Pulldowns vs pull-ups, the age-old debate.
Is one better?
Is there any difference?
In this article, we’ll go over the difference and discuss whether one is better or if in fact, they are the same thing.
Comparing these two movements is a little bit more tricky than it first appears.
Pull-ups are more commonly seen as one of the more difficult strength-building bodyweight exercises, where lat pulldowns tend to be used more as a tool for hypertrophy.
There is definitely a place for both movements in any fitness routine, and plenty of room to play around with muscle activation, intensity, reps, grip, and angles.
The lat pulldown exercise is a great movement for developing better lat muscles, upper arms, and a strong back.
But one big problem is people just don’t seem to be able to do them with proper form bending the lower back and swinging.
Whether that comes down to ego reps or lack of guidance it’s hard to say.
There’s no shame in using lighter weights and good form.
It’s a very straightforward movement that should not need as much explaining as it gets.
Sitting down in an upright position grab the bar so your elbow forms a 90-degree angle.
Now your upper body shouldn’t move, you don’t swing back into this movement.
Grab the bar in an over hand position and pull the bar down to your chest with your elbows and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
Your shoulders want to come down like you’re doing the opposite of a shrug.
- The biggest plus for this movement is the fact it helps you build the strength required for pull-ups.
- You can easily change your grip by simply swapping out the handle.
- You can build up resistance as quickly as replacing a pin.
- Lat pulldowns are also very good for doing single-arm pulls or drop sets.
- A big downside with lat pulldowns is availability, this is a pretty popular machine at the gym so you might have to wait in line.
- Also, the fact that you are seated for the duration of the movement means your core and other supporting muscles have to sit this one out, see what I did there?
- And as I touched on earlier, the form is a big one that gets passed over. It’s always better to start with light weight and do it right. Just like a bench press.
- People will quite happily lean back into this exercise using momentum to get the bar down
Pull-ups are the real deal when it comes to showing just how strong your upper body really is.
The amount of people that come to train and can’t do a proper pull-up is really quite amazing.
This compound exercise uses more muscle groups than the lat pulldown.
For a relatively simple movement to see and understand it causes most people problems.
The best way to do pull-ups correctly is to get into the starting position by holding the bar the same way you set up for the pull-down.
And much like the pull-down you will be squeezing your shoulder blades back, and pulling with your elbows to bring your chest to the bar.
Complete the movement by lowering yourself back down in a slow and controlled manner.
You want to completely lock your arms out at the bottom of the movement.
Remember cheating the rep is only cheating your results.
- So we don’t want to use momentum to do a pull-up.
- We also want to completely straighten our arms out at the lowest point on the rep, go through the full range of motion
- .You’ll know you’re at the bottom when your elbows are straight and your shoulders are touching your ears.
- And your chin should always go above the bar at the top.
- Where do I start? I could speak for a while on this. But in short, the fact that you are not seated brings your core into play and works almost your entire upper body.
- Core and lat activation is a big plus for pull-ups.
- The fact that it takes a lot of strength to pull this off as well, makes it great for confidence in training as well.
- You do look really cool when you do pull-ups, and that’s a big part of why we train right?
- Another big plus is pull-ups are a very accessible exercise.
- It’s not too difficult to find a pull-up bar or something you can pull yourself up onto.
- And while everyone is waiting in line to do lat pulls, there are not many people waiting to do pull-ups.
- They are hard to do, plain and simple, it’s hard to pull your own bodyweight. And once you start getting the strength to do them form can go out the window pretty fast.
- People get frustrated and lazy with pull-ups and start kicking their legs or using momentum to get themselves up.
- And while this can be useful in building up the strength to do them, people get lazy and keep using momentum rather than focusing on the correct form.
- It can be hard to apply progressive over and add to the amount of weight you pull without a weighted vest.
Do lat pulldowns help with pull-ups?
Lat pulldowns as a movement are very similar to pull-ups.
But the main difference between the two is the weight.
With a pullup you are stuck with your own body weight, and while you can add weight to the movement to increase difficulty.
You can not remove weight from yourself without the assistance of tools like resistance bands.
Lat pulldowns on the other hand are cable machines with the option to change the weight you are using.
So the general rule of progressive overload comes into play.
And as some of you know, progressive overload is a very effective way of improving strength and size in muscles.
Progressive overload is simply adding to the load of each workout, it’s as easy as adding more reps, sets, or weight each time you train.
By starting out with lat pulldowns at a lighter weight and building up every week, whether that be by adding weight, reps, or sets to the exercise, you will improve your muscle’s capabilities with this movement.
So if you are struggling with getting your first pullup, the lat pulldown machine is a great tool to use to get you closer to your goal.
That being said, if you don’t have access to a gym or lat pulldown machine, using a resistance band is another very effective tool to improve this movement.
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Why are lat pull downs harder than pull-ups?
Honestly, this is a question that confuses me with how often I hear it.
Because as I just mentioned, you can modify your weight on this movement a lot easier than a pull-up.
That being said one reason why I think people may struggle, comes from confusing a chin-up with a pull-up.
The difference between the two is your grip.
Chin-ups are performed with an underhand grip, with your knuckles facing away from you when you grip the bar, as opposed to the pull-up being an overhand grip, knuckles facing towards you.
So I assume that people are finding the underhand grip of a chin-up easier.
The reason for this will come down to the chin-up having greater bicep activation, assisting the lats and back muscles.
Most people will find the underhand grip easier.
The only real exception to the rule is people who have mostly performed the overhand grip.
When you do something a certain way more often it makes sense that you would find it easier.
Which is better Lat pulldowns or pull-ups?
Which is better can be tricky to answer, as it really depends on your goals.
From a pure bodybuilding perspective, lat pulldowns are great for isolating muscles.
You can change weight and rep ranges a lot easier, making it a good tool to get the size in your back where you want it.
But in terms of a more complete movement, that offers more overall benefits in building strength and muscle past pull-ups are the better exercise and must-have in any workout routine.
And by using resistance bands to modify the movement you can build the strength needed to do the full movement.
By slowing down the eccentric phase of the movement, the lengthening of the muscle, you will build the upper body strength needed to eventually pull yourself back up again.
Or simply put by just focusing on lowering yourself back down as slow as possible you will get stronger.
And with enough training will soon be strong enough to pull yourself back up. I use this technique with a lot of my clients with more than just pull-ups.
It really is a great way to build strength, forcing your muscles to spend more time under tension.
The strength you build in your core from doing pull-ups outweighs the benefits you get from the lat pulldown.
That being said there is definitely room for both in your routine.
Where I’m doing the majority of my training at the moment I don’t have access to a lat pull machine.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t still replicate it in other ways.
But using a bar and a resistance band and a bar I can still do this movement.
So my recommendation is to use both exercises.
They both have their pros and cons and if you can there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use both.
Lat pulldown vs Pull up weight
This is another interesting question that I get a bit.
Is pulling my weight on a lat pulldown the same as doing a pull-up?
This can be a tricky question to answer as there are a few things in play here.
In theory, it makes sense right?
If you weigh 180 pounds and you pull 180 pounds on the pulldown, then you should be able to do a pull-up.
But, let’s go back to what I said earlier about how much our core comes into a pull-up.
Your core is helping stabilize you through the movement and it’s helping do some of the work.
So while it makes sense, it’s not always the case.
But I would like to think that if you can pull your weight on the lat pulldown, you shouldn’t be far away from getting pull-ups.