Got Back? Learn to Love Chin-Ups and Pull-Ups


It’s sad that no one loves them, because chin-ups and pull-ups should be the backbone of your back training routine. These exercises help build and strengthen your back, which improves posture and reduces back aches. And both chin-ups and pull-ups should be included in your workouts because they are different exercises. The grip is what sets them apart.

A chin-up is done with a pronated grip (palms facing away from you) and chin-up are done with either a semi-supinated (palms facing each other) or with a supinated grip (palms facing you). To get the best back workout, you should include all three grips as part of you back workout.

If you can’t do a successful rep of either a pull-up or a chin-up, it’s probably because you’re not doing them. If you lack the strength to complete even one rep, you can build up your strength gradually by doing “negatives” or inverted rows on the Smith machine. You can also use a spotter for assistance. I definitely prefer all of these techniques over the assisted pull-up machines.

Once you’ve worked your way up to 12 assisted chin-ups or pull-ups, you’re probably good for at least one regular rep.

Machine lat pull-downs, meanwhile, don’t even compare. According to strength coach Charles Poliquin, pull-ups and pull-downs may look similar, but they use completely different recruitment patterns.

“A classic example of the difference between chin-ups and pull downs is the fact that a chin-up is a close-chain exercise (body moves towards resistance) and a lat pull down is an open chain exercise (resistance moves towards the body),” Poliquin explains. “But the fact that is clear, a great back is built much faster through chins than through pull-downs. Very much the same way that squats and deadlifts cannot be matched for lower body development.”

And pull-ups and chin-ups aren’t just for men either! Everyone, women included, should be able to lift their own body with their arms and back. Pull-ups and chin-ups will build a strong back, muscular arms and will give you that V-taper from your shoulders to your waist.

Why does this matter to you? Because if you’re not including these back exercise into your workout, you’re shortchanging yourself! An estimated 75 to 85 percent of all Americans will experience some form of back pain during their lifetime. Remember: a strong back is a healthy back, and pull-ups and chin-ups will help build your muscular endurance.