What Muscles Do Pull-Ups and Chin-Ups Work

During a Pull-Up the muscles that are mainly worked are those of the upper body and the arms.


muscles pull up chin up exercise

A. Primary muscles

- Latissimus Dorsi (also referred as lats)

It is one the largest muscles found on your body, on the lateral sides of the back. It is responsible for supplying much of the force needed to execute a Pull-up. Widen your grip for a fuller workout on these muscles.

- Biceps

Pull-Ups place a great amount of strain on the biceps. They are involved more during a Chin Up (where the palms are facing towards the body). 

B. Secondary muscles

- Upper back muscles

Several upper back muscles work together with the latissimus dorsi to complete a pull-up. These muscles include the teres major, rhomboids, middle trapezius and lower trapezius.

- Forearm Muscles

They are heavily engaged during the beginning of a pull up. When a pull-up bar is grasped, they tighten in order to secure a strong grip on the bar. The thicker the bar, the more strain is placed on the Forearm muscles.

- Deltoids

The rear deltoids (or posterior deltoids) are worked considerably during the execution of a Pull Up.

- Abdominals

The abdominal muscles receive significant stimulation as they help stabilize the body core during the exercise.

Most common muscle injuries from doing Pull-ups / Chin-ups and their prevention

Pull-ups can cause some or a combination of the following issues, in case they are not performed correctly:
1. Shoulder pain
2. Elbow pain
3. Wrist pain

How to reduce the risk of muscle injury from pull-ups

1. Keep a slight bend at your elbows while doing pull-ups, avoiding "dead hang" since this causes the muscles and tendons to be overextended. By keeping a slight bend, you work the biceps more and strain the joints less.
2. Use a variety of grips. Change your grip periodically from overhang to underhand and neutral to put stress on different areas of the shoulder and the elbow.
3. Avoid behind-the-neck pull-ups, as they place your shoulders in extreme external rotation.
4. Always Warm up your muscles before workout.
Spending time on warming up will improve your level of performance and accelerate the recovery process after the pull-up workout.
A warm up doesn't take a long time and should contain two simple elements:
- Aerobic activity
This increases blood flow to the working muscles, which results in more limber joints and less risk of injury. Running on the spot, astride jumps, skipping etc will increase your heart and breathing rate allowing blood to flow quicker.
- Stretching
There are several good stretches to limber your muscles prior to working out. All stretches should be repeated twice for each muscle group and held for 15 seconds.

Comparison of Primary muscles worked in Pull-ups / Chin-ups and Primary muscles worked in Push-Ups

Muscles worked in Pull-ups / Chin-ups

Muscles worked in Push-ups

comparison-muscles-worked-pull-ups comparison-muscles-worked-push-ups
 - Latissimus Dorsi (Back muscles)
 - Biceps (Upper arm muscles)
 - Pectoralis Major (Chest muscles)
 - Deltoids (Shoulder muscles)
 - Triceps Brachii (Upper arm muscles)

Articles - References

  1. Influence of Cadence on Muscular Performance During Push-up and Pull-up Exercise (LaChance, Peter F.; Hortobagyi, Tibor)
  2. Surface electromyographic activation patterns and elbow joint motion during a pull-up, chin-up, or perfect-pullup™ rotational exercise  (Youdas JW1, Amundson CL, Cicero KS, Hahn JJ, Harezlak DT, Hollman JH)
  4. The Effect of Experimental Alterations in Excess Mass on Pull-up Performance in Fit Young Men (Vanderburgh, Paul M.; Edmonds, Timothy)
  5. Kinematic and electromyographic comparisons between chin-ups and lat-pull down exercises (Kenji Doma , Glen B. Deakin & Kevin F. Ness)
  6. The Effect of Grip Width and Hand Orientation on Muscle Activity During Pull-ups and the Lat Pull-down (Kelly. L. M. Leslie, Paul Comfort)
  7. Comparison of male and female functional capacity in pull-ups (RICCI B., FIGURA F., FELICI F., MARCHETTI M.)

*   Always talk with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.