Pull-Ups vs Pulldowns... Which One Builds a Wider Back?

Pull-Ups vs Pulldowns… Which One Builds a Wider Back?

No physique is complete without an impressive back flanked with wide lats. Unfortunately, because the back isn’t exactly a “mirror muscle” a lot of guys neglect developing it. As a result, when you stand behind them they don’t even look like they lift. In addition to helping you build a well-rounded physique, having a well developed back will give you a great foundation to improve the size of your chest and arms.

Now, we all know that the deadlift is the king of all back exercises, with rows coming in second. However, deadlifts and rows are generally known as being exercises that increase the thickness of your back, not the width. While you should certainly be doing both of those, today we are going to focus on exercises that give you a wider back. The two most commonly performed exercises for this purpose are the pull-up and the lat pulldown. While they both target the same muscles they work them in very different ways. Check out our article below to find out which exercise will build you the best set of wings.


Pull-Ups are a bodybuilding staple. Arnold used to do tons of these at the beginning of every back workout and we know tons of other guys who list this as their go-to upper-body exercise. In fact, if you were only able to do one exercise – pull-ups would be the one that would give you the most bang for your buck. In addition to working almost all of your upper body muscles (you can change up which muscles get emphasized based on your grip), pull-ups are also a great test of functional strength. If you can do 15+ pull-ups you are generally considered to be strong and in good shape.

When performing the pull-up, it’s important to make sure each rep goes through a full range of motion – chest touching or nearly touching the bar at the top, and arms fully extended at the bottom. Also, focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together during the positive portion of the lift to emphasize the lats. On the negative portion, go slowly and under control rather than just letting yourself drop back down to the starting position.

The advantages of the pull-ups are numerous. First of all, it incorporates nearly all of the upper-body muscles including the core. In fact, some studies show that the pull-up is one of the best abs exercises out there! Pull-ups also show that you have true, functional strength and give your lats a beating. When you start doing them with added weight you will look like an absolute monster. The main reason people tend to avoid them is their difficulty (although that usually means the pull-up bar isn’t being used). It takes a lot of strength to do one properly and people feel embarrassed when they are unable to perform a single rep. They usually rely on momentum to finish the rep and don’t bother to put in the necessary work to do them properly.

Lat Pulldowns

Lat Pulldowns are one of the most popular upper back exercises out there. Pretty much every gym has the equipment needed to do them and even if you are extremely weak you can still incorporate these into your routine. Good form is pretty rare with this exercise, as most people will use momentum and bring their lower backs into the exercise in order to pull a weight that is more than they can handle.

The biggest advantage of lat pulldowns is the fact that you can do them even if you are unable to do a pull-up. People also find it easier to control the bar during a pull-down and ensure that the stress stays on the lats. Given that they are machine based you also have the opportunity to train past failure with drop sets. The disadvantages of the lat pulldown mainly have to do with equipment limitation and incorrect form. On top of that, they do not build the support muscles the same way that pull-ups do since you do not need to balance and control your own weight.

The Winner

In our opinion, the pull-up is simply the better exercise for developing wide lats. Having said that, both exercises should be part of your training program. Pull-ups can be used to build functional strength and to develop those crucial support muscles. Pull-downs on the other hand can be used to finish off the lats and to spice up your training program with techniques like drop sets.

One reason that the pull-up is so effective, one that we did not mention earlier, is that they trigger a boost in testosterone levels in your body. Compound exercises like the pull-up force your body to produce more testosterone in order to handle the stress being thrown at it. As a result, you get faster gains both with your back and other muscle groups. Given just how beneficial having high testosterone levels is, we recommend doing everything you can to boost your t-levels naturally.

We say naturally because we don’t want you to run out there and start using steroids. Those products are dangerous, illegal and come with some nasty side effects. Instead, try taking a natural testosterone booster. These products use natural ingredients to boost testosterone production naturally. The result is faster gains, more strength and better workouts. Click here to check out our dedicated testosterone booster page. We’ll tell you which ingredients you should be looking for as well as our favorite products currently on the market.

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