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

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

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Whether or not it’s best to concentrate on pulldowns or pull-ups can depend upon a number of components, together with your expertise and your objectives. From approach, programming, and step-by-step execution, right here is every part it is advisable to learn 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 observe for higher outcomes. Some key variations contain the gear used, or lack thereof. Some comparatively refined, however important, variations in programming will also be discovered.

Human Physique vs. Machine

The key 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 issues.

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

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


One of many largest variations between the lat pulldown and pull-up is the vary of resistance you should utilize. 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 will be rapidly and simply diminished to permit comparatively weaker lifters to carry out the train. Except for getting artistic utilizing resistance bands to help a pull-up or getting access to a devoted assisted pull-up machine, it may be fairly difficult to beat the baseline stage (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

Just 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 device that thrives with extra average repetitions.

You’ll usually see pull-ups carried out for 2 to a few units of wherever from one to 10 repetitions. Whereas the pulldown could possibly be carried out with a lot heavier weights for low-rep units, it’s almost inconceivable to keep up strict kind with such programming because of poor leverage. Having your decrease physique and core locked into place turns into a limiting issue.

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

Train Similarities

Whereas there will be a number of key variations, the lat pulldown and pull-up do share some important overlaps to think about, as nicely. They are going to 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 positioned 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 totally prolonged overhead. Whereas which will sound easy sufficient, shoulder mobility and joint well being is an important element of avoiding training-related aches or pains within the long-term.

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

Should you can obtain the overhead place successfully, each the lat pulldown and pull-up will be efficient at sustaining your overhead mobility, particularly if you concentrate on working by means 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 enable slender or vast hand positions, which may alter the muscle emphasis out of your lats to your higher again and even your biceps. (1)

Each workouts will 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 palms and forearms is an efficient manner of altering muscle recruitment by making slight changes. (2)

Approach Variations

The lat pulldown and pull-up have some definitive approach 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 approach.

Hole Physique

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

In an effort to efficiently carry out a pull-up, establishing a powerful hole physique approach is important to keep up stability. The lat pulldown, however, offers 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 beneath the knee pads, the lat pulldown lets you manipulate your torso angle to focus on subtly completely different muscle groups. A larger 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.

Alternatively, pretty constant approach and higher physique place is required for a correct pull-up. From a dead-hang place (gripping the bar along with your arms totally straightened), you could 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 really pull you up.

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

Decrease Physique Place

Your decrease physique positioning will definitely be a notable distinction in every train. Just like the steadiness necessities in the course of the hole physique approach within the pull-up, your leg place shall 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 not obtain a powerful, secure hole physique place with bent legs.

With a lat pulldown, you may be in a very seated place along with your toes flat on the bottom driving your knees up towards 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.

How one can Do the Lat Pulldown

Sit on the lat pulldown machine and alter the knee pads to snuggly anchor your legs in place along with your toes 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 beneath 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.

Kind Tip: Be diligent to keep away from momentum. Safe your physique within the machine and brace arduous – solely transfer the bar by squeezing your again and pulling along 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 more practical strategy to concentrate on the again muscle groups.
  • The pulldown machine affords extremely scalable loading, making it simple to carry out for lifters of all expertise ranges.
  • A number of deal with attachments enable 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 completely different deal with attachments to barely change your approach and alter muscle recruitment.

Shut-Grip Pulldown

Shut-grip pulldowns draw your palms 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 may result in a stronger coaching stimulus.

The close-grip pulldown could make the train more practical if you’re simply studying normal approach by delivering a powerful coaching stimulus without having heavy weight.

Vast-Grip Pulldown

Vast-grip lat pulldowns place your palms barely farther aside than the usual problem grip placement. This may put your lats at a larger drawback, making a few of the supporting musculature in your higher again, shoulders, and arms contribute extra. This will even cut back the load you’ll have the ability to 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 may extend 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 totally “loosen up” your shoulder blades and assume a very 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 strategy 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 can tremendously assist to accommodate any physique dimension or form whereas addressing any pure asymmetries.

The only-arm pulldown can also be a tremendously efficient manner 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 on your legs to dangle freely with out touching the bottom. Use a small field or (safely) leap to seize the bar with an overhand grip roughly shoulder-width aside.

Carry out a hole physique approach 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. After you have reached the very best level that you could pull your self to, slowly decrease again to the beginning place utilizing management. Preserve your brace and carry out on your goal repetitions.

Kind 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 might assist you to carry out extra reps, but it surely 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 may carryover to normal athleticism.
  • Scalable to swimsuit both energy or hypertrophy objectives when applicable programming and loading is used.

Pull-Up Variations

Pull-ups will be modified to assault a number of completely different objectives. Just like pull-ups, altering your grip place can ship some distinctive advantages.

Vast-Grip Pull-up

Vast-grip pull-ups place your higher again (teres minor) on blast. A wider grip will make it tougher in your lats, but additionally put an even bigger emphasis in your potential to keep up the suitable shoulder positioning for every repetition.

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

Impartial-Grip Pull-up

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

Once you’re seeking to go for average 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 enhance to your grip energy. This low-tech modification, draping a easy (however sturdy) towel over a bar, will critically problem your potential to easily dangle on.

Should you’re available in the market for a stronger grip and greater arms — and if you happen to 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 Purpose

There are a number of cases the place both the lat pulldown or pull-up is likely to be the higher choice. Your particular objectives and coaching expertise are distinctive components to think about.


Once you’re a newbie, you’ll be seeking to build a base of muscle and energy earlier than finally launching right into a extra structured and difficult program. With that in thoughts, it’s possible you’ll wrestle 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, equivalent to utilizing resistance bands for help, oftentimes a pull-up is a little bit of a tall order. As a substitute, spending a while constructing a super-strong lat pulldown could be a comparatively decrease barrier to entry. When you’ve completed this, both choice is freely obtainable and efficient.

Muscle Achieve

Each the lat pulldown and pull-up will be very efficient muscle-building instruments, however there are some refined variations that seemingly edge the lat pulldown forward. The lat pulldown is a extra secure coaching device. Which means that there shall be much less “transferring elements” in your manner 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 improve in loading which as soon as once more offers a lift to long-term muscle progress. The pull-up is nice in its personal proper, but it surely’s arduous to beat the lat pulldown for pure muscle achieve.

Energy Achieve

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

Alternatively, the pull-up, as a body weight train, is extra of a full-body train. On this occasion, the pull-up will assist construct larger full-body energy. If you need higher general energy potential, emphasizing the pull-up will seemingly be the higher choice.

Restricted Gear

Once you don’t have entry to a fitness center, the selection is a less complicated one. The lat pulldown actually requires a machine, which seemingly is simply accessible by means of a industrial 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 wherever you may have entry to a powerful, secure anchor level to soundly seize. The pull-up wins when you may have restricted gear. 

Superior Athlete

Should you’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 will be tailor-made to your wants.

Each will be loaded and progressed, each have distinctive variations to extend 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) will 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 obtainable gear, one choice might leap out as the apparent selection. Overview the knowledge and make the perfect choice on your objectives. Prioritize your pulls for some massive features and, someday, each basic actions might discover their manner 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, Okay., Belliard, R., & Alto, A. (2019). Resistance Coaching Quantity Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy however Not Energy in Educated Males. Drugs and science in sports activities and train51(1), 94–103.

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