What's Better? The Barbell Row or The Chin-Up

Range of motion

First, we’ve got to define range of motion (ROM).

ROM is equal to the amount of degrees a joint flexes. Look at the illustration of elbow flexion ROM below.

Does a longer range of motion really lead to more muscle growth?

One study on the biceps found greater strength and a greater amount of muscle growth in the group that used full range of motion curls.

Full range of motion squats were found to induce more muscle growth and strength.

Another group of researchers found that the longer the range of motion, the more strength and muscle size the subjects experienced.

So, yes, a longer range of motion is better for muscle growth.

And the range of motion that the shoulder joint (remember, ROM refers to the degrees that a joint flexes) is A LOT longer during a chin-up than during a barbell row.

During a pull-up or chin-up, the shoulder joint goes from full extension to full flexion.

During a barbell row, the shoulder joint goes from slight extension to full flexion.

Here are photos to better explain,

Slight extension on the left, full flexion on the right.

Slight extension on the left, full flexion on the right.

FULL extension on the left, full flexion on the right.

FULL extension on the left, full flexion on the right.

When it comes to ROM, the chin/pull-up is king.

Open Vs. Closed Chain Exercises

Closed chain exercises are ones in which your body is moving. For example, push-ups, squats, and chin-ups are all closed chain exercises.

Open chain exercises are ones in which the weight alone is moving. The bench press, leg press, and barbell row are all examples of open chain exercises

So, which one’s better?

Let’s go back to the research.

Multiple studies found that closed chain exercises provided better muscle activation for the quadriceps. (123)

The push-up was found to induce similar levels of strength gain in the bench press as bench pressing, which is a big deal. Think about it, the people in the study who bench pressed ‘should’ bench press more than the people who only did push-ups right? But, both groups gained the same amount of strength when their bench presses were tested at the end of the study. This indicates that closed chain exercises are superior to open chain exercises.

So, when it comes to the kinetic chain of the exercise, pull-ups win again.

Less Chance For Cheating

I’ve got no research for you here. Just my opinion on what I’ve seen.

People cheat like crazy on barbell rows.

They load the bar up with way more weight than they can handle, and proceed to hump the hell out of the bar in order to get the weight up.

Why? Because it’s a pretty natural thing to do. You’ve got a bunch of weight pulling you forward, and your natural inclination is to resist that by extending your hips.

The problem with this is that the momentum being generated by the hips and legs is removing all the stress from the lats.

Really, the lats don’t need to do anything. Momentum is doing all the work.

This isn’t usually the case with pull-ups.

Sure, some people use a bit of a kick to get their chins over the bar. But, that issue isn’t nearly as prevalent as the barbell row humping problem.

Wilfredo Thomas