue lifting your body until your chin clears the bar.
  4. Slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position.


perform the exact same moves as mentioned above, except grab the bar with an underhand grasp, meaning your palms are facing toward you. Because this move engages your biceps, it is slightly easier to perform than a pull-up. Once you become efficient at performing chin-ups and pull-ups, try spacing your hands wider than shoulder width apart. This is called a wide-grip pull-up, or a wide-grip chin-up. This places a larger emphasis on the lats and is extremely difficult to perform. When it comes to building upper body strength, this is the move to choose.

Because pull-ups and chin-ups are considered body weight exercises, they will be more difficult the heavier you are. Performing these moves may be almost impossible for overweight individuals. In this case, performing upper body-strengthening exercises and following a healthy diet in order to lose excess weight will be beneficial before attempting more intense moves.

Remember that no matter how hard you train, you cannot out exercise a poor diet. Keeping a strict record of your calorie intake and performing 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 2-3 days per week will not only help you to reach a healthy body weight, it will also make it easier to perform many bodyweight moves.


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