Lat Pulldowns vs Pull-ups: Best Exercise For A Wide Back

A wide back is one of the staples of masculinity; those who have it boast around proudly, and those who don’t, try to get it by any means necessary. There is no doubt that the “V” torso look is attractive, so naturally, many guys are eager to achieve this kind of physique.

So, how do you do it?

Well, the muscles that give volume and size to your back are called latissimus dorsi, or simply “lats,” so growing them is necessary if you want to have a wide back. Pull-ups are the quintessential, old school exercise that works for this muscle group and have been unmatched by any other, until the introduction of the lat pull-down machine. Now, a division exists in the gym world about which exercise works the lats best. The truth is somewhere in between, and today we will help you learn more about which one of these is optimal for you.

Lat Pulldowns

Lat pulldowns vs pullups

Love it or hate it, the lat pull down has become one of the most popular exercises in the gym world, especially among bodybuilders. It is not uncommon for a line to form in front of this machine during the gym’s peak hours.

The main problem that we see with this exercise today is the use of improper form, so now let’s describe the right way to do it:

Sit on the seat and grab the bar with an overhand grip (the width should be set according to your preference). Straighten your back and slightly lean back then completely immobilize your torso – there is nothing that should be moving except your arms. Pull the bar towards your chest and notice how your left and right scapulas are moving towards each other. Lastly, bring the bar back to its original position with a slow and controlled movement.

Over extension of the spine is one of the most common mistakes that people make, so be aware of your back’s position at all times and be sure not to repeat this error.

Pros

The main benefit of the lat pull down is that it allows you to choose the weight you pull according to your ability and strength level. Folks who are new to lifting and cannot yet do pull ups will definitely benefit from using this machine.

Bodybuilders favor this exercise because it gives them the chance to isolate the lat muscles better than any other back exercise does. This can be a benefit if you do not wish to put more strain on your arms during a back workout.

Cons

One of the previously mentioned pros can be a con, meaning that isolating a muscle will inhibit its ability to work well together with other groups such as stabilizers and support muscles (which aren’t used much during pull-downs). It is not considered to be a functional exercise.

Another disadvantage is that because of its popularity this machine is usually crowded, and chances are that you’ll have to take turns with other lifters to use it.

Pull-ups

Lat pulldowns vs pullups

Pull-ups are regarded as one of the basic exercises that any fitness enthusiast should be able to perform. They have been popularized by the military, widely used by original bodybuilders, and are still done regularly by anyone who is interested in functional fitness. They are considered to be so essential that they have been referred to as the “upper body squat.”

Now, when we say pull ups we are thinking about the “original,” basic form, not the many other varieties out there. The hands should be apart slightly wider than shoulder-width, and the bar should be held onto with an overhand grip. Start pulling yourself up, with your elbows going outwards, and do this until your chest reaches the bar. Once you’re there, bring yourself down slowly in a controlled manner.

Do not bring the elbows inwards, towards the center of your body. Another common mistake or cheat is kipping with your legs in order to pull yourself up more easily. This takes away the main point of the pull-up so don’t do it if you wish to see any results.

Pros

The main benefit of pull-ups is that, besides lats, it works a lot of other, small muscle groups in your back. Also, the biceps, shoulders, core, and parts of the chest also get activated, and this fact makes pull ups a compound, functional exercise.

They build big lats and real strength that is transferable to other movements, and that’s why they are such a crucial exercise.

Lastly, the pull-up bar at the gym is usually available so no need to worry about waiting time. If you aren’t a big fan of gyms, you can find a bar in the park or simply install one in your home and workout there.

Cons

The cold, hard truth is that a proper form pull-up is very difficult to do, and many people, especially beginners struggle with it greatly. This exercise will test your real back strength and give you a reality check (if it is needed), but this is the beauty of it.

When it comes to the number of reps one is able to do, guy’s egos tend to get in the way, and a lot of folks cheat (kipping, bad form) in order to do more. 

Conclusion

Lat pulldowns vs pullups

So, if you are in a dilemma about which exercise makes your back bigger, the answer is – both. Yes, it is true that when it comes to size, both pull ups and lat pull downs will increase your lat muscles and give you the “V” look.

Now, the main difference is that the size you gain with the pull downs is not going to give you functional, transferable strength that pull ups provide. On the other hand, if you are concerned about aesthetics only, the pull down will allow you to get that extra size because of the ability to isolate the lats. In the end, which of the two are you going to pick all depends on your goals and preferences.

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