There are few more comprehensive upper body exercises than the pullup and chinup. No matter which of the pair you choose to do, you’ll work your lats, biceps, rhomboids, rear deltoids, and core (to name but a few of the muscles involved) during every hard-earned rep.
Here’s another reason: There are no better tests of relative strength, which is the kind that matters most. Unlike absolute strength (i.e., the total amount of force you’re able to produce), relative strength focuses on how strong you are for your size. In short, it’s an indication of how well you pull your own weight.
So which variation should you do? On the endless list of things that trainers love to debate is whether the pullup or the chinup is the more effective upper body exercise (don't even get them started on kipping). Those in the pro-pullup camp like point out that the pullup is the more challenging of the two, but that has more to do with a difference in muscle activation than it does with muscle-building merit. When you flip your grip from overhand, or pronated (in the pullup) to underhand, or supinated (in the chinup), you increase the activation of your biceps, which makes getting your head above the bar a bit easier.
Not that either exercise is easy. They’re two of the most challenging moves you can perform, and regularly switching between them and their many variations is one of the simplest things you can do to inject variation into your routine and trigger fresh gains in upper body strength and muscle growth.
Your move: No matter what your strength and fitness goals are, you’ll likely benefit from including the pullup or chinup (or both) in your weekly routine (as long as you’re using proper form, of course). There is no wrong answer here between the two—just determine which you're comfortable with for your fitness goals and get pulling. Want bigger biceps? Start with chinups. Looking for a slightly tougher challenge? Pullup time.
Having trouble banging out more than a couple of reps in a row? Work up to longer sets by doing reps of either move between sets of other exercises. Performing the static hold and negative pullup will also help you progress to straight sets of the pullup and chinup, and as you do, you’ll begin to see hints of the V-shaped torso that both iconic exercises can help you build.
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