Both exercises are great for achieving a strong back and wide lats, but which is better for your gains?
When it comes to those vital back exercises, there are many that come to mind. Two of the biggest ones are the lat pull down and the pull-up. Both of these can really challenge you to see that lat growth for strong, wide lats, but the debate between the lat pulldown vs pull-up is one to explore, especially for those bodybuilders looking to really enhance their gains and training when looking to perform.
Whether you are an experienced bodybuilder or a beginner looking to explore your potential gains in the gym, knowing what to do and which exercises will most efficiently work for your benefit is important to know for any pulling movement.
While both of these exercises will work your back beyond belief, our busy schedules just don’t allow us to spend hours in the gym. To effectively work each muscle group can prove to be great in the long run and the lat pulldown and the pull-up can really get this done. The choice may seem to be one or the other, but you will find that both can be placed in your back day routine so you start to see the growth you want most out of the pulldown or pull-up.
Let’s take a look at the lat pulldown and pull-up and see which ones can maximize growth as effectively as possible, for a strong back has many benefits to your training and performance, but also that stellar physique we all strive towards.
Benefits Of A Strong Back
Before we begin, let’s talk about why having a strong back is important. When it comes to physique, a strong back can really work to enhance your strength and size and make your upper body pop. As we work our chest and arms for that stellar front aesthetic, it should be said that a great back workout, like the lat pulldown or pull-up, can give you great physical benefits in terms of physique to balance out your front.
While strengthening your back, you also give yourself better posture, balance, and stability and work to reduce any back pain that can arise from your big lifts (1). As one of the biggest areas of your body, with your lats being one of the biggest muscles you have, working towards a strong back is a must.
Breakdown Of The Lat Pull Down
The lat pulldown is a great exercise to build upper body strength and targets your lats in a great way. Since this is performed on a pulldown machine, you can adjust the weights accordingly on the equipment and start to see great growth. Effective in working your lats, the pulldown can help with spine stabilization and enhance shoulder health while giving you a great physique (2).
Muscles Worked: Lats, traps, biceps, deltoids, and rhomboids
How to: Position yourself on the machine and grab the handles with your desired grip. As you pull down towards your chest, squeeze your shoulder blades, keep your core engaged and feet planted on the ground. Slowly return to the starting position for the pulldown and repeat for your desired number of reps, keeping a good wide grip which will only get better.
Breakdown Of The Pull-Up
The pull-up is an effective, functional, and convenient exercise to perform to really work your upper body strength and only requires the pull up bar as equipment for your bodyweight. As a compound exercise, the pull-up is a multi-joint movement working several muscles at one time. Your upper body gets some serious work and they will target your lats and other back muscles to increase strength, in particular functional strength, as well as enhancing posture and building a solid relationship between your nervous and muscular systems with the pull-up so proper range of motion works for muscle activation (3).
Muscles Worked: Lats, biceps, pecs, deltoids, triceps, forearms, and traps
How To: Grab the bar with your desired grip and let your legs hang freely off the ground. With an engaged core, pull yourself so your chin moves over the bar. Gently lower back down and repeat for your desired number of reps for the pull-up, making sure the entire rep is performed well.
Which Exercise Is Better For Wider Lats?
When it comes to both these exercises, both should be in your workout routine. Working to balance each of these out to work your back will only enhance growth for your lats so you see that width you’re looking for. With that said, the big difference here is weight. With the pull-ups, you are using your body weight, so more reps are helpful. While you can use chains or a weighted vest, the pull-up is typically used with your bodyweight making these very convenient (4). The lat pulldown allows you to adjust weight accordingly to your strength so you can work to adjust and watch your strength increase as the weight goes up, making this an effective exercise in tracking your progress with the differences allowing to take a break and complete other exercises.
When it comes to overall benefits and pros of each exercise, the pull-up may give you more of what you’re looking for out of a bodyweight exercise. Since pull-ups work to enhance functional movement, and work more muscles as a compound exercise, you not only see that lat growth but also increased strength with many other muscles that really make your physique pop. If you struggle to perform a pull-up as effectively as you would like, starting with the pulldown can be beneficial for you can adjust the weight and work to slowly build strength over time. Ultimately what you’ll find is that the pulldown increases your strength to effectively target the pull-up. But, with that said, working to incorporate both into your routine can prove to be great in the long run as you develop alternative technique over the course of your routine.
The debate over lat pulldowns vs. pull-up is fair, for both really work your lats for that desired width and physique. But we all want the most effective exercises to be in our routines so we see the growth we want most. Putting both of these exercises into your workout routine will prove to enhance your gains beyond belief, so while it may seem like one or the other, the option for both seems easy enough. Look to add these into your back day routine and start to see those lats you desire most while you train so performing any related movement becomes easier.
*Images courtesy of Envato
- Harvard Health Publishing Healthbeat (2015). “Why good posture matters”. (source)
- Andersen, Vidar; Fimland, Marius S.; Wiik, Espen; Skoglund, Anders; Saeterbakken, Atle H. (2014). “Effects of grip width on muscle strength and activation in the lat pull-down”. (source)
- Ronai, Peter; Scibek, Eric (2014). “The Pull-up”. (source)
- Langton, Becky; King, John (2018). “Utilizing Body Weight Training With Your Personal Training Clients”. (source)