Lat pulldown vs Pull Ups – What is the difference between the two exercises?

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The lat pulldown vs. pull-up showdown has been around for a very long time. 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 target the scapula muscles and your lats. Even the movements for these two exercises are very similar throughout the entire upper body. The lat pulldown machine replicates the pull-up exercise, yet it also adds some new dimensions to it.


About Pull-ups

wide grip pull up muscles worked

The pull-ups help you build the muscle groups in your upper body. They are stimulating most of your upper body muscles like your lats, traps, shoulders, and abdominal muscles. You 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 more control and attention, but if you complete them wisely, you can obtain some outstanding results.

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 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.

Pros and Cons for Pull-Ups


  • The wide grip 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 for lat activation.
  • On top of that, the pull-up load is hefty. 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 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 require 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 back exercises.

Related: What is the benefits of pull-ups.


  • The downside is that yes, wide grip 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 training, which can end up being a problem. (Maybe chin-ups are better to start with.)
  • 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 lateral 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 be very impressive. The trick with this training is always to try and adapt it to your requirements.

The form of exercise 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 by merely 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 pull-down, 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 muscles too. This practice also put a strain on the upper arms too. They will make it easy to build your shoulder muscles, more specifically the posterior deltoid.

Lateral 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 low, then you improve. Also, the lat pull-down can have reduced muscle use if you want. It might be helpful with recovery. And since these are cable loaded equipment, 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 want 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 exercises are more accessible, but you have less muscle buildup as a result.
  • If you want to work out at home, you need to buy a lat pulldown machine with a weight stack, which is an investment. However, there are affordable and compact lat machines.

Lat pulldown or pull-ups? Which is the best option for you?

It’s important to note that both exercises are useful. However, pull-ups are better if you are looking to boost your strength when compared to the pulldown exercises. You can use the lat machine 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 pulldown exercise 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 exercises. Firstly, you can perform progressive exercises (video) 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 between muscle activation?

Both bodybuilding 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 pull-up with correct technique. The assistance can be slightly adjusted if you use a machine or rubber band equipment.


1. Analysis of the Lat Pulldown : Strength & Conditioning Journal. LWW. Published 2019.

2. Dickie JA, Faulkner J, Barnes MJ, Lark S. Electromyographic analysis of muscle activation during pull-up variations. ResearchGate. Published November 2016.

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James Wright

James (36) has been working out since he was 15 years old. He has a home gym where he pumps iron, does bodyweight workouts and boxing. He likes sharing his experiences with others who want to build a better physique.


  1. Joe

    Are doing pull-ups enough to build lats? I don’t want to go to the gym, but I have a pull-up bar at home.

    1. James

      I’m sure I’m going to be criticized by weight lifters because of my answer, but I say: YES! But, not just by doing the same pull-ups over and over again. I mean, there are many variations, for example, with a wider, narrower, reverse grip, or with a single arm. You can even add additional resistance with the help of a dip belt or a weight vest.

      To keep your lat development with only pull-ups, you should pay attention to progressive overload. That means you modify your workout time to time by adding more reps, sets, advanced exercises, and so on. This way, your lats need to adapt to the new impact, and with that, they develop.

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