Pull-ups are one of the best exercises you can do to build upper-body muscle. In one fluid motion, they’re able to target nearly every muscle group in the arms, shoulders, back, and core, making them the perfect way to improve your functional fitness.
But not all pull-ups are equal. Did you know that just by changing your grip style, you also modify difficulty and recruit different muscles?
Knowing the difference between supinated vs pronated grips can help you get the most out of your upper-body workouts. Keep reading to find out what they are and when to use each one.
What’s a Supinated Grip?
Supination refers to the rotation of your hand and forearm so that your palm faces upward or forward. To see supination in action, hold your arm out in front of you with your palm facing the ground and rotate your wrist and forearm until your palm faces upward.
In pull-up terms, this means that you grip the bar so that your palms are facing towards you. A supinated pull-up is also commonly called a chin-up because the exercise peaks with your chin hovering right over the bar.
Going Through the Motions
To complete a supinated pull-up, begin by placing your hands on the bar with your palms facing you, shoulder-width apart. Without using your legs, pull your chest upward toward the bar until your chin comes all the way over the top. Then, slowly lower yourself back down in one controlled, fluid motion.
The upward stroke of a supinated pullup relies heavily on the contraction of your biceps, but it also recruits the latissimus dorsi, forearm, and core muscles for stabilization. By controlling the slow downward (release) stroke, you’ll activate your triceps as well.
Supinated pull-ups are significantly easier to perform than pronated pull-ups because your biceps are able to assist in the upward motion. Starting with a supinated grip can help you work your way up toward pronated pull-ups in the future.
If you’re hoping to focus on your biceps but find regular supinated pull-ups too easy, try adding extra weight via a weight belt. Make sure to keep your forearms positioned perpendicularly to the ground for maximum results. Taking this approach can help you train your biceps in far fewer reps.
What’s a Pronated Grip?
Pronation and supination are two sides of the same coin. As such, a pronated-grip pull-up begins with your hands gripping the bar, palms facing away.
Going Through the Motions
Begin by placing your hands on the bar slightly more than shoulder-width apart with your palms facing away. Without using your legs, pull your chest upward toward the bar as high as you can go—at least until your chin has cleared the bar. Then, release yourself downward in one controlled, fluid motion.
The line of motion in a pronated pull-up uses shoulder adduction. In this movement, your elbows move down and back from the sides, relying heavily on the latissimus dorsi and rhomboid muscles.
Pronated pull-ups also rely on the forearms, shoulders, and biceps for stabilization. However, they play a much smaller role overall than in a supinated grip.
If you want to use pull-ups to train your lats but find yourself relying on your biceps instead, switching to a pronated grip can help. To further increase the activation of your back muscles, try spreading your hands a bit farther apart. Use caution with wide-grip pull-ups, though: too wide of a grip can lead to shoulder injuries.
Many people are unable to do pull-ups with a pronated grip right at the beginning. If you still struggle to complete a pull-up after changing your grip, try using resistance bands for assistance. This allows you to train all the same muscle groups while gradually increasing the difficulty.
If you’re prone to or recovering from an upper-body injury, it’s best to stick with the grip type that is most comfortable for you. People with shoulder problems often find that the supinated grip allows them to strengthen their muscles without further injury. However, people with pre-existing wrist and forearm conditions (like carpal tunnel syndrome) tend to prefer a pronated grip.
On occasion, you’ll come across a third grip option on a pull-up bar: the neutral grip. This is the style in which your palms face each other, usually holding on to parallel handles on either side of the bar. If you have both shoulder and wrist issues, this grip will likely be more comfortable than the other versions.
Regardless of what grip style you choose, maintaining proper form throughout the entire exercise is the best way to avoid injury. To ensure you stay in good form, work with a personal trainer or complete your pull-ups in front of a mirror.
Supinated and Pronated Grips in Other Exercises
Grip styles don’t only matter in pull-ups—they also affect muscle recruitment in other lifting and resistance exercises. These can include free weights, resistance bands, and lat pulldowns. While the activated muscle groups will vary somewhat depending on the exact exercise, all the principles described above still apply.
Supinated vs Pronated Grip: Which One Should You Use?
Deciding between using supinated vs pronated grips comes down to two main factors. First, should you be modifying your grip style to accommodate for weakness or injury? Second, which specific muscle groups are you trying to target?
Working a combination of both types into your exercise routine can help to avoid any overuse injuries. But there’s no wrong answer—you’ll get a great upper-body workout no matter which style of grip you choose.
If you’d like some help improving your grip and form, schedule a free trial class at beatSTRONG today! Our experienced fitness trainers will work with you to maximize your fitness results in a safe, healthy, and fun way.