Lat Pulldown vs. Pull Ups

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Apr 17,2024|11 min| 165

Which is the better back builder?

When it comes to building an aesthetically complete and fully functional physique, the back muscles are absolutely crucial. A strong and wide back not only looks great, but can help with day to day activities. Two of the most popular back building exercises are lat pulldowns and pull ups, but which one is the better exercise? This is a common debate, lat pulldowns vs. pull ups, and many people are left wondering which one should be incorporated into their workout routine more often. 

Let’s break down lat pulldowns vs. pull ups and see which one comes out on top.

Importance of Training the Back Muscles

The first thing to discuss is the importance of building the back muscles. Aside from being aesthetically pleasing and building the v-taper that so many bodybuilders seek, a strong back is essential for powerlifters and strength athletes as well. The back muscles are responsible for so many different functions, such as picking things up, posture, and others, as well as improving performance on other lifts such as the squat and deadlift

Breaking Down Lat Pulldowns

Now, lat pulldowns are a staple exercise of many athletes for their workout routines, as they are great for building the back muscles. Lat pulldowns are similar in their plane of movement to pull ups. If you compete in sports such as powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting, where lat strength is important but not the most important element of your training, the lat pulldown may be good to use. Think about it, these sports involve huge amounts of effort that are exerted on your main gym-based exercises such as the squat, bench and deadlift, or the snatch, clean and jerk, respectively. That being said, the lat pulldown is a great option.

If you have poor mobility in your upper body, such as elbow issues or shoulder issues, with the lat pulldown, you can more easily alter the angle of your torso before your pull. You can slowly increase the inclination of your torso, as your mobility improves over time. This is much more friendly than the easiest version of the traditional pull up, that requires good prerequisite levels of upper back and shoulder mobility.

How to Perform a Lat Pulldown

Lat pulldowns are relatively simple to perform. You sit at the lat pulldown machine, take a wide grip, and pull the bar to the top of your chest, leading with your elbows. 

There are also different grip variations that you can do, such as close grip.

Muscles Worked With a Lat Pulldown

The muscles worked during a lat pulldown include:

  • Forearms

  • Biceps

  • Lats

  • Rear deltoids

Discussing Pull Ups

Image courtesy of DEMETZ ONLINE PT

Now on the other hand, pull ups are a bodyweight exercise that just require yourself, a good grip, and a pull up bar. They are similar to lat pulldowns in terms of range of motion and the movement plane. If you are training for gymnastics or CrossFit or some other type of competitive functional exercise sports that require you to be able to do exercises like muscle ups, kipping pull ups or just to be able to string together lots of strict pull ups.

Also, if you compete in a sport like swimming, you are already getting huge amounts of pulling volume in during your training, but this is under relatively lower resistance, so filling the gaps the swim training misses with higher intensity exercises such as pull ups, would be good.

How to do a Pull Up

Pull ups are relatively easy to complete. All that you need to do is grip a pull up bar, and pull yourself up to the point where the bar is at your upper chest.

Muscles Worked With Pull Ups

Should You Do Lat Pulldowns or Pull Ups?

When it comes to choosing between lat pulldowns and pull ups, both of these options are great exercises and using both in a training regimen is a great idea, as they have their benefits and drawbacks. While both of these exercises are great, there are instances where you may consider having a greater bias towards one or the other.

For example, if you are a beginner and do not have the strength to pull yourself up without assistance, a lat pulldown would be a better option. The same goes if you have mobility issues, lat pulldowns are great. But, if you are training to be functional, then pull ups are the best option.

Where to Find Workout Programs

When looking for a program to use while you are trying to incorporate pull ups or lat pulldowns into your workout schedule, you can surely get a cookie cutter program off of the internet. But keep in mind that there are plenty of amazing workout programs available on Boostcamp to accompany your calisthenics workout routine and help you make progress with your goals, such as cutting or bulking or maingaining. A good program will keep you on track, making sure that you are making the most gains and maximizing your time in the gym. If you are looking to stay on track and continue with linear progression, then finding a good workout program is the key. 

Boostcamp offers over 50 FREE workout programs that help with strength, hypertrophy, or functional fitness, or both, from the push pull legs program all the way to upper lower, there are so many programs to choose from that can help fit your needs. However, with Boostcamp, you don’t have to just follow a pre-written program (although each program is written by a professional), you also can create your own program as well, and track your progress to make sure you are on the right track. That being said, when you are looking to incorporate some serious training to further your progress with pull ups and lat pulldowns, then check out Boostcamp.

Lat Pulldowns vs. Pull Ups Wrap Up

Overall, lat pulldowns and pull ups are great exercises that if you can, you should incorporate into your routine. They each have their benefits, so the best thing to do is assess your goals and capabilities, and then go from there.

Boostcamp has plenty of free programs that help with both strength and hypertrophy, be sure to check them out and follow Boostcamp on Instagram and subscribe on YouTube!

IMAGES COURTESY OF DEMETZ ONLINE PT