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The Lat Pulldown Vs. The Pull-Up — Which One is Best for Back Gains?


The Lat Pulldown Vs. The Pull-Up — Which One is Best for Back Gains?
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Are you trying to bulk up your back muscles and have narrowed it down to either the lat pulldown or the classic pull-up ? If so, congrats! You’ve already taken a big step towards building a robust and chiseled physique.

But with so many exercises available in the gym, how do you know which one will be most effective for achieving your goals?

In this blog post, we'll compare two staple exercises—the lat pulldown and the traditional pull-up—so that you can make an informed decision on which of these barbell beasts is best suited for beefing up your back muscles.

So read on to learn more about how each exercise stacks up against the other.

Differences Between the Lat Pulldown & Pull-Up

Here are the differences between lat pulldown and pull-up that will help you decide what works best for the back gains. The variation of these movements show the variety of benefits each exercise provides. Find which is best for you!

Closed Vs. Open-Chain

When you want to get fit, a great debate is whether to do the traditional pull-up or ‘upgrade’ to using a lat pulldown machine. Understanding the difference between open and closed-chain movements will help you decide which exercise is better suited to your goals.

Pulldowns are open-chain movements; that means that the point of contact furthest from your body moves freely in space while your body remains still. On the other hand, pull-ups are closed-chain movements. Your hands stay connected to a non-moving object, such as a bar; this sets up a situation where gravity is trying its darndest to keep you pulled down, and it’s up to you (literally) to move away against it.

So if you’re wondering if calisthenics can tone your muscles, closed chain movements are an effective way of doing that!

Resistance Profile

Pulldowns and pull-ups share a lot of common ground regarding the muscles they engage; however, the nature of the resistance applied to your body during each movement truly sets them apart.

With pulldowns, you’re using a loadable weight that can be adjusted to match the strength of your lats, traps, and shoulders, whereas pull-ups require enlisting the power of gravity and your body weight as resistance.

In other words, it's better to stick with lat pulldowns if you want to make this exercise easier on yourself – or as an example, if you’re just getting started.

Muscle Recruitment

When it comes to upper body exercises, the pull-up and lat pulldown machines have a lot of similarities. After all, they target your lats, traps, scapular stabilizers, and biceps in virtually the same way.

The primary difference between them lies in the fact that when you're doing a pull-up, your core has to work twice as hard compared to the lat pulldown machine because you're just hanging out in space.

No wonder you get so fatigued after a particularly vigorous round on the bar. By contrast, with the lat pulldown station, you're sitting firmly against a knee pad which completely removes your lower body from the equation—leaving you free to focus on nailing those reps!


The tried and true way to up your workout game is to bump up the resistance, but this looks different depending on your exercise. Take a lat pulldown versus a pull-up, for example.

Increasing the load on the pulldown is as easy as adjusting the pin on the weight stack—just set it to lower down to increase the challenge. Adding resistance to pull-ups is a bit more complicated.

Sure, if you’re heavier, you will find them harder, but adding additional weight can be more trouble than it's worth. It may not even give you that much edge—unless you’re already an impressive Ry-Ry or Channing Tatum look alike at peak performance.

Difficulty of Performance

Pull-ups aren’t usually at the top of anyone’s list of advanced bodyweight exercises, but they remain a formidable challenge. For a larger athlete, someone without good grip strength, or someone unaccustomed to calisthenics, attempting more than two or three can be frustrating, and to reduce that immense fatigue, you can take the Creatine Powder supplement, which will help combat the fatigue and frustration.

The problem of frustration makes the lat pulldown more helpful—you can customize its difficulty level to whatever suits your abilities best. It's a win-win: don't have lats of steel? Simply set the pin for minimal resistance. Already crushing pull-ups like it's nothing? Let 'er rip and up the intensity!

Similarities Between the Lat Pulldown & Pull-Up

Lat pulldown and pull-up share multiple similarities that also provide grounds for guaranteed gains and benefits your body will get. See yourself in the exciting body you always longed for by choosing the right workout for you.

Motor Pattern

If you ever see yourself standing in the weight room staring quizzically at a pullup bar and a lat pulldown machine, wondering if they’re two completely different pieces of equipment, don’t worry - you aren’t crazy.

Although the two exercises are often lumped together as “back workouts,” the truth is that pull ups and lat pulldowns are strikingly similar. They both require you to bend your elbows into your side and depress and retract your shoulder blades; plus, from the waist up, there’s essentially no discernible difference between the two motion-wise.

So before you jump into indiscriminately alternating between them at random, just know that pull ups and lat pulldowns pretty much fall under the same category.

Muscle Engagement

If you want to work on honing your upper back and boosting your biceps strength, the pull-up and its cousin, the lat pulldown, can give you a great workout. Muscle engagement and strength can also be topped with Pre Workout Supplement and found in absolute peace.

These compound exercises target nearly every muscle in your upper back and offer the option of adjusting your execution - such as hand positioning or grip width - to maximally target specific muscles.

So if you're looking to make some gains while staying home, the pull-up and lat pulldown exercises should be high on your mental workout routine!


Pull-ups are your best bet if you want to make gains without leaving the comfort of your home.

All you need is a bar, and you're ready to go. But if you'd rather hit the weight room, lat pulldown stations at commercial gyms are plentiful, with many cable fixtures featuring a variety of pull-up handles.

Whether you prefer to get your pump on at home or in the gym, the possibilities for lat pulldowns and pull-ups are practically endless.

Lat Pulldown Vs. Pull-Up Technique

Here are the instructions to carry out lat pulldown and pull-up in the right technique because it is with the right technique that you enjoy multiple benefits of the exercise.

How to Do the Lat Pulldown

  • Attach a wide grip handle to the lat pulldown machine, and sit down.
  • Start by grasping the handle in a pronated grip (double-overhand). Next, depress the shoulder blade while extending the shoulder.
  • Move the handle towards your body so that your elbows meet your torso. Then, slowly lower it back to its original position.
  • Repeat the technique until you have reached the desired number of reps.

How to Do the Pull-Up

  • In the beginning position, your arms and shoulders should hang loosely. Engage your core and tighten your legs to decrease any bodily movement.
  • Start by reaching up and gripping the bar, then pull-up by squeezing your shoulder blades down and back and then pulling with your arms.
  • Pull until the bar reaches around the height of your clavicles. Your head should fully clear the height of the bar.
  • Using the squat rack with the pull-up bar , you can perform this exercise as described by vertically jumping up and grabbing onto the rack and lowering yourself down in a controlled motion.

When to Do the Lat Pulldown or Pull-Up

The exercises have a broad idea for their performers, considering the starters and even the individuals’ specific desires they want out of the respective exercise. Here is when you need to do lat pulldowns and pull-ups.

If You’re a Beginner

If you're looking to put some serious training in for your back, it's all about your effort. No fancy machines or gadgets are needed.

A fundamental skill of any athlete is being able to pull off a set of 8-10 pull-ups - so it's wise to aim for that as a starting goal before playing with other exercises. Pull-ups are far more useful when starting, so use them while they're still challenging!

Plus, the strength and body control that you develop will make other lifts feel much easier. If you can master the pull-up, you'll be in good shape for any gym activity.

For Total-Body Strength

If you want to gain impressive general fitness, forget the boring lat pulldown machine - the pull-up is where it's truly at. All athletes should pursue mastering the pull-up since it promises a full-body workout like no other.

When performing a pull-up, you need major upper body strength to lift yourself, grip endurance, and core control for holding your midline steady—talk about a beast of an exercise. It's so intense that sometimes one rep can feel harder than five on the lesser lat pulldown machine.

But hey, nothing worth having comes easy - so lace up those shoes and start swinging your way up to become a king (or queen) of pull-ups!

For Muscle Growth

Sure, pull-ups require some finesse, but when you really want to put on the muscle, you'd be better off taking a step back and opting for lat pulldowns.

You don't have to worry about your grip strength, balance, or core control—just load up the right amount of weight and get on with the job.

Pull-ups are great for honing in your techniques and refining that grip and core strength, don't get me wrong, but when it comes to building mass, lat pulldowns keep those distracting factors out of the equation so you can isolate the target muscles and make real gains.

When You’re Short on Time

Pull-ups or pulldowns: Which is the better choice when you’re pressed for time in the weight room? Either can offer a great workout if your goal is to fatigue your back muscles.

Though, if you’re looking for a quicker way out of the gym, the intensity techniques used during pulldowns like drop sets may be your saving grace. Just keep an eye out if there happens to be a line forming at the pulldown station, head on over to where you can do some pull-ups and get moving even faster.

Having hours to spend in the weight room every day isn’t always a luxury — making smart choices with what exercise you choose and how you tackle it absolutely is.


If you’re confused between lat pulldown and pull-up, then chill out. The simple comparison between the two can help you relieve into an absolute benefit session.

There are some differences between the two exercises, such as closed and open chains, resistance profile, muscle recruitment, loadability, and performance difficulty. They also have similarities, like motor patterns, muscle groups, and accessibility. These points can help you form a clear chart in front of you and help you choose what goes best at what times for you.

Working on portions like what is suitable for a beginner, for total-body strength, muscle groups, or for a quick session can be quite helpful with a handsome operation for you to adhere to. Don't hold back; see what it got!

Reading List

Article Sources

  • Lehman, Gregory J., et al. ‘Variations in Muscle Activation Levels during Traditional Latissimus Dorsi Weight Training Exercises: An Experimental Study.’ Dynamic Medicine : DM, vol. 3, June 2004, p. 4. PubMed Central,

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