What is the difference between lat pulldown and pull-up?

two men doing lat pulldown and pull up

The lat pulldown vs. pull-up showdown has been around for a very long time. A lot of people are saying that both these methods help you build muscle mass naturally and with great success. But it’s hard to pinpoint which way is the best. That’s why you have to go with a bit of trial and error.

Both exercises are targeting the scapula muscles and your lats. Even the movements for these exercises are very similar throughout the entire upper body. The lat pulldown actually replicates the pull-up, yet it also adds some new dimensions to it.

About Pull ups

wide grip pull up muscles worked

The pull-ups are designed to help you build muscle in your upper body. They are stimulating most of your upper body muscles like your lats and the abdominal muscles. You just have to grab on the pull-up bar and then pull upwards. The trick here is to use your elbows as you are pushing the shoulder blades back. Ideally, you want the chest to reach the bar and then go back and repeat multiple times. Pull-ups require a lot of control and attention, but if you complete them wisely, you can obtain some outstanding results.

Related: How to get the perfect pull up form

This is one exercise where keeping the tension going is crucial. Some people relax by hanging from the bar or cheating. Try to avoid that and instead keep the pressure going, you want to push your muscles to the limit. Done adequately, pull-ups are stimulating the forearms, and they are placing a lot of tension on the entire arm area, particularly your biceps.

During this exercise, the shoulders are performing adduction. Your lateral muscles, latissimus dorsi are the ones handling this movement. They are the most significant muscle in your back.

You can increase the load when you’re doing pull-ups if you’re using a weighted vest. You could also use a belt if you want, that works just as nicely. There’s no way to decrease the load, which is a bit challenging for some people. Basically, the difficulty of the exercise increases based on how much you weigh.

Related: How to do more pull-ups training guide

Pros and Cons for Pull-Ups


  • The pull-ups are great because they are the foundation of most calisthenics skills that involve any type of pulling. You can try horizontal or vertical pull-ups, but they are all excellent strength training tools you will enjoy. On top of that, the pull-up load is very heavy. You are unable to lower the bodyweight fast, which means strength is needed to make it work. But at the same time, you can boost the strength and size gains naturally.
  • Then there’s also the fact that you put a lot of stress on your core muscles. That means you can even start losing some belly fat while also pressuring the muscles. And while this is difficult, you have a good progression system.
  • Finally, you can do it at home since you need only a pull-up bar for the doorway or get a wall-mounted one. Or, you can get a power tower to have even more types of bodyweight exercises.

Related: What is the benefits of pull-ups.


  • The downside is that yes, pull-ups are challenging, and they will require a lot of strength. Not only that but the pull-up can’t be controlled or loaded when compared to a pulldown. That means you have less efficiency, especially during some of the fatigued workouts, which can end up being a problem.
  • And then there’s also the stabilizer demands. You always need to be in perfect shape, if you’re not, you will have issues.

Lat Pulldowns

lat pulldown muscles worked

In the lat pulldown vs. pull up debate, you will find that the lat pulldowns are also quite impressive and exciting in their own right. You can try out all kinds of ideas and techniques to make this work, and the payoff can actually be very impressive. The trick with this workout is always to try and adapt it to your own requirements.

The way you perform it is quite easy to understand. You will need to grab your handlebar with a good grip, stay upright for this one. If you sit down, start your exercise simply by pulling the bar to your chest. Use your elbows if possible as this will put the tension on them. Try to reach the maximum pull that you are comfortable with and then return the bar to the top. The recommended weights would be around half of your body weight, but then you can start increasing again and again if you want.

With the lat pulldowns, you can build the latissimus muscles, right on the side of the rib cage. They will help you improve your grab power and upper body strength. You can also enhance the visual appeal of your back too. This workout also places a lot of strain on the upper arms too. They will make it easy to build your shoulder muscles, more specifically the posterior deltoid.

Related: Lat pulldown variations for effective muscle building

Lat Pulldowns Pros and Cons


You can adjust the weights, this is very helpful, and it has the potential to improve your workout routine magnificently. If you’re a beginner you start off low, then you improve. Also, the lat pulldowns can have reduced muscle use if you want. It might be helpful with recovery. And since these are cable loaded machines, you have consistent tension. You can maintain the position, and that will boost your control and strength.


  • The problem is that lat pulldowns aren’t good by themselves if you want to improve the muscle buildup. You need to combine them with other workouts to make them work adequately. You can also focus on having lighter loads, so you don’t receive as many benefits as you may want. These workouts are more accessible, but you have less muscle buildup as a result.
  • If you want to workout at home, you need to buy a lat pulldown machine, which is an investment. However, there are affordable and compact lat machines.

Which is the best option?

It’s important to note that both exercises are great if you want to work on your muscles. However, pull-ups are better if you are looking to boost your strength when compared to the pulldowns. You can use lat pulldowns if you’re a beginner because you can adjust the weight. The pull-ups bring you more weight at once, and you can stack up with dedicated vests. But you can start with lat pulldowns and then continue with pull-ups if you want better efficiency and more challenge. If you’re looking to increase and decrease weights as you see fit, then lat pulldowns will be the best option for you!


Will lat pulldowns help with pull-ups?

If you are a beginner who cannot do any strict pull-ups yet, you can combine two training techniques. Firstly, you can perform progressive exercises for pull-ups, for example, holds, negatives, or use the rubber band as support. But, also by using the lat machine, you can make the required muscles stronger. Just keep the progressive overload in mind and do different variations.

Lat pulldown vs. assisted pull up? What is the difference?

Both methods are great to strengthen your upper body, but if you want to focus on pull-ups, and not just back training, then the assisted technique is maybe better. Particularly, if you are close to performing a correct pull-up. The assistance can be slightly adjusted if you use a machine or rubber bands.


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