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Pull-Up vs Lat Pulldown: Which Is Better for You?

Both exercises target the back muscles, so which one’s best?

Let us settle the pull-up vs lat pulldown debate and learn which one is better for you.

Both the pull-up and the lat pulldown follow a similar movement pattern, where you start with your hands overhead and hands wrapped around a bar, and then close the distance between your head and your hands by pulling on the bar.

Pull-Up vs Lat Pulldown: Which Is Better for You?

What are the differences, pros and cons for each, and which one should you be doing? Learn this and more below.


The pull-up is a close kinetic chain exercise, this means that the hands are fixed on a surface and the body moves.

Research shows that these types of exercise are superior to open kinetic chain exercises. This is because they elicit a greater amount of motor unit recruitment, aka more muscle fibres. This in turn leads to greater strength development and more muscle mass.

Read more: How to Get a Pull-Up: Form, Progressions, Training Tips and More

Pull-up pros

  • Highly versatile
  • No specialised equipment required
  • Develops body awareness
  • All upper body training
  • Great carryover to other exercises

Pull-up cons

  • Full range of motion might be hard for certain body types
  • Entry level barrier can be high
  • Not everyone is strong enough to perform them at first
man performs a pull-up Dumbbell Back ExercisesSource: Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

Lat Pulldown

The lat pulldown is an open kinetic chain exercise, meaning your hands move while your body remains stationary.

Read more: The Lat Pulldown: One Sure-Fire Way to Grow a Bigger Back

Lat pulldown pros

  • Excellent for increasing absolute strength
  • Fixed body position
  • Greater force generation through hip and leg drive
  • Beginner friendly
  • Helps build muscle through progressive overload
  • Great for drop sets
  • Easy to adjust weight being lifted

Lat pulldown cons

  • Poor carryover to other strength exercises
lat pulldown exercise

Pull-Up vs Lat Pulldown

When deciding which team to do, pull-up vs lat pulldown, all you have to answer is what is the purpose of your training? When you know what you’re training for then you know which path to take to achieve your goal.

Do you want to increase your relative strength? Focus on the pull-up more. Is absolute strength your aim? Then the lat pulldown is a better tool. In both cases, you can always continue to use the other exercise to aid your progress.

Relative strength refers to how good you are at moving your own bodyweight while absolute strength refers to maximum force production.

Always ensure you’re going through a full range of motion and control the eccentric portion of each exercise.

Do the exercise that you want to get stronger at for the specific purpose that you want to get stronger at, but don’t be afraid to use a variety of exercises.

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