​Chin Up VS Curl - Bicep Activation And Benefits

Which exercises activates biceps the most? What to do for bigger biceps?

March 22, 2017
​Chin Up VS Curl - Bicep Activation And Benefits

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Chin Up and Bicep Curl - is one better than the other for building bigger biceps?

Here's what you should know:

  • Main differences and benefits
  • Which one activates the Biceps better?
  • How to add resistance in Chin Ups?

And finally,

  • When to add Curls to your training program? Should you even do them if you s*ck at Chin Ups?

Main differences and benefits of each

Chin Up benefits

  • Compound movement - Chin Up involves more joints and muscles than a Curl. Your whole upper body is working - especially the back muscles.
  • Full body overload effect - To build muscle you need an overload that stimulates the right metabolic response, including the production of testosterone and growth hormones. 3 full body workouts per week are the minimum to achieve this. So if you're short on time, choose compound exercises like Chin Ups and not isolation work like Curls.
  • Functional - In Chin Ups you are doing a vertical pull of your own body. This strength can transfer to other activities, like pulling yourself up over a fence, rowing...
  • More grip strength, less wrist pain - Chin Ups will make your grip stronger. And if you have wrist problems, choose Chin Ups over Curls. Curling weights can cause wrist pain for some people.

Biceps Curl benefits

  • Isolation - Bicep Curl is an exercise aimed at working one muscle in isolation, namely the biceps.
  • Specific progress - If you get stronger in Curls, it means your biceps got stronger. But if you get stronger in Chin Ups, it could be that your back, shoulders or even just your grip got stronger. And when you get tired doing Chin Ups, usually it's not the biceps that's stopping you from doing more, it's your back.
  • Precise loading - Increasing the load in Curls is simple, just take more weight. Because they will directly work your biceps, it's great to do them at the end of your workout, when you can't do other complex moves. That way you can add extra work on your arms. More work = more gains in size.

Which one activates the biceps better

Surprisingly for most, the highest muscle activation in the biceps has been recorded in Weighted Chin Ups. No amount of weight in Curls could produce a higher activation.[1]

Does this mean Curls are a waste of time? No, they still have a lot of benefits (listed above). Also, you can do them right away. And for a 90 lb / 40 kg weighted Chin Up you might need a lot of practice. But it also means that if add weight to your Chin Ups you can get nice looking, strong biceps without doing Curls.

Suddenly feel like doing some heavy Chins?

How to add resistance in Chin Ups

Obviously, you use external weight if it's available. But if you can't use any weights, you can try making your Chin Ups harder like this:

  • Lower yourself down slowly - A 4-5 seconds descent emphasises the "eccentric" portion of the movement, the one where your muscle needs to produce force while it's lengthening, not shortening. This type of contraction is very efficient for "tearing up" muscle tissue and also, stimulating growth.
  • Add holds - Get to the top of the Chin Up and hold for 3-5 seconds before you lower yourself down.
  • Focus on one arm - Imagine that you are shifting your bodyweight to one side to make one arm pull harder. Repeat on both sides. Eventually your goal is to be able to do One Arm Chin Ups.
  • Extra negatives - Aim to do at least 8 chin Ups per set. If you can't do it yet add negatives. For example, do 6 full and then 4 negative Chin Ups.

Should you do Curls, and when?

Does it make sense to do direct arm work, such as Curls, if you s*ck at Chin Ups?

For beginners, and most intermediates, direct arm work is not necessary. They will see bicep gains just by doing bodyweight biceps exercises. Why not start with the workout plans for building muscle at home without equipment from the Madbarz Premium? Once you get solid full body strength you can consider doing extra arm work if you're not satisfied with the size of your biceps.

Important: No matter how much you Curl, if you don't eat in a way that boosts your muscle buidling you will not see results. Madbarz Premium comes with Nutrition guide that will help you adjust your diet to your goals. Also, sleeping is crucial. Find out why you'll stay weak if you don't sleep enough.


It's possible to build bigger Biceps with both, Chin Ups and Curls. The highest bicep activation is found in Weighted Chin Ups. But if biceps size is very important to you, just do both. And rememeber, if you're adding Curls to your workouts make sure that you are doing enough full body workouts, eating right and sleeping enough, or you will not get the desired effects.

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Post a comment

  • alexander.levashov 458 workouts (level 84)
    Hi Do you plan to add some dumbbell excercises like curls to Madbarz app? I don't have always ability to use bars, so need to work with dumbbells instead and having them in the same favourite app (Madbarz) would be great. May 20, 2017
  • ernesto puleo 0 workouts (level 1)
    Italian version: www.barbrothers.it/chin-up-vs-curl-bicipiti-qual-e-il-migliore-esercizio/ April 26, 2017
  • sam_annuar2311 40 workouts (level 12)
    need to do this April 04, 2017
  • Dan "The Menace" Brenes 1.558 workouts (level 205)
    Great article! April 03, 2017
  • Ruthiel Trevisan 118 workouts (level 38)
    Thanks for tips! April 03, 2017

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