What muscles or muscle groups are targeted by these different variations of pull-ups: 1.) standard (overhanded), 2.) chin-ups (underhanded), and 3.) the neutral or parallel close grip pull-out (thumb is nearest the body - can done in an equipment similar to the 'Iron Gym')? What are the differences in the muscles these pull-up variations target?

Illustrations of the neutral or parallel close grip pull-out:

Source: theblondeleadingtheblind.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/ironmike.jpg

Source: asseenontv-wholesale.com/images/fitness/iron_gym_1.jpg

I also would specifically like to know if the modified chin-up as illustrated above, target different muscles compared to a standard pull-up or a standard chin-up? Or does it target similar muscles to one of the two?

Context and reason for question: I would like to know which pull-up variation targets which muscles, so I could use that variation in my workouts and try to focus on a certain muscle. E.g. If my biceps need work (which I do), then I could choose an optimal pull-up variation to use.

I'm also interested in learning what muscles the neutral or parallel close grip pull-up targets (I don't get good results on either Wikipedia or Google), as it is a pull-up variation that can be done in the equipment I use (similar to the 'Iron Gym' equipment).

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    Any reason why you'd like to know? Because simply listing a bunch of muscles isn't really useful
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 13:47
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    So what goal are you trying to accomplish that requires such information? Then ask how to accomplish the goal and ask for the answer to explain why or how it works the way it works.
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 14:26
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    I think the comments have to do with how advanced the user is. If it is a beginner in pull-ups that uses the bar, the fine division of muscle groups matters less than if it is an advanced user. Is it you in one of the pictures?
    – FredrikD
    Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 15:30
  • @Galaticninja, you have an earlier question about shoulder problems when doing pull ups, are these questions related?
    – FredrikD
    Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 20:34
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    You are probably best served by varying and using all possible variations (including grip width). Yes, each variation uses slightly different muscles, but it is better to be well-rounded and that means all variations should be considered.
    – VPeric
    Commented Jul 17, 2012 at 8:09

4 Answers 4


The common wisdom is that the chin up (supinated grip) targets the biceps. It also appears to target the pectoralis major. The pull up targets the lower trapezius more. Source

Ellington Darden also says the chin up better targets the lats because the involvement of the biceps means the arms won't give out as quickly as the pull up, allowing the back to get worked.

As for the neutral grip pull up, the best I've been able to find explaining why some people have a much easier time with it than the even chin up (despite that the chin up recruits the bicep more than the neutral grip) is from Mark Rippetoe that it has a better mechanical advantage.

Stef points out that the main advantage is probably mechanical: a neutral grip results in a chest position during the movement much closer to the bar, i.e. a shorter moment arm between shoulder and grip. She is much smarter than I am, and possibly pays closer attention to pullup mechanics.

Also, both supination and pronation of the hands involve various forearm muscles which would be held in isometric contraction while the upper arm and back muscles get to go between concentric and eccentric contraction. So depending on the isometric strength of your forearm muscles, they might reach failure before the upper arm or (much less likely) back muscles do. Explanation of contraction terms

  • 2
    @JohnP Downvoting an answer that addresses the question completely and has a source because the correct words are used? That's pretty rough, and not very useful, I think. How about editing the answer to clarify instead.
    – michael
    Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 18:39
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    You do realise that the links I provided include the definition of supinated and pronated grips, right? Because you do follow links before deciding whether to upvote or downvote, right?
    – Robin Ashe
    Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 18:54
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    JohnP, you can always just post a better answer, then. If this is the way Robin wants to answer the question, he's obviously free to do so.
    – user3085
    Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 19:10
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    @JohnP Some of the terms are indeed new to me, but we all have to start somewhere and this is a good learning exercise, so I think it is a good answer. I already have some idea of what a supinated or pronated grip is, in terms of pull-ups (underhand and overhand, respectively) from reading its Wikipedia article. As for isometric, eccentric, concentric, etc., your edit to the Wikipedia article is useful, and I'll read that. If I have more questions, I can always ask again on Physical Fitness SE, right? =) Commented Jul 17, 2012 at 3:11
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    A quote from Rip's thread would get my upvote. :) Commented Jul 17, 2012 at 14:39

The modified version that you are asking about it known as the "parallel close grip pull-up".

The main target of all of these is the latissimus dorsi.

The additional muscles worked during the chin-up and parallel close grip pull-up are the brachialis, brachioradialis, teres major, posterior deltoid, rhomboids, levator scapulae, lower trapezius, middle trapezius, sternal pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, with the biceps brachii and the long head of the triceps as dynamic stabilizers. (References: here and here.)

The additional muscles worked during the pull-up are the, brachialis, brachioradialis, biceps brachii, teres major, posterior deltoid, infraspinatus, teres minor, rhomboids, levator scapulae, lower trapezius, middle trapezius, pectoralis minor, with the long head of the triceps as a dynamic stabilizer. (Reference: here.)

The differences between the exercises are italicized.

  • Thanks for mentioning the name of that pull-up variation. I have edited that into my question. Commented Jul 17, 2012 at 2:45

Neutral grip pull ups are the easiest, the upper body just happens to be stronger at pulling with neutral grips. Which is the same reason you are able to row more weight with a dumbbell than with a barbell.

Probably this has something to do with the arms as the long head of the tricep the brachioradialis, brachialis and biceps are all put together in a balanced position where they can output as much force as possible while allowing for greater ranges of motion.

On the other hand chin ups just put more emphasis on the bicep while pull ups work more the brachioradialis.

And for some reason chin ups get harder the more advanced you become, any beginner will feel chin ups as being way easier than pull ups but the situation turns the other way around as they gain experience and muscle mass.


All is good, but stop saying that the pectoral major is being worked at any pull up exercise. Pecs work ALWAYS as pushing muscles, never as pulling muscles.

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    All muscles "pull", none push.
    – Eric
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 5:03
  • ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21068680 - I will let this stand as an answer, as it is flat out wrong and might disappear as a comment. Take a look at the study cited for amount of muscle activation in both pullups and chinups. It is a study on effectiveness of a product, but the base activation remained the same both with and without the product.
    – JohnP
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 14:17
  • To wit: the primary function of the pec major is flexion and adduction of the humerus. Both of these are part of pullups. Is it the primary mover? No. Is it a mover? Most definitely.
    – JohnP
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 15:34
  • Once again, there is a basic misunderstanding of how muscles work. Muscles move the body towards directions. The pecs, the triceps and the anterior and middle deltoids push objects away from the core, and the core away from objects. This their ONLY function. If they get worked in other exercises it's only in their function as stabilizer muscles. But then you'll have to add the abs and the glutes, and almost any muscle in the body, baring perhaps the gastrocnemius muscle.
    – Kostis Pet
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 7:20

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