Lat Pulldown vs. Pull-Up: The Battle for a Larger Again

The lat pulldown and the pull-up are staples throughout many coaching applications — typically even coexisting inside the identical exercise. Each workouts prepare the “vertical pulling” motion sample and could be extremely efficient for concentrating on your again muscle mass, which is why some lifters regard them as almost interchangeable. Regardless of how visually comparable the actions could seem, they will truly supply fairly vital and distinct advantages.

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Whether or not you must deal with pulldowns or pull-ups can rely upon just a few elements, together with your expertise and your objectives. From method, programming, and step-by-step execution, right here is all the pieces it’s essential to find out about these foundational back-building exercises.

Lat Pulldown and Pull-Up

Train Variations

Recognising the variations between the lat pulldown and the pull-up can put you on the quick monitor for higher outcomes. Some key variations contain the gear used, or lack thereof. Some comparatively delicate, however vital, variations in programming may also be discovered.

Human Physique vs. Machine

The foremost visible distinction between the lat pulldown and pull-up is the truth that one is a bodyweight exercise and the opposite requires a full cable station. This brings with it two main concerns.

The lat pulldown makes use of a specialised cable stack pulley system to anchor your physique in place when you transfer an adjustable weight stack, whereas the pull-up merely requires a set overhead bar that may help your physique weight.

Two people in gym doing pull-ups on an overhead bar
Credit score: Floor Image / Shutterstock

This could have an effect on the relative ease of implementing every train into your program primarily based upon availability of kit, in addition to your personal capabilities — physique weight pull-ups may be too challenging for beginners, whereas pulldowns can accommodate lifters of any expertise or energy degree.

As a calisthenics train, the pull-up locations a better stabilization problem in your whole physique, out of your again and shoulders by way of your core to your decrease physique. The secure machine and glued anchor factors offered by the pads on a lat pulldown machine make it tremendously simpler to sit and get to work. The machine itself gives stabilization, so you’ll be able to focus concentrating on your again muscle mass.


One of many largest variations between the lat pulldown and pull-up is the vary of resistance you should use. The lat pulldown is a extremely adjustable machine that merely requires you so as to add extra plates or decrease the pin on the burden stack additional and additional — typically exceeding a comparable pull-up load.

The lat pulldown is extra scalable than a pull-up — the resistance could be shortly and simply lowered to permit comparatively weaker lifters to carry out the train. Except for getting inventive utilizing resistance bands to help a pull-up or accessing a devoted assisted pull-up machine, it may be fairly difficult to beat the baseline degree (your physique weight) wanted to carry out a pull-up. That is very true if you wish to carry out a number of repetitions per set.

Units and Repetitions

Much like the variations in loading, the lat pulldown and pull-up are sometimes paired with distinct set and repetition schemes. For many individuals, the pull-up is an higher physique strength movement that lives in a decrease repetition vary. Whereas, the lat pulldown sometimes exists as an efficient muscle-building software that thrives with extra reasonable repetitions.

You’ll usually see pull-ups carried out for 2 to a few units of anyplace from one to 10 repetitions. Whereas the pulldown may very well be carried out with a lot heavier weights for low-rep units, it’s almost unimaginable to take care of strict kind with such programming resulting from poor leverage. Having your decrease physique and core locked into place turns into a limiting issue.

In distinction, a lat pulldown is usually accomplished for 2 to 4 units of eight to 12 repetitions. Reaching that kind of quantity with pull-ups is usually reserved for knowledgeable lifters of a big energy degree, both carried out with added weight or with physique weight alone.

Train Similarities

Whereas there could be a number of key variations, the lat pulldown and pull-up do share some vital overlaps to contemplate, as properly. They’ll hit lots of the identical major muscle teams, each require a point of overhead mobility, and the workouts share many primary variations.

Muscle groups Labored

The lat pulldown and pull-up primarily goal your latissimus dorsi — a big swath of muscle situated on both lateral aspect of your again. Whereas the latissimus dorsi (lats) are the prime mover, each workouts will even closely contain your higher again, biceps, and ranging levels of core musculature to remain in an environment friendly pulling place.

Mobility Necessities

The vertical pulling sample utilized in each workouts requires you to have the ability to efficiently, comfortably, and safely get your arms absolutely prolonged overhead. Whereas that will sound easy sufficient, shoulder mobility and joint well being is an important part of avoiding training-related aches or pains within the long-term.

Muscular man performing lat pulldown in gym
Credit score: martvisionlk / Shutterstock

For those who can obtain the overhead place successfully, each the lat pulldown and pull-up could be efficient at sustaining your overhead mobility, particularly if you deal with working by way of a full vary of movement within the stretched (overhead) place.

Grip Variations

When it’s time to introduce train selection, the lat pulldown and pull-up can each permit slender or large hand positions, which might alter the muscle emphasis out of your lats to your higher again and even your biceps. (1)

Each workouts may also be carried out utilizing distinctive grip orientations, from neutral-grip to overhand and even freely rotating (utilizing particular person handles or straps to permit your wrists to rotate throughout every repetition). Like grip width, altering the orientation of your arms and forearms is an efficient means of altering muscle recruitment by making slight changes. (2)

Method Variations

The lat pulldown and pull-up have some definitive method variations. As a result of one is a calisthenics train and the opposite is carried out whereas seated on a machine, your general physique place will have an effect on train method.

Hole Physique

The hole physique is a full-body bracing method that helps to create a inflexible physique posture. The excessive degree of complete physique pressure it creates lets you higher management your motion by way of area. This method is particularly vital in the course of the pull-up, the place you’ll be freely transferring with none anchor factors apart out of your grip.

With a view to efficiently carry out a pull-up, establishing a powerful hole physique method is crucial to take care of stability. The lat pulldown, then again, gives this stability in your behalf by providing leg pads to carry you in place.

Torso Angle

Your torso angle throughout every repetition is a serious distinction between the pull-up and lat pulldown. As a result of your decrease physique is secured underneath the knee pads, the lat pulldown lets you manipulate your torso angle to focus on subtly totally different muscle mass. A better diploma of backward lean may emphasize extra of your higher again, whereas a extra vertical torso angle places your higher again right into a much less advantageous place and emphasizes lat activation.

However, pretty constant method and higher physique place is required for a correct pull-up. From a dead-hang place (gripping the bar together with your arms absolutely straightened), you have to set your shoulder blades by first “shrugging” your self up. In doing so, it is possible for you to to higher leverage your latissimus dorsi to finish the rep and truly pull you up.

Whenever you get this technical cue proper, you’ll have a barely backward-leaning torso angle whereas performing every repetition, however nowhere close to the liberty of movement offered by the lat pulldown machine.

Decrease Physique Place

Your decrease physique positioning will definitely be a notable distinction in every train. Much like the soundness necessities in the course of the hole physique method within the pull-up, your leg place will likely be affected by the necessity to keep inflexible. Absolutely lock your legs out, leaving them both hanging straight down or angled barely forward of your physique. You can’t obtain a powerful, secure hole physique place with bent legs.

With a lat pulldown, you’ll be in a totally seated place together with your ft flat on the bottom driving your knees up in opposition to the pad. Whereas some lifters disregard the knee pad and let their heels go away the bottom throughout pulldowns, this poor kind doesn’t add any profit and solely reduces your stability and higher physique pulling energy.

Learn how to Do the Lat Pulldown

Sit on the lat pulldown machine and alter the knee pads to snuggly anchor your legs in place together with your ft flat on the bottom. Stand again up and seize the lat pulldown bar evenly, about shoulder-width aside, with an overhand grip.

Brace your full physique and sit down, securing your legs underneath the knee pads. Squeeze the bar tight, brace your core, drive your legs into the knee pads by performing a static calf raise.

Lean again barely and pull the bar towards your chest. Give attention to feeling your again squeeze within the backside place earlier than straightening your arms to return to the beginning place.

Type Tip: Be diligent to keep away from momentum. Safe your physique within the machine and brace onerous – solely transfer the bar by squeezing your again and pulling together with your arms. Don’t excessively sway your torso backwards. 

Advantages of the Lat Pulldown

  • The lat pulldown has a excessive diploma of stability, making it a simpler approach to deal with the again muscle mass.
  • The pulldown machine provides extremely scalable loading, making it simple to carry out for lifters of all expertise ranges.
  • A number of deal with attachments permit many variations for various advantages.
  • It’s comparatively secure to take this train near muscle failure.

Lat Pulldown Variations

Nearly all of efficient lat pulldown variations will capitalize on totally different deal with attachments to barely change your method and alter muscle recruitment.

Shut-Grip Pulldown

Shut-grip pulldowns draw your arms barely nearer collectively than the usual, shoulder-width grip. This will increase the quantity of leverage your lats have and barely will increase the vary of movement — each of which might result in a stronger coaching stimulus.

The close-grip pulldown could make the train simpler if you’re simply studying common method by delivering a powerful coaching stimulus without having heavy weight.

Broad-Grip Pulldown

Broad-grip lat pulldowns place your arms barely farther aside than the usual difficulty grip placement. It will put your lats at a better drawback, making a number of the supporting musculature in your higher again, shoulders, and arms contribute extra. This will even scale back the load you’ll be capable of elevate.

It is a nice train to fill gaps in your physique or in your energy growth. By strengthening comparatively weaker hyperlinks, wide-grip pulldowns can even delay the period of time you can also make progress earlier than including weight.

Useless-Grasp Pulldown

The dead-hang type of lat pulldown may have you absolutely “loosen up” your shoulder blades and assume a totally upright torso between every repetition. Your teres minor (a small shoulder muscle) will get some added work serving to to stabilize your shoulder for every repetition.

It is a nice approach to achieve, and preserve, shoulder stability. The elevated muscle recruitment will even assist higher again growth.

Single-Arm Pulldown

The single-arm lat pulldown flip the train right into a unilateral (single-sided) model. This forces both sides of your physique to work independently of the opposite, which is able to vastly assist to accommodate any physique dimension or form whereas addressing any pure asymmetries.

The only-arm pulldown can be a tremendously efficient means so as to add extra development time to your lat pulldown train by primarily doubling the quantity of load both sides may have entry to.

How To Do The Pull-Up

Carry out the pull-up by grabbing a straight bar that’s excessive sufficient to your legs to dangle freely with out touching the bottom. Use a small field or (safely) soar to seize the bar with an overhand grip roughly shoulder-width aside.

Carry out a hole physique method by flexing your core, miserable your shoulder blades, participating your glutes, and locking your quads.

Interact your lats and flex your arms to drag your chest towards the bar. Upon getting reached the very best level that you would be able to pull your self to, slowly decrease again to the beginning place utilizing management. Preserve your brace and carry out to your goal repetitions.

Type Tip: Be diligent about sustaining hole physique pressure and eliminating any decrease physique sway. Performing a pull-up will get exponentially tougher when you need to counter any unneeded motion. Keep braced and intention to start out every repetition from a immobile place. Swinging your hips and legs could assist you carry out extra reps, however it reduces muscular stress in your again.

Advantages of the Pull-Up

  • The pull-up requires little-to-no gear.
  • Body weight workouts can enhance coordination and proprioception (physique consciousness) which might carryover to common athleticism.
  • Scalable to go well with both energy or hypertrophy objectives when acceptable programming and loading is used.

Pull-Up Variations

Pull-ups could be modified to assault just a few totally different objectives. Much like pull-ups, altering your grip place can ship some distinctive advantages.

Broad-Grip Pull-up

Broad-grip pull-ups place your higher again (teres minor) on blast. A wider grip will make it more durable in your lats, but additionally put an even bigger emphasis in your potential to take care of the suitable shoulder positioning for every repetition.

Whenever you’re trying to prepare almost your whole higher physique, whereas additionally severely roasting your shoulder stability, use the wide-grip pull-up.

Impartial-Grip Pull-up

On the other aspect of issues, a neutral-grip pull-up locations you in a way more inherently secure place. The comparatively nearer grip and impartial (palms going through in) hand placement will make it simpler to harness your again muscle mass to drag you up, but additionally take a number of the shoulder stability problem away.

Whenever you’re trying to go for reasonable or larger reps, or construct a basis of energy and muscle, neutral-grip pull-ups are a terrific choice.

Towel Pull-up

Towel pull-ups are an enormous increase to your grip energy. This low-tech modification, draping a easy (however sturdy) towel over a bar, will severely problem your potential to easily cling on.

For those who’re out there for a stronger grip and greater arms — and in case you can already carry out greater than a handful of pull-ups — problem your self with towel pull-ups.

When to Program the Greatest Pulling Motion for Your Aim

There are a number of situations the place both the lat pulldown or pull-up may be the higher choice. Your particular objectives and coaching expertise are distinctive elements to contemplate.


Whenever you’re a newbie, you’ll be trying to build a base of muscle and energy earlier than finally launching right into a extra structured and difficult program. With that in thoughts, you could battle with pull-ups as a result of they are often very unforgiving.

Whereas there are methods to make pull-ups extra accessible for newbie lifters, reminiscent of utilizing resistance bands for help, oftentimes a pull-up is a little bit of a tall order. As an alternative, spending a while constructing a super-strong lat pulldown generally is a comparatively decrease barrier to entry. When you’ve completed this, both choice is freely out there and efficient.

Muscle Achieve

Each the lat pulldown and pull-up could be very efficient muscle-building instruments, however there are some delicate variations that probably edge the lat pulldown forward. The lat pulldown is a extra secure coaching software. Because of this there will likely be much less “transferring components” in your means when you chase extremely stimulating units that accumulate quantity wanted to construct your again. (3)

The lat pulldown additionally permits for a gradual, managed, and incremental enhance in loading which as soon as once more gives a lift to long-term muscle development. The pull-up is nice in its personal proper, however it’s onerous to beat the lat pulldown for pure muscle achieve.

Energy Achieve

Gaining energy could be completed with each the lat pulldown and pull-up. Nonetheless, the lat pulldown can extra simply be loaded and skilled for strength-focused outcomes. With that in thoughts, it’s going to give you extra lat-specific energy.

However, the pull-up, as a body weight train, is extra of a full-body train. On this occasion, the pull-up will assist construct better full-body energy. If you would like higher general energy potential, emphasizing the pull-up will probably be the higher choice.

Restricted Gear

Whenever you don’t have entry to a fitness center, the selection is a less complicated one. The lat pulldown actually requires a machine, which probably is barely accessible by way of a business or home gym equal.

Whereas a pull-up bar could seem necessary for doing pull-ups, it’s not truly required. A pull-up can, technically, be carried out anyplace you will have entry to a powerful, secure anchor level to securely seize. The pull-up wins when you will have restricted gear. 

Superior Athlete

For those who’re a sophisticated athlete in almost any sport, it’s a toss up. When you’ve developed a powerful base of muscle, energy, and coordination, each the pull-up and lat pulldown could be tailor-made to your wants.

Each could be loaded and progressed, each have distinctive variations to delay your progress, and each are comparatively simple to grasp after a brief quantity of centered time. Relying in your objectives or wants, both the pull-up or lat pulldown (and even each) could be successfully programmed for athletic objectives.

Prioritize Your Pulls

The lat pulldown and pull-up are each iconic staples of weight coaching. The workouts have distinctive advantages, occasions of superiority, and a few clear drawbacks. Relying in your coaching age, objectives, and out there gear, one choice could soar out as the plain alternative. Assessment the knowledge and make one of the best determination to your objectives. Prioritize your pulls for some massive positive aspects and, sooner or later, each traditional actions could discover their means into your program.


  1. Andersen, V., Fimland, M. S., Wiik, E., Skoglund, A., & Saeterbakken, A. H. (2014). Results of grip width on muscle energy and activation within the lat pull-down. Journal of energy and conditioning analysis, 28(4), 1135–1142.
  2. Signorile, J. F., Zink, A. J., & Szwed, S. P. (2002). A comparative electromyographical investigation of muscle utilization patterns utilizing numerous hand positions in the course of the lat pull-down. Journal of energy and conditioning analysis, 16(4), 539–546.
  3. Schoenfeld, B. J., Contreras, B., Krieger, J., Grgic, J., Delcastillo, Ok., Belliard, R., & Alto, A. (2019). Resistance Coaching Quantity Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy however Not Energy in Educated Males. Medication and science in sports activities and train51(1), 94–103.

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