6 Undeniable Benefits of Chin ups
Chin ups are a staple exercise in calisthenics and they’re a real bench mark in upper body strength. Chin ups form a part of every military training regime and are a prioritised in by strength and conditioning coaches for improving overall upper body strength, that crosses over well into athletic competition.
Whether you are a beginner in terms of bodyweight exercise or a seasoned athlete, chin ups should feature as part of your regime.
So what are the benefits of chin ups?
Chin ups are easier for beginners compared to the pull up
Increased grip strength- improve your deadlift
Easily add weight to scale the difficulty with a dip belt
Add mass to your biceps and lats
Better functional strength, muscle coordination
Require minimal equipment and can be done at home with a door mount or gymnastic rings- Home train solutions
Lets look in more depth on how you can implement these benefits effectively and how they will apply to your workout.
Easier for Beginners
One of the advantages of chin ups over pull ups is the underhand or suprinated grip puts your body in a stronger line of pull compared to the pull up (pronated grip).
Whilst chin ups and pull ups work the same muscle groups, the chin up is able to recruit both the lats, biceps and forearms to contribute to the movement in terms of force more evenly then the pull up.
In contrast with the pull up, the biceps and forearms are still very much engaged but the effort is concentrated far more on the lats (latisumsi dorsi) with the biceps and forearms contributing less to the exercise.
So if you are looking to do your first pull up you should definitely try to do a chin up first. I personally have trained a few people now to achieve their first and I always see success with the chin up before the pull up.
After you’ve developed the strength and drilled the motor pattern from the chin up, it doesn’t take very long to do your first pull up as the strength is reasonably transferable between the two exercises.
Add Muscle Mass to your Biceps
If you are looking to build bigger biceps with body weight exercise then chin ups are much better then pull ups.
The biceps and forearms contribute far more to the pulling with a chin up because your arms are positioned in front of your body as opposed to out to the side as with a pull up. It is this arm position that puts the biceps at a mechanical advantage to provide the majority of the pulling force.
With your arms out in front there is more flexion or bending at the elbow to complete the repetition and get your chin over the bar. This means that the bicep has to work harder and go through its full range of motion, from dead- hang to fully flexed at the top of the movement.
To further emphasise the biceps with chin ups you can adopt a close grip on the bar. This will put increase tension on the biceps and therefore increase the potential for adding mass to your arms.
For a full, in depth, step by step guide on how to increase your biceps with chin ups check out my article.. How to Optimise your Pull ups for Biceps (5 Tips)
Chin ups Target Abs More then Pull ups
Chin ups are one of the best and most under utilised exercise in calisthenics for six pack abs and core strength. This is because chin ups are generally thought of as an upper body movement with biceps and lats being the primary movers, contributing most to the exercise.
However there is also a high demand on your abs for providing stability, coordination and to adopt a hollow body position. With a chin up the anterior chain is emphasised more then the posterior chain. What this means is your pecs, abs, hip flexors and quadriceps are engaged more to hold your body in the right posture for a chin up.
The pull up tends to emphasise the posterior chain (muscles of the back, glutes, hamstrings) and requires more of an arched back whilst you are pulling up therefore comparatively there is less tension on the abs compared with chin ups.
The isometric tension of keeping your body in a hollow position keeps a high amount of stress on you abs throughout the set of chin ups.
Therefore you can accumulate a high amount of time under tension if you are going for three sets which is a crucial factor for muscle growth, increasing your body’s capacity for stability and carving out abs definition.
Added into the equation is the bonus of chin ups being a compound movement which is good for promoting muscle growth as compound exercises trigger the release of more testosterone and growth hormone to help the muscle grow and recover form the work out.
Don’t worry if you are female as the testosterone increase for women is only marginal to help with muscle recovery and will not produce any adverse affects.
Compound movement- Engages Multiple Muscle Groups
Chin ups should be an exercise in your workout regime whether your goal is to build muscle or increase functional strength.
This is because they are a compound exercise which engages multiple large muscle groups to work together to contribute to the movement. The primary movers for the chin up are the biceps and the lats. These are the two muscles that contribute most to the actual pulling force of the exercise.
However every major muscle group from the posterior chain (back muscles), abs, pectorals, quads, shoulders, all contribute to this movement either for assistance in pulling or stabilising the joints and coordinating the body throughout the range of motion.
Compound movements such as chin ups are more beneficial isolation exercises (such as biceps curls) because:
They promote different large muscle groups in the body to work cohesively together for more functional strength that crosses over to sports performance and every day movement.
They are superior in terms of promoting muscle growth and full body strength as so many muscles are engaged simultaneously.
You not only increase your strength but developing other athletic attributes such as balance, coordination, proprioception as well as increasing the core and shoulder joints capacity for stability.
If you put forward your best effort and do a set of chin ups, whether you can currently do more then 10 or only a few with assistance with rubber bands, I guarantee you will feel some soreness in your biceps, lats, forearms, core and lower pectoral muscles the next day.
Think how long it would take to exercise all the muscle groups that are recruited with chin ups, with isolation exercises (preacher curls, lat pull downs) and machine weights. Trying to hit all the muscles one by one is not only time consuming but boring. You would also not be reaping the other benefits of gaining functional strength and a more coordinated and proportional musculature.
Whether you goal is strength, muscle mass, better movement or improving your competitive performance, the best pulling exercise you can do are chin ups.
Scale the Exercise- add Weight for more Muscle and Strength
One of the advantages of chin ups is that you can scale the intensity very effectively. If your goals are to either increase strength or add muscle mass and your progress has plateaued, it’s a good idea to invest in a dipping belt and start adding some weight to the exercise.
Adding weight to chin ups is a effective way to increase the intensity of the exercise.
If you are comfortably doing more then 10 chin ups and perhaps you not progressing from that number, then you need to up the level of resistance for a greater challenge.
By scaling the resistance you can increase the stress on the different muscle groups that are recruited for chin ups and trigger an adaptive response from the muscle to either become stronger or add muscle mass in order to deal with the higher workload.
If you are looking to increase strength then you should aim to add enough weight to put you in the 3-8 rep range for 3 sets. If you are looking to add muscle mass then the 8-12 rep range for 3 sets is the target you should aim for.
Adding weight to chin ups will help you maintain a progressive overload. A progressive overload is where you continually increase the demands on the musculoskeletal system to invoke an adaptive response from the body to increase your strength, muscle size or endurance to cope with the increasing demands.
Maintaining a progressive overload is one of the most important factors for muscle growth and strength gains..
How to add Weight (Dip Belt not a Weight Vest)
The best way to add weight to chin ups is to do so with a dipping belt rather then a weighted vest. This is because belts are:
More comfortable for upper body movements
There is no limit to how much weight you can add
You can use a vest but personally I prefer the belt because it doesn’t restrict your upper body movement and the weight sits very comfortably around your hips rather then on your torso.
The belt is also a lot easier to put on and take off in between sets, whereas the vest feels more like a sandbag to lift and it can be tricky putting it over your head if you are using a lot of weight.
With the belt you can adjust the weight very precisely by using weight plates or kettle bells so you know exactly how much you are lifting and altering the weight is very easy, which is convenient for drop sets.
Both pull ups and chin ups are undeniably effective ways to enhance and improve your grip strength.
However because of the suprinated (underhand) grip of the chin up, the forearms are recruited for not only gripping the bar and holding your bodyweight, but also for working in synergy with your biceps to contribute to the pulling strength of the exercise.
With the forearms playing an active role in the exercise, as well as providing the grip strength there is real crossover benefits to other exercises and sports.
For example, rowing, climbing or Olympic lifting (clean and jerk, snatch) require not only grip but contracting the bicep too, so in this regard chin ups can be a very sport specific exercise to improve your performance.
If you hit a set of 12 reps and you are stressing the eccentric phase (lowering with controlled form from the top of the bar) of the exercise properly then you may be holding your entire body weight whilst exercising for over a minute.
This will inventively improve your grip not only in a maximal strength capacity but also for endurance capacity. Having good endurance in your forearms is a vital athletic attribute in many sports.
Maximal strength grip
If you are looking to improve your deadlift one rep max then I highly recommend the weighted chin up.
Often the limiting factor for people when it comes to power lifting is that their forearm strength is either not strong enough or your grip runs out before your primary movers (for the deadlift, your back, glutes, hamstrings etc.) have a chance to be under enough stress to reap the benefits of the exercise.
With weighted chin ups you can really emphasise improving your grip strength in a maximal capacity better then any other exercise.
Consider the fact that all throughout the duration of the chin up you are holding your entire bodyweight up off the ground and then by adding weight to the exercise you are able to hit the forearms in an optimal way to increase their capacity for strength.
This will help you equalise the strength imbalance between your forearms and the muscles you are trying to target.
If you want to improve you deadlift I highly recommend adding weighted chin ups to your routine and make your grip the strongest part of your game.
Chin ups Require Minimal Equipment- Train at Home Solutions
One of the great things about chin ups is that they only require a bar or a set of gymnastic rings. Both the bar and gymnastic rings are great options and the rings offer some additional benefits.
If you are keen to workout at home then there are many good removable chin up bars that can be mounted on your door frame, which do not scuff your paint or decor of your house and can be stored out of sight quite easily.
Its also far easier to perform chin ups with a door way pull up bar because of the relatively closer grip then it is for pull ups which tend to be a naturally wider grip and therefore are less practical in a narrow doorway.
Gymnastic Rings Chin ups
However if home pull up bars not a practical option for you then I would recommend gymnastic rings. Gymnastic rings can be looped around a tree or garage beams and you can perform and wide variety of exercises such as dips, chin ups, muscle ups, push ups, inverted rows etc.
They are also easy to take down and if you buy plastic ones, you can keep them outside. I personally prefer the feel of wooden rings but it doesn’t make a huge difference and I would recommend some chalk when using both for added traction.
I have found personally that the best gymnastic rings are 1.25 inches thick and made from solid birch wood (avoid cheap plywood rings that can split apart). Take a look at my guide to my favourite gymnastic rings that are available on amazon.
Are chin ups better then pull ups? Chin ups are better then pull ups for targeting the biceps and abs. However pull ups focus more tension on the lats and posterior chain (muscles of the back).
Both are highly functional exercises and both are excellent for stimulating muscle growth and functional strength gains, and both work the same muscle groups, but emphasise those muscle groups with different levels of tension.
Pull ups are defintaley more difficult rep for rep because of the emphasis on the lats and there is less of a contribution (although still significant) because the wider grip limits their range of motion.
I personally recommend switching between the two variations every so often or perhaps whenever you plateau so that you can target different muscles and stimulate a different adaptive response from the body. This will ensure you have well rounded pulling strength and a proportional physique.
For more detail on the differences between pull ups and chin ups, particularly in terms of the differences of muscular development and strength have a look at my article Pull ups vs chin ups (The Definitive Guide).