The battle between pull-ups and chin-ups has been going on for a long time. There are defenders of both camps. For example, the author of Starting Strength Mark Rippetoe has been known for his chin-up affection while other ‘gurus’ such as Pavel Tsatsouline prefer pull-ups.
Which is easier on the joints?
People who do pull-ups often complain about wrist and elbow pain mainly at the top of the movement. This is usually due to having too narrow grip and not using thumbless grip. When your grip on pull-ups is too close, there’s an overflexion of the elbow joint which can cause elbow strains.
The same goes for using regular grip instead of thumbless. When you wrap your thumb around the bar during pull-ups you wrist is not properly aligned and pain occurs.
Close grip chin-ups on the other hand do not cause as much elbow pain at the top, but they murder your wrists. The exercise requires you to grab the bar with your palms facing you. This is a hard position for your wrists.
When doing chin-ups you will find that your wrist are required to rotate outwards quite a lot which can cause some serious pain. Unfortunately, this problem is harder, if not impossible, to fix in some cases and even the thumbless grip may not save you. Some people just can’t handle the pain, especially when the chin-up is done over a full range of motion (ROM).
Conclusion: Both chin-ups and pull-ups can cause similar amounts of pain when executed incorrectly. However, the problems with chin-ups may be a little harder to soften.
Pull-ups – latissimus dorsi, upper back, forearms, arm flexors with emphasis on the brachioradialis;
Chin-ups – latissimus dorsi, upper back, forearms, arm flexors with emphasis on the biceps;
Conclusion: Chin-ups and pull-ups work similar muscle groups and the largest difference is that the former hits the biceps harder while the latter places more stress on the brachioradialis due to the different grip position.
Recommended read: How To Get Good At Weighted Pull-ups
Which is better for muscle gains?
Both are perfectly fine but ring-pull-ups tend to be more elbow friendly and the less stress on the joints allow you to do higher volume workouts.