Lat Pulldown vs Pull-Ups (Which Exercise is Better?)


When it comes to building muscle and strength in your back, there are few exercises more effective than the Lat Pulldown and Pull-Up. Both of these exercises target the back muscles and can help you build strength and muscle mass.

But which is better?

This article will compare and contrast the Lat Pulldown and Pull-up to help you decide which exercise is best for your goals. We’ll look at how to properly execute each one along with variations, and benefits of each exercise so that you can make an informed decision about which one is best for you.


Lat Pulldown


Lat Pulldown

Equipment Needed

  • Lat Pulldown Machine or Lat Pulldown Rack Attachment

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • 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.

Coaching Points

*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.

Benefits

Some benefits of incorporating Lat Pulldowns into your exercise routine include:

  1. Improved posture: Strong lats can help support good posture, which can reduce the risk of back pain and improve overall health.
  2. Increased upper body strength: Lat pulldowns can help improve strength in the upper body, including the back, shoulders, and arms.
  3. 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.


Pull-Ups


Pull-up Alternatives and Variations

Equipment Needed

  • Pull Up Bar (Either as part of a rack or a wall-mounted bar)
  • Weight belt (For weighted variations)
  • For modification purposes:
  • Lifting Band (To assist in completing the pull-up or doing more repetitions with full range of motion).
  • Lifting partner (To assist in getting your chin over the bar)
  • Bench (To help reach the bar if it’s too high)

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Approach the pull-up bar and grab the bar with a pronated grip (palms facing away).
  • Use a bench to get to the bar if it is too high.
  • Later in the article, I will talk about variations, alternatives, and modifications where the supinated (palms facing in) grip will be discussed.
  • Squeeze the bar and engage the core muscles and do not cross your legs.
  • Engage the upper back and pull up until your chin is over the bar.
  • Pause for 1 second with your chin over the bar.
  • Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.

Coaching Points

Take your time and master the Pull-up. The benefits of doing sound pull-ups will pay dividends for your shoulder health and the potential to maximize your upper body strength.

I would highly recommend this movement to any lifter or athlete. It provides all the benefits of an upper-body pulling movement with little to no risk.

Common Mistakes

By far the biggest mistake I see in the pull-up is lifters not using a full range of motion. Hang all the way down and maintain great tension through the shoulders and abdomen (DO NOT JUST HANG IN THE BOTTOM). Pull all the way up and do not whip your head so that your chin barely makes it over the bar.

As with any exercise, do not sacrifice form for the completion or more weight.

Another mistake is lifters go too fast with their pull-ups. Pull-ups are commonly programmed for strength and hypertrophy. This means time under tension is key. Take them slow and perfect the movement to yield maximal results.

Lat Pulldowns vs Pull-Ups: Which is Better?

Let’s take a side-by-side look at the two exercises to see if one exercise is better than the other for a couple of common training goals.

Better For Developing Size and Strength: Pull-Ups

Lat Pulldowns are an excellent exercise for improving strength and building muscle mass. They simply can’t compare to Pull-Ups, though.

I believe that Pull-Ups are the most effective upper-body exercise for building size, strength and athleticism. It’s why Pull-Ups are one of my favorite exercises for football players. So, if you placed any exercise up against Pull-Ups (yes, even Bench Press), my answer will always be Pull-Ups.

If you’re not able to do Pull-Ups yet, there are Pull-Up modifications you can use to help assist you as you improve your strength.

If you are working on improving your Pull-ups, Lat Pulldowns can actually be a great assistance exercise. It’s one of the most common exercises that we give to our Offensive and Defensive Linemen who can’t do Pull-ups yet.

Better For Beginners: Pull-Ups

Again, if the question includes Pull-Ups then my answer will always be Pull-Ups. Having said that, I will make one concession.

If you’re just starting out and you’re nowhere near able to do a Pull-Up, even with some assistance modifications, then I would suggest sticking with Lat Pulldowns if they are an option (meaning you have the proper equipment). Lat Pulldowns are one of my favorite Pull-Up alternatives because the movement pattern is almost identical and it’s easy to adjust the weight as needed.

Continuing to try, and fail, at any exercise can lead to frustration – frustration that could cause you to want to quit training altogether.

For this reason, I would suggest sticking with exercises that you can perform with good technique. Improve your strength (and confidence) and give Pull-Ups another try down the road.

Final Thoughts

I’ve just spent the last section of this article comparing which is better – Lat Pulldowns or Pull-Ups. 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).

Do I think Pull-Ups are the superior exercise? Yes. But, 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 Pull-ups in your training plan.

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Ryan Horton

Horton Barbell was created by Ryan Horton who has served as a Sports Performance Coach for almost 20 years. My mission is to create a training resource to help as many coaches and athletes as possible maximize athletic potential.

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