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Chin ups vs pull-ups – the great debate! When we start training it’s one of the first things we try (and fail) – or at least it was for me!
Throughout my training history I’ve ALWAYS found chin ups easier than pull-ups and most people find the same. Even if you’ve frantically trained your chin up attempting max set of pull-ups can be humbling.
So what is the ideal ratio of chin ups vs pull ups? Let’s jump in and take a look.
At a glance…
- Chin ups and pull ups are very similar, with chin ups being a little more bicep dominant and slightly easier for most
- Your ratio of chin ups to pull ups can vary wildly from 6:1 when starting out to a more balanced 1:1 when you’ve trained both exercises for some time
- You can improve your ratio by focusing on training the weaker move – it will naturally carry over to the other so don’t worry about the other detraining!
- Once you can do around 15 reps of either consider varying your training to include weighted dips or chins
The ideal ratio is…
A chin up uses comparatively MORE bicep compared to a pull-ups more lat dominant movement. Usually beginners and intermediate trainees have stronger biceps due to… well… hitting arm day!
This means initially it is not uncommon to have a ratio as high as 6:1 chin-ups vs pull-ups. This is simply because your back is likely LESS trained – you have the opportunity to fix this going forward.
I now aim for a 1:1 ratio and have trained my pull-ups SPECIFICALLY to catch up to my chins which were MILES ahead originally. Now I can chin and pull up around the same number of reps as each other – but in a pinch I would manage to squeeze an extra rep or two of chin ups if I had to. Anything less than 1.25:1 chin-up vs pull-up ratio is – in my opinion – a great ratio and reflects a well balanced routine!
Or maybe I just need to hit arm day a little harder 😉
Are chin ups and pull ups that different?
When you’re doing them they feel pretty different, but in reality they are very similar differing only in grip – a chin up has your palm facing your body while a pull up has them facing away from you. Both engage broadly the same muscles just with a slightly different emphasis – a chin up hitting comparatively more bicep vs the pull up which is more back focused.
How much harder is a pull up than a chin up?
Despite their similarities I find pull-ups feel harder than chin ups initially – as noted above this is likely from over emphasising biceps when i first started training. A few months of focusing on pull-ups quickly balanced them out and now I find a pull-up FEELS better hone training – I find a get a better stretch and pump across my back, arms and shoulders from strict pull-ups compared to chin ups where I find my shoulders tend to round inwards when repping.
Does improving my chin up increase my pull up (reps or weight)?
In my experience – YES. There is significant transfer from chin ups to pull ups. You may need to drop down weight or reps initially while you adapt and find your groove but your pull up will quickly catch up if you have a well trained chin up.
How to improve your chin / pull up ratio
There are a few simple ways to supercharge your pull and chin ups:
- Negatives – If you’re struggling to get any traction with either verticals pull then negatives are a great way to get some volume in. This is where you START at the top of the movement (so head above the bar) and then slowly drop yourself down. The tension in your arms and back through this movement will help you grow and transition to full reps
- Holds – if you can’t do larger sets then try holding yourself at the top of each rep to increase your time under tension. This will train your back a little as well as other aspects such as grip strength.
- Frequency – the most effective period of training chin ups I have ever had was when I simply started doing them MORE. Instead of once or twice a week I was doing 2 sets EVERY training day at the end of my session. I started with a challenging but not exhausting set at around RPE 8 (this means I felt I could have done 2 more reps if I pushed to failure) which was around 5 reps at the time and simply added ONE rep to each set every week. Quickly 5 became 8, became 10, became 15.
- Chin vs pull – if you’re concerned about your ratio of one to the other then one way to address this is by training the weaker of the two until it’s a 1:1, then alternate back to the other. For me I trained chins for a number of years but swapped to focus on pull-ups in 2021. I rapidly improved my chin up to pull up ratio when I refocused on the weaker movement.
Does the ratio even matter?
In truth not really – it’s a vanity metric. But if it motivates you to get in the gym and TRAIN then it is important enough to you that it warrants some thought.
Pull-ups and chin ups use a LOT of the same muscles with some subtle differences emanating from the hands in vs out grip difference so how we train and improve them is likely to be similar.
As you gain more experience and improve your strength the ratio will naturally tighten up – you are unlikely to maintain a 5:1 ratio of chins to pull-ups when you can do do 10 pull-ups for example, but it’s entirely reasonable to be able to do only a single pull rep but be able to knock out 5 chins.
What is a good pull up to PUSH up ratio?
Other ratios may be MORE useful – perhaps a push movement such as press-up vs your vertical pull which some consider a better measure of a rounded physique. These may give you a better picture of your overall strengths and weaknesses (the Air Force seem to think 4 pushups for every pull-ups is the ratio there, if you’re wondering…)
Do I just keep adding reps forever?
So you can knock out a load of chin ups – now what? Do you just keep adding reps indefinitely? While you certainly can take that approach it can be good to add some variety once you are proficient.
If you can hit sets of 15 reps of either pull or chin ups then I think it is a good time to experiment with weighting the movement. At this number of reps we begin to move away from STRENGTH towards more ENDURANCE focused training so we can use additional weight to drop us back in to a slightly more strength focused rep range.Chuck on a dip belt, load up with a chain or simply pop a plate or dumbbell between your knees and try and knock out lower rep sets (think 5 – 10 reps). Do this for a period then swap back to bodyweight and see if the change worked for you!
So after all that we can conclude that the chin-up to pull-up ratio can vary significantly from something like 6:1 all the way through to 1:1. Training your weaker movement steadily over time will help you even up your ratio over time.