The chin up, and all of its variations, help you enhance strength, build muscle and improve your overall athleticism. While all variations are beneficial, certain hand grips will create a more specific adaptation by targeting different muscles.
Depending on your goals, you can manipulate the grip during the chin up to target different muscles to a greater degree, as well as position your shoulder in a less compromised position.
Neutral Grip vs. Regular Grip
During a regular-grip chin up, you hold a chin-up bar with an underhand grip. Your hands are about shoulder-width apart. Start the movement by first engaging your abs and then bend your elbows and pull yourself up, trying to bring your chest toward the bar.
Although it is a "chin"-up, you don't want to reach with the chin, as this could result in injury to the neck. If you are having difficulty performing a bodyweight chin-up. you can use a spotter to assist you or a resistance band anchored to the bar. Simply place one knee in the band before you start the exercise.
For the neutral-grip chin up, the set-up and execution are the same, but you use a grip where your palms/knuckles are facing each other. For this, you will need a chin-up bar with neutral grip handles.
What's the Difference?
Although both are pull up variations, the difference in grip results in a slightly different activation of the muscles being utilized. Along with the difference in muscle activation, the varied grips alter the position of the shoulder, which has an effect on overall shoulder health.
For both variations of the chin-up, you work similar muscle groups. A study conducted in 2010 found that the most predominant muscles worked during the chin up are the lats, biceps, infraspinatus (a rotator cuff muscle), lower trapezius (upper back muscle), chest, erector spine (back muscle) and external oblique.
The most notable difference between the regular-grip chin-up and neutral-grip chin up is that, during the chin-up, there is much more biceps involvement, and during the neutral-grip chin-up, there is more involvement of the lower trapezius.
During the regular-grip chin-up, your forearm and shoulder rotates, placing more stress on the shoulder. The neutral-grip chin-up allows the forearm and shoulder to stay in a neutral, or "normal," position. The position places less stress on the structures of the shoulder.
What Are Your Goals?
If you are looking to maximize muscle recruitment of the lats, biceps and chest (muscles that are typically targeted for looks), then the regular-grip chin-up is the chin up of choice. If you are looking to enhance posture, prevent aggravating a cranky shoulder or are trying to eliminate causes for future shoulder aggravation, the neutral grip chin up is the way to go.
If you are not dealing with shoulder issues and want to maximize the benefits from both variations, switch it up and perform both variations throughout your training program.