Do Pull-Ups Work Biceps?

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Written By Dan
Dan Smullen has a Bsc. in sport science & has over 9 years of experience in personal training. Apart from training and blogging, he is also a tech fanatic & loves his coffee.

There’s nothing like pull-ups for feeling like you’ve really accomplished something with your arm workout, but which muscles are they actually targeting? Do pull-ups work biceps?

Pull-ups work both your biceps and triceps as well as your shoulder and back muscles. There are, however, specific variations of pull-ups that will put more emphasis on your biceps in particular when your hands are in a supinated position.

Read ahead to find out all the information you need when it comes to building arms through your pull-ups, as well as some other great biceps exercises.

But first, it is important to understand the nuanced difference between pull-ups and chin-ups.

Chin Ups vs Pull-Ups what’s the difference?

The main difference between chin-ups and pull-ups is in the grip. For a chin-up, your palms are facing you and your hands are gripping the bar from underneath. This exercise targets your biceps more than anything else.

For a pull-up, your palms are facing away from you and your hands are gripping the bar from the top. This exercise works your back muscles more than anything else. But you can do a pull-up to place more emphasis on the bicep.

How To Do A Pull-Up To Specifically Target Biceps?

Do Pull-Ups Work Biceps

A pull-up might seem like a very basic motion to carry out, but it is really important that you are maintaining proper form – and you should also be aware of the different ways that you can focus on your biceps while you are doing pull-ups.

To do a proper pull-up, you need to:

  1. Grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders and facing away from you.
  2. Control your body weight and allow yourself to hang all the way to full extension (you may need to lift your feet off the floor and cross your ankles, depending on how tall you are compared to the height of the bar).
  3. Engage your arms and lift yourself all the way up so that your chin is above the level of the bar.
  4. Pause, then lower yourself all the way back to a full extension.

If you want to make sure that you are targeting your biceps while you are doing a pull-up, you should keep your head behind your arms on the accent. If you allow your head to travel forward in the forward direction of your arms, your upper back muscles will take over, and place less emphasis on the biceps.

To make sure you target the bicep and the pull, make sure you slow down the exercise, generally with a four-second eccentric (the lowering phase of the movement), and specifically, focus on engaging your biceps as you lift and as you lower yourself back down again.

Don’t let yourself “bounce” at the top or bottom of each lift, and make sure your biceps are active at all times rather than relying on gravity or momentum.

Are pull-ups an effective exercise?

Pull-ups of any kind are a very important exercise in upper body strengthening. They are what is known as a “compound” exercise – which essentially means that more than one muscle group is being worked out at once.

Almost all of your upper body will be put to work during a pull-up, no matter how you are doing them. There are, however, many variations that can target specific muscle groups, including a number of pull-up variations that are great for the biceps.

3 Pull Up Variations That Work Biceps

Chin Ups

While traditional pull-ups do work your biceps, chin-ups are an even better variation for the biceps in particular. The only real difference in the exercise itself is that you rotate your hands so that they are facing toward you, using an underhand grip on the bar.

This variation on the pull-up puts significantly more emphasis on your biceps and slightly less on your triceps (at the back of your upper arms).

Machine-Assisted Pull Ups/Chin Ups

Many people struggle to do even one pull-up or chin-up, and you definitely want to be doing quite a few of them to give your biceps a proper workout. Machine-assisted pull-ups and chin-ups are also great for your biceps, and it is much easier to get a respectable number of reps in while you’re building up to going solo.

Inverted Bodyweight Rows

Another great variation on pull-ups that utilizes your biceps in a very similar way is an inverted row. You are still lifting your own body weight – just from a different angle and with the support of your feet as well.

  1. Grip the bar in front of you.
  2. Step your feet forwards and allow your arms to fully extend, lowering your body backward and toward the ground.
  3. Use your heels as a pivot point and keep your body completely straight.
  4. Bend your elbows and bring your body up so that your chin reaches the bar.
  5. Control your descent back to the starting position

The height of the bar will affect how difficult your rows will be. You can be standing almost completely straight, or you can set the bar just a meter or so from the floor so that your body is lower than a 45-degree angle.

Primary Exercises Which Work The Biceps

There are a number of other exercises that you can use to complement your pull-ups or chin-ups that are also great for building the size and strength of your biceps.

  • Barbell Curls: Barbells are a surefire way to make sure that every part of your biceps is being engaged throughout the entire lift.
  • Dumbbell Curls: Curling with dumbbells has a lot more room for variation than using a bar. You can adjust how you curl to focus on the specific muscles that you want to work.
  • Reverse Grip Bent-Over Row: Bent-over rows are great for working your biceps in general, and the reverse grip puts even more emphasis on them.

Exercises That Work The Biceps That You Can Do At Home.

If you want to get a great arm workout in but can’t make it down to the gym – don’t worry. Most biceps exercises are actually very simple to do at home.

  • Improvised Weights: You don’t need a set of free weights to do some traditional curls. Try using filled water bottles or milk jugs instead.
  • Bodyweight Exercises: Alongside pull-ups and chin-ups, other bodyweight exercises like press-ups can really put your biceps through their paces with very minimal equipment.
  • Resistance Bands: If you don’t have space for weights of any kind, you can always use resistance bands instead. They are really convenient for curls, pull-downs, and many other arm exercises besides.


Do pull-ups work the biceps or triceps?

Both pull-ups and chin-ups will work both your biceps and your triceps, but chin-ups target the biceps slightly more while pull-ups put more emphasis on your triceps.

Are pull-ups or chin-ups better?

Neither pull-ups nor chin-ups are necessarily better for you overall, it just depends on which muscle you are trying to work on specifically. Chin-ups are better for the biceps and pull-ups are better for the triceps. All in all, pull-ups are a great exercise to add to your workout routine.

Are pull-ups better than bicep curls?

There is some debate, but chin-ups are widely considered to activate your biceps more than curls – although it is generally more difficult for most people to accomplish a high number of reps in comparison. 

How do you progress with the pull-up?

Once you can do several sets of pull-ups, there are several ways to keep progressing toward bigger biceps. Do your pull-ups as usual, but now with the added resistance of the weight belt.

Once you are able to do multiple sets of pull-ups, there are a few ways you can keep progressing and building bigger biceps. One way is to place a weight belt around your waist with weight plates hooked onto it. Do your pull-ups as normal, but now with the added resistance of the weight belt.


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Dan Smullen has a Bsc. in sport science & has over 9 years of experience in personal training. Apart from training and blogging, he is also a tech fanatic & loves his coffee.