When it comes to building a strong, muscular back, two exercises that often come to mind are Lat Pulldowns and Bent Over Barbell Rows. Both exercises are effective for targeting the muscles of the back, but the movements are different and they use different equipment.
The real question is, is one of these pulling movements better than the other? And, which should you be using in your programming?
In this article, I will explain how both exercises are performed. I’ll also compare these two exercises, examining their benefits, differences, and which one might be a better fit for your workouts depending on what your goals are.
Table of Contents
- Lat Pulldown
- Bent Over Barbell Row
- Lat Pulldowns vs Bent Over Barbell Rows: Which is Better?
- Final Thoughts
- Lat Pulldown Machine or Lat Pulldown Rack Attachment
- Depending on the machine or attachment that you’re using the setup may be a bit different.
- Regardless of the setup, try to position your torso predominantly upright with a very slight lean back.
- Grab the bar* just outside shoulder width grip with an overhand grip.
- Now, pull the bar down to your chest, squeezing the lats hard at the bottom.
- After a quick pause at the bottom of the rep, slowly bring the bar back up to the starting position.
- Repeat for the designated number of reps.
*This is assuming you’re using a standard long Lat Pulldown Bar. If you’re using a different attachment, this is going to vary.
Stay in control of the weight. By far the most common mistake I see lifters make is using way too much weight and rocking and swinging all over the place to try to get the weight to move.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with pushing yourself with heavier weight, but make sure you’re able to maintain proper technique.
Don’t have a lat pulldown machine and looking for alternatives? Here are 10 of my favorite Lat Pulldown alternatives.
Some benefits of incorporating Lat Pulldowns into your exercise routine include:
- Improved posture: Strong lats can help support good posture, which can reduce the risk of back pain and improve overall health.
- Increased upper body strength: Lat pulldowns can help improve strength in the upper body, including the back, shoulders, and arms.
- Enhanced athletic performance: Strong lats can improve your performance in activities that require pulling movements, such as rowing, swimming, and climbing.
It’s important to note that lat pulldowns are just one part of a well-rounded exercise routine. In order to see the full benefits, it’s important to also incorporate other exercises that target different muscle groups and engage in regular cardiovascular activity.
Bent Over Barbell Row
- Bumper or Iron Plates
- Lifting Straps (optional)
- Approach the barbell and take a shoulder-width stance. Your shins should be almost touching the barbell.
- Hinge at the waist and bend the knee until you can grab the barbell. Use a pronated grip (Knuckles facing the floor). I will talk later about the supinated grip (palms up) in this movement.
- Always keep a flat back, and a neutral spine, and keep your eyes focused slightly down about 1 foot in front of you.
- Take a deep breath, brace the abdomen, and pull the bar in until it makes contact right about the belly button.
- Pause for about 1 second. Squeeze the shoulder blades and lock in the rep.
- Slowly return the barbell back to the starting position (weights about 1-2 inches off the ground).
The initial setup and stance for Bent Over Barbell Rows should be specific to the lifters deadlifting and Olympic lifting goals. Having identical setups and grips will be great for the lifts to carry over to the compound movements.
I would highly recommend this movement to any lifter or athlete. It develops strength in the posterior chain and can be overloaded over time easily.
I typically recommend the pronated grip here for athletes. Especially athletes that are cleaning and snatching as the pronated grip will carry over to cleans and pulls.
However, there is some benefit to the supinated grip for general lifters and bodybuilders. The supinated grip will engage more of the biceps and can be a great time under tension movement for hypertrophy.
The setup here is very similar to the Deadlift. With that in mind, always remember to keep a nice neutral spine. DO NOT ROUND YOUR BACK.
Another common mistake is I have seen lifters go too heavy and therefore need to “hitch or yank” into a lock in position. Never sacrifice your form for more weight. You will get hurt eventually.
Some potential benefits of Barbell Bent Over Rows include:
- Building hypertrophy and strength in the upper and lower back and arms.
- Improving posture by strengthening the muscles that support the spine.
- Increasing grip strength, which can be useful for many sports or activities like rock climbing.
- Improving athletic performance, such as in sports that require upper body strength and power.
Lat Pulldowns vs Bent Over Barbell Rows: Which is Better?
Now, let’s take a side-by-side look at the two exercises to see if one is better than the other for some common lifting goals.
Better For Developing Size and Strength: Barbell Rows
For starters, both exercises are very effective at improving strength and building muscle mass.
However, Bent Over Rows gets a lot more of the body involved in the movement. Instead of sitting down, the core and posterior chain is put to work maintaining proper positioning. For the same reason compound exercises are always better than isolation exercises for overall strength development, Barbell Rows have an edge over Lat Pulldowns.
Better For Beginners: Lat Pulldown
I believe Lat Pulldowns are a safer choice out of the two exercises for beginners.
First, the technique is easier to learn. Lat Pulldowns are about as simple of a movement to both learn and execute as there is.
Two, Bent Over Rows is an exercise that, if done with improper technique, has a higher than average risk of injury. The low back is put in a vulnerable position and learning how to properly brace the core and maintain a flat back is critical for Bent Over Rows.
For those reasons, I would have a beginner start with Lat Pulldowns first.
I’ve just spent the last section of this article comparing which is better – Lat Pulldowns or Bent Over Barbell Rows. However, the truth is, there is no reason you shouldn’t have both exercises in your strength training program (assuming you have all the necessary equipment).
Both are excellent exercises for building upper-body strength and hypertrophy. Incorporating both into your training program can also add much-needed variety and keep your plan from getting stale.
So, my suggestion would be instead of trying to decide between the two exercises, figure out how you can utilize both Lat Pulldowns and Bent Over Barbell Rows in your training plan.