Do Chin-Ups Work Biceps?

March 9, 2023

You may have been told all you need are compound exercises to build arms that’ll have girls hanging off them at the beach. Chin-ups are referenced as the go-to exercise for the biceps. But is it an effective biceps exercise?

The chin-up activates the biceps more than the lats because the biceps are in an advantageous position to contribute with a supinated hand and forearm position.

But did you know there are slight modifications you can make to turn the chin-up into a biceps-busting exercise? But we must first understand basic biceps anatomy.

Biceps Anatomy

The biceps are made of two muscle heads:

  • Short head
  • Long head
Biceps Anatomy

Both heads originate at the shoulder and insert on the radius bone in the outer forearm [1]. The primary function of the biceps is to flex the elbow and supinate the forearm. They also help flex the shoulder. The biceps brachii elicit the greatest muscle activation when the forearm is supinated.

But the brachialis muscle is the strongest elbow flexor and is targeted with a neutral hand position. It originates on the bottom of the upper arm and inserts on the ulnar bone in the inner forearm. Its primary function is elbow flexion [2].

The brachioradialis contributes to elbow flexion and pronates and supinates the forearm. The most significant activation occurs when performing curls with a pronated hand position [3]. Therefore, maximizing biceps growth requires performing elbow flexion with various hand positions.

Do Chin-Ups Work Biceps?

Chin-ups work the biceps and are an excellent exercise to grow them. Because the hands and forearms are in a supinated position, the biceps contribute heavily to the exercise. The narrow underhand grip elicits the most significant biceps activation [4].

This makes the chin-up an essential part of your biceps training. One strategy is to perform chin-ups on your back day for extra biceps volume. Or start your arm day with chin-ups for an epic compound biceps exercise.

Rather than using the chin-up to get more bodyweight reps, use it as a strength exercise for your biceps. You’re already getting higher reps during your direct biceps training, so getting stronger in the 3-6 rep range on weighted chin-ups helps you use more weight with biceps exercises.

You can also modify how you perform the chin-up to hit your biceps more than your back. Instead of driving your elbows to your ribs, pull your body up in an arc like you’re doing a barbell biceps curl, but the bar doesn’t move.

Do Chin-Ups Work Biceps Or Back More?

Do Chin-Ups Work Biceps Or Back More

Chin-ups activate the biceps more than the lats, whereas pull-ups activate the lats more than the biceps [4]. This is because the pull-up grip places the biceps in a disadvantageous position. That doesn’t make the chin-up a poor back exercise. It’s effective for developing the back and biceps.

Do You Need To Do Biceps Curls If You Do Chin-Ups?

If your goal is to get bigger biceps, you must do biceps curls and chin-ups. There’s a school of thought that compound exercises are enough to build massive arms. Unfortunately, the world’s biggest arms weren’t built on compound lifts.

Biceps isolation exercises will stretch the biceps at long muscle lengths, which is superior for gaining muscle [5].


The chin-up works the biceps and makes an excellent exercise to target them. You can modify how you perform it by pulling up in an arc to make it more of a biceps exercise. I prefer loading the chin-up and performing fewer reps then doing higher reps with biceps isolation exercises.


1. Tiwana, M. S., Charlick, M., & Varacallo, M. (2018). Anatomy, shoulder and upper limb, biceps muscle.

2. Plantz, M. A., Bordoni, B. (2022). Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Brachialis Muscle.

3. Kleiber, T., Kunz, L., & Disselhorst-Klug, C. (2015). Muscular coordination of biceps brachii and brachioradialis in elbow flexion with respect to hand position. Frontiers in physiology6, 215.

4. Raizada, S., & Bagchi, A. (2019). A comparative electromyographical investigation of Latissimus dorsi and Biceps brachii using Various hand positions in pull ups. Indian J Public Health10, 1625.

5. Pedrosa, G. F., Simões, M. G., Figueiredo, M. O., Lacerda, L. T., Schoenfeld, B. J., Lima, F. V., … & Diniz, R. C. (2023). Training in the Initial Range of Motion Promotes Greater Muscle Adaptations Than at Final in the Arm Curl. Sports11(2), 39.

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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