Lat Pull Down Vs Pull Up – Which Is Better For Bigger Back And Biceps
Lat pull down vs pull ups – which one is better at building overall size and strength?
I get asked this question a lot!
Both the lat pull down and the pull up are excellent exercises for building upper body size and strength.
These exercises will build you a big biceps and a thick wide back. Their emphasis on the lats is what will lend your physique the coveted V-taper.
Even though these exercises constitute the same movement patterns, one is better than the other at building muscle mass and strength.
So what are the differences between the two and which one is better for you?
Benefits Of Performing Pull Ups Over Lat Pull Downs
The benefits of pull ups have been stated multiple times on this blog. It is a time tested exercise that has some serious carryover to real world situations.
The pull up has been a staple in my exercise routine from the start!
Here are the benefits of performing pull ups vs lat pull downs
1. Pull up carries over better to the real world – While both the lat pulldown and the pull up follow the same movement patterns, there is one huge underlying difference. That is, the pull up moves the entire body through space, while the lat pulldown does not.
The process of having to pull the body up through space makes the pull up a more functional exercise than the lat pulldown.
Pull up train the movement patterns and muscles required to pull the body up and over a ledge, gate, fence or wall.
The pull up also recruits more muscle mass at the same time.
Being seated in a lat pull down machine does not train the body to move itself through space.
In fact, if you train the lat pulldown, you will struggle to improve your pull up. But, if you train the pull up, your strength on the lat pulldown machine will get better.
The pull up is a much more athletic exercise than the lat pull down.
2. Pull ups build your abs! – Pull ups recruit more muscle mass during the movement. This is because the core and stabilizers are activated way more in the pull up as opposed to the lat pull down.
The locked-in, machine stabilized, seated position of the lat pull down does not require much core stabilization.
Whereas, performing chin ups have been shown to have more muscle activity in the rectus abdominus (the “abs”) than other traditional abdominal exercises!
So if you’re looking to work on your six pack, consider the pull up over the lat pull down.
3. Pull ups can be trained anywhere – Pull ups can be trained anywhere. In fact they can be easily trained at home or in the park.
The equipment required for the pull up is inexpensive and readily available.
A pair of gymnastics rings is an excellent piece of equipment that you can carry with you when you travel. They are light weight and allow you to train several exercises on the go!
On the other hand, a doorway pull up bar will allow you to workout at home or at the office. These are excellent pieces of equipment to have in your arsenal if you are serious about your calisthenics training.
Owning either of these pieces of equipment will allow you to use one of calisthenic’s secret weapons. Greasing the groove.
Greasing the Groove is an excellent way to increase strength on certain lifts (especially the pull up). This is because Greasing the Groove is convenient to use with exercises that don’t require a lot of fancy equipment.
I have written an entire article about how you can use greasing the groove to get better at pull ups.
4. The pull up is a precursor to the muscle up – Of course it goes without saying that the pull up is the precursor to the muscle up. It is one half of the movement.
The lat pulldown on the other hand will get you nowhere close to performing a muscle up, no matter how much weight you have stacked on the machine.
If you’re looking to learn the muscle up, you better get better at the pull up!
Benefits (Excuses) Of Performing Lat Pulls Down Over Pull Ups
The lat pull down does have some benefits over the pull up, but they’re mostly lazy excuses to justify performing the exercise. In fact, I believe the barbell row/the weighted inverted row is a much better exercise to perform.
Regradless, here are the 2 benefits of performing lat pull downs over pull ups:
1. Lat pull downs are easier to perform than pull ups – When it comes to the topic of the lat pulldown vs the pull up, the lat pull down is by far the easier of the two to perform.
In the lat pulldown, you are seated and locked into a machine.
The handle of the lat pulldown machine has a set path, with resistance offered by the weights attached to the pulley. There is no need for the body to stabilize the weight as it moves, because the machine stabilizes the weight for you.
Whereas in the pull up, your stabilizers have to work extra hard to keep your path and form in proper check.
The pull up is a hard exercise to perform. Most novices will not have enough strength to pull their bodyweight up. This is the only instance where the lat pulldown outshines the pull up. But even this can be taken care of by simply putting bands on the pull up bar to make the movement easy enough to perform.
In fact, doing your pull ups with the assistance of bands will get you closer to performing the pull up than the lat pull down ever will. Another alternate is the inverted row or even the barbell row. Both these movements will recruit more muscle mass than the lat pull down. Both are easy to perform and the barbell row can be micro-loaded easily.
Which brings us to the next excuse to use the lat pull down machine!
2. Lat pull downs are also easier to micro load than pull ups – Although you might need to use magnetic micro plates in order to do so, lat pull downs are usually easier to micro-load compared to pull ups.
This allows for extended progress in the exercise which will lead to further gains.
The pull up on the other hand, can also be micro loaded, although daily fluctuations in bodyweight have to be accounted for.
Yet again these are just excuses not to perform the most
Now you know why I’m completely biased toward the pull up! Weighted calisthenics almost always wins over machines.
Moving your body with a weight attached to it through space will always be the best way to build strength and size!