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An old coach of mine told me that pullups are way more effective than using the lat pulldown machine. Is this true and if so why? If not, then why is it not?

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  • Effective for what? Back strength? Hypertrophy ? – Eric Aug 2 '15 at 4:23
  • @EricKaufman particularly for back strength or biceps – Paul Witry Aug 2 '15 at 4:24
  • I would suggest doing medium under grip pulldowns because they are safer for shoulders – Rob Sterach Sep 3 '15 at 13:26
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Both exercises will work your back significantly. It is really up to preference, I know a lot of guys who solely do pull ups to build a huge back as well as ones who solely do lat pulldowns. Both have recorded similar progress and gains. However, pull-ups activate your core muscles significantly as well, a missing plus of lat pulldowns. However for bicep and back development, both will do justice. Obviously those two exercises are not primarily for the bicep so make sure your including other specific bicep exercises in your workout. Good luck!

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http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24245055

"subsequently, chinups seem to be a more functional exercise"

Anddd there you have it.

Personally, I see greater carryover from pull ups (Wide grip) compared to either for back development. But I utilize all of them. Typically, pull ups/chin ups are my first exercise on back days until I can't do anymore, then I'll do lat pulldowns as they allow me to push further on since it is a lighter weight.

Don't limit yourself to just one or the other, both have their place.

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Well, Your Coach Is Sorta Right

Pullup is a great bodyweight exercise that can build your upper back, lower back, lateral, shoulders, triceps, biceps (chinups) and even your abs. Because the minimum weight (you can increase weights pulled by using a dip belt) you'll have to lift is your body, you need some strength in your arms to do that, unlike a lateral pulldown, on which you can simply adjust the weight you're pulling.

Another reason is Form. Unless one's performing a kipling, it's hard to perform a pullup with a bad form, without immediately feeling the effects. With lateral pulldown, it's relatively easy to pull with a bad form, especially since one can simply adjust the weight to a comfortable level.

Final reason is Strength. A lot of the people performing lateral pulldown use weights around the 100 lbs range (a lot of people I see actually use the 40 - 80 lbs range). That's waaaay low than these people's weights! As a result of this, the strength built is lower compared to pullups. Of course, since the weight is adjustable, pulldowns have the potential to build a very strong back (imagine a 200 lb man pulling down 200 lbs); however, the benefit-to-cost ratio is very minimal since there are better suitable exercises.

For Bicep (and Abs) Development

Chinup is superior to lat pulldown. Besides, since there are numerous exercises for bicep development, it's kinda hard to find someone performing lat pulldown for bicep development.

In Summary

I would recommend performing pullups (chinups for the lats and abs) till fatigue and then performing pulldowns for conditioning.

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  • I'll see if I can find it, but I recently read a comparison where close grip pullups were gauged better as they put the lats through a longer range of motion. – JohnP Sep 3 '15 at 15:35
  • Interesting. I'd like to see that. I've experienced more lats engagement with wide grips than close grips. – Kneel-Before-ZOD Sep 3 '15 at 15:45
  • Here's one, even though my answer needs some improvment. Look at the answers below mine. fitness.stackexchange.com/questions/7261/… - Still looking for where I recently read it. – JohnP Sep 3 '15 at 15:56
  • Ahhhh....it seems we were talking about different things; the answers were referring to chinups. I was actually referring to pullups. You're correct in your assessment: for chinups, close grip is better for the lats, biceps, and abs; close grip on pullups doesn't activate the lats much. – Kneel-Before-ZOD Sep 3 '15 at 16:09
  • Ah, I see. I consider pullups and chinups the same thing, just whether they are done with a pronated grip or not. – JohnP Sep 3 '15 at 16:24
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*I agree with your coach! * He is totally right. Pullups and chin ups are much more effective because it's bodyweight workout. So when you pull yourself up more muscles groups work. When you pull on the machine it still works but less muscle groups are used. Why is that happening? Your body has a standard weight and its probably more than you would pull on the machine so more weight and more muscle groups working. Its your choice to choose between

  • machine

    and

  • bodyweight workout.

    I highly recommend bodyweight workout as your coach said!

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It depends. If you are doing 1-5 pull ups, most likely. If you are doing 6-15 pull ups, maybe. If you are doing 20+ pull ups, lat pulldowns are more effective because you can adjust the weight level. This is referring to both back and bicep strength/development.

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  • You can adjust pull ups too by using a dip belt or weighted vest. – Alex L Sep 3 '15 at 13:40
  • @Alex L Perhaps. But why buy a vest for $20 when you can just pull out a pin and move it down half an inch for free? – Rob Sterach Sep 3 '15 at 15:45
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    Nahh.....I'd only advocate lat pulldown if you're not strong enough to perform pullups, tired/fatigued, or just interested in testing the exercise. Pullups/chinups are superior to pull downs in terms of muscular development. – Kneel-Before-ZOD Sep 3 '15 at 16:19

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