Both pronated and supinated pull-ups are compound exercises that develop the major muscles in the back. The distinguishing factor between the two types of pull-ups is hand positioning. While both exercises share many similarities, because of the differences in grip position, they recruit muscles differently. In turn, they also vary in difficulty.
A pronated grip pull-up implies that your hands are positioned so that your palms are facing away from you. Reach up and grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Pick up your feet to hang from the bar, placing all of the weight onto your hands. Pull your body up towards the bar. Keep going until your chin clears the bar and then extend your elbows to lower your body back down to starting position.
Using a supinated grip when performing pull-ups means that your hands are positioned with your palms facing you. This exercise is also commonly referred to as a chin-up. Your hands are placed in a more narrow position than typical pronated-grip pull-ups. They should be placed shoulder-width apart. Pull your body up towards the bar until your chin clears it, and then extend your elbows to return to starting position.
According to the American Council on Exercise, both pronated and supinated-grip pull-ups primarily recruit the latissimus dorsi, which is the largest muscle in the back. The trapezius, rhomboid and serratus anterior are also involved in both exercises, as they support movement at the scapula. In addition, the transverse abdominus and obliques, which stabilize the core and prevent you from swinging as you pull yourself up, are involved in both types of pull-ups. It’s important to note that while the biceps are involved in both exercises, they’re placed in a more effective position and thus contribute to the movement more significantly when performing supinated grip pull-ups. The American Council on Exercises lists biceps along with latissimus dorsi as primary movers during supinated grip pull-ups.
Because the biceps contribute more to the movement when your hands are placed in a supinated position, chin-ups are significantly less difficult to complete than pull-ups with a pronated grip. Both exercises are challenging and can be too advanced for many lifters. A spotter can be recruited to assist when needed. Have them stand behind you and provide assistance by gripping your waist and pushing you up towards the bar and moving you down slowly. Once you’re ready to complete a pull-up without assistance, move onto supinated-grip pull-ups first until you develop enough strength for the pronated-grip version.
Kim Nunley has been screenwriting and working as an online health and fitness writer since 2005. She’s had multiple short screenplays produced and her feature scripts have placed at the Austin Film Festival. Prior to writing full-time, she worked as a strength coach, athletic coach and college instructor. She holds a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton.