How to Build a Bigger Back and Biceps with The Chin Up

This complete guide to the Chin Up will teach you everything you need to know about this highly useful and effective bodyweight exercise.

What is the Chin Up?

The Chin Up is a bodyweight arm exercise that is performed by pulling the body from a fully hanging position on a bar up until the chin rests above the bar.

Muscles Worked by the Chin Up

The exercise targets a wide variety of muscle groups, largely in the upper body.


The biceps must work hard to contract, provide elbow flexion and lift the body.

The Supinated (palms facing the body) grip of the exercise places much more stress on the biceps.

As a result, they are a primary muscle group that is strengthened by the exercise.


The lats also play an important role. As with other pulling movements such as Bent Over Rows, Pull Ups or Cable Pulldowns, the lats provide power and force production for the necessary movement.

They also work the teres major and traps.

Forearms and Grip

Without a strong grip and forearms, the exercise is impossible. If an athlete can’t support their own weight whilst hanging on the bar then they certainly won’t be able to haul themselves up and over it.

They are an excellent way to build grip and forearm strength.

If you are still struggling then try starting with Dead Hangs and work from there.

What are the Benefits of Chin Ups?

This ubiquitous movement has a wide spectrum of benefits.

Stronger Upper Body

The movement will strengthen the biceps, traps, lats and teres major. In combination this will lead to a much stronger upper body.

woman doing pull ups
Skills and strength ©Bastien Plu

The exercise is also difficult when performed correctly. This means that you will get a bigger reward for your efforts.

Better Pulling Ability

The mechanics of the movement are transferrable for many other pulling exercises from Cable Rows to Sled Pulls.

By improving your strength with the movement you will also build your skills and power for other exercises and for your functional performance in general.

Enhanced Hypertrophy

Want bigger, more muscular arms? Or how about a more defined upper body in general? Add the exercise into your training program.

Easy to Perform Anywhere

All you need is a pull up bar. Failing that you can try using a tree branch or a scaffolding pole. Be creative.

Build A Vice like Grip

The exercise is an excellent way to strengthen your grip. This is useful for almost every strength or gymnastic exercise that you can think off.

In terms of functional strength, it will help you with everything from rock climbing to chopping wood for a camp fire.

How to do the Chin Up

  • Grip the bar with a supinated (underhand) grip. Shoulder width apart
  • Adopt a fully hanging position with the elbows slightly bent
  • Inhale and brace the grip, core and glutes
  • Rotate the shoulders outwards to engage the lats. Rotate them away from the spine
  • Maintain a neutral head position
  • Pull your elbows towards your body and pull your shoulder blades down towards your body
  • Squeeze the lats and pull your body upwards until your chin rises above the bar
  • Pause
  • Now lower yourself slowly back to the starting position
  • Exhale
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Training Tips

Make sure that you let your body hang freely at the bottom of the movement.

Don’t use partial reps. Aim for quality over quantity every time.

Make sure to think about your core and try to set it up properly for every rep.

  • Tip your pelvis into a slightly posterior position
  • Inhale and brace the core and inflate the abdomen

This will create a stable structure for the shoulder and back muscles to work with during the movement.

It will also reduce swaying movement during the exercise.

Imagine you are pulling the bar towards your chest.

Keep your core and arms tight as well during the descent.

Who Should Do the Chin Up?

Find out which athletes the Chin Up is especially useful for.

Regular Athletes

The movement is a highly useful exercise that provides excellent upper body strength and muscle growth.

It can be included effectively in many different kinds of programs so if your general goal is to be stronger and build more muscle mass then it will be a great choice for you.

It is versatile, you can do it with almost no equipment and it is perfect for fully body health and fitness in general.

Functional Fitness Athletes

Strict Strength built from the exercise will transfer exceptionally well for other bar-based exercises such as Muscle Ups and Kipping Pull Ups.

Man doing muscle ups
Strong and powerful ©Bastien Plu

The increased pulling strength will also be useful for exercises such as Cleans.

Strength Athletes and Powerlifters

It is an exceptionally useful accessory exercise for upper body strength in general.

It should be programmed as a back and arm accessory exercise that will also enhance grip strength.

How to Program the Chin Up

Once you know what your goal is then you can program the exercise accordingly.

For Strength

Stick to 3 – 5 sets of 3 – 6 reps. Rest as needed.

You can even add a weights belt here if the sets are too easy. The last few reps should be very difficult.

To Build Muscle Mass

Aim for 4 – 6 sets of 6 – 12 reps. Rest for 30 – 60 seconds between sets.

For Muscular Endurance

Here you will need to perform sets with higher volumes, anything up to 2 or 3 sets of 12 – 20 reps.

You can use a band to help the movement as well.

What’s the Difference Between the Chin Up and the Pull Up?

There are three main differences between the two exercises.

The Grip

The Chin Up uses a supinated grip with the palms facing the body. The Pull Up uses a pronated Grip with the palms facing away from the body.

The Difficulty Rating

The Chin Up is much easier to perform than the Pull Up.

The Way the Muscles are Utilised

Both exercises use many of the same muscle groups however they must operate in slightly different ways.

The Chin Up recruits the biceps to a much greater degree. Pull Ups target and prioritise the lats and back muscles more.

Chin-Up Variations

Use these excellent variations to switch things up or make the exercise easier or harder.

Band Assisted Chin Ups

This is useful if you are new to the movement and want to get more acquainted with the mechanics. The band will make the overall exercise easier.

Weighted Chin Up

This is an opposite variation of the Band Assisted version. Here you add more weight in order to make the movement more difficult.

You can use a weights belt, vest or grip a dumbbell between your feet.

Eccentric Chin Up

This is perfect if you want to get your first rep, or build up strength without having to struggle through the full movement itself.

This exercise only incorporates the lowering part of the movement. All you must do is slowly lower your body from the chin over bar position down to the full hanging position.

Chin Up Alternatives

The following work well when you want to swap for something else and keep your training fun and challenging.

Underhand Row

Also known as the supinated row, this movement can also improve bicep muscle growth and strength.

It will offer a different angle to pull the weight and works well in combination with the Chin Up.

Underhand Pulldown

This exercise mirrors the Chin Up but is performed on cable machine. If you are struggling with building the necessary strength to haul your body up and over the bar then the Underhand Pulldown can be a great way to help you progress.

The mechanics or both movements are essentially the same.

Pull Up

An essential exercise that can be found in almost all the types of training disciplines that exist. And for good reason.

This will target the back more than than the Chin Up, so knowing this you can structure your workout sessions according to the goals that you wish to achieve.


Scroll through to further your knowledge.

Can I do Chin Ups Every Day?

Yes, you can do the exercise every day if you wish. If strength and muscle mass are your goals then it would make more sense to program in rest days as well to allow your body to recover.

Bodyweight and calisthenics are one of the safest forms of training if you want to work out every day.

What is the Chin Up Good For?

The exercise is good for developing the back, biceps and upper body. It builds strength and muscle and will also increase mass and definition.

Additionally, it will augment grip and forearm strength as well.

Is Holding a Chin Up Good?

Yes, holding a Chin Up is a good exercise.

An isometric hold can help stimulate muscle growth and strength. It will also help you get better at the actual exercise itself and build better grip and forearm strength.

Are Chin Ups Better than Bicep Curls?

Chin Ups are better because they are harder to cheat, are incredibly functional and cause greater bicep activation.

With the exercise you must pull your entire body up and over the bar. With Barbell Curls the lifter is shifting much less weight.

Do Chin Ups make your Arms Bigger?

Yes, the exercise does make your arms bigger because they stimulate hypertrophy of the biceps.

Learn More

Improve your Front Squat Technique.