Pull ups vs Lat Pull Downs

In Bodyweight Mastery by Admin6 Comments

Are you trying to work up from lat pull downs to pull ups? To some degree, lat pull downs and regular pull ups work the same muscles, but there are a couple of big differences between them. Check out this Pull ups vs Lat Pull Downs video and find out if that’s a good idea or not.

The fact is the lat pull doesn’t transfer too well to the pullup because the body isn’t being stabilized the same way. If you want to increase this transfer I would encourage you to not lock yourself in with your legs under the pads but to keep your body free.

This is one method I have been using when working towards the one arm chinnup using a lat pull down machine.

Instead of a lat pull down if you’re trying to build up to your first pullup try something like jumping up and doing slow control negatives.

Visit this link to discover a way to work your way up to that first pull-up, how to start training for one-arm pull-up and techniques to raise pull-up repetitions.


  1. Hi Logan,

    According to Paul Chek, there is no crossover between the pull-up and the lat pull down. He states that this is because the pull down is an open chain exercise (where the humerus moves across the fixed scapular) while the pull-up is a closed chain exercises (where the scapular moves across the humerus). That means the recruitment pattern for those muscles around the working joints, is completely opposite. He uses an analogy of a record on a record player. Same record, same needle traveling along the same groove. In one direction you have music, and in the other direction you have noise.

    1. I have been trying to find the video he talked about there not being a cross over for a couple weeks now. Do you know which video he talked about this in?

  2. Logan

    I believe that the Lat Pull-down does have use as a rehabilitation exercise or as a starting point for detrained individuals, especially those who are carrying a lot of body fat. But once they get past the starting stage and get their body comp in check I don’t see the Lat Pull-down helping them with their pull-up goals given the motor differences between the two exercises. Another use for the Lat Pull-down is that it allows people with limited shoulder mobility to lean back while pulling instead of pulling from directly overhead. Now I’m not saying that such an approach to overhead pulling movements is ideal but a lack of mobility provides little option once the shoulders are seated, at least until such mobility can be gained in the shoulder.

    On the other hand a person can persist as I have and do Pull-ups without the shoulders fully seated reaping the rewards of reduced performance and possible injury. While I don’t have pain in my shoulders I suspect that the inability to fully seat my shoulders is why I’ve plateaued in my pull-ups, not surprising given that my biceps are bearing a disproportionate amount of the load. It’s interesting that seating the shoulder is frequently advised without taking into consideration the shoulder mobility needed to do so throughout a movements full range of motion. Personally this is something that I’ve been attempting to address by doing isometric scapular retractions at various stages of the pull-up. I’ve also been doing Overhead Stretches and Shoulder Dislocates advocated by Pavel in his books, (Super Joints & Relax into Stretch).

    Anyone have ideas on addressing overhead shoulder mobility issues?

  3. Hi Isaac,

    I did the shoulder dislocates years back from the same source. My shoulders are very mobile naturally, so I have never had in problem in that area. I did note though that in a recent post from Geoff Neupert; that he advised against this movement. At least in bring the rod all the way onto your back – which is what I had always done.

    Scott Sonnon has one drill to prepare for overhead lifting. The description for that is to go into a quarter squat; arm overhead; elbow locked, and perform circles. You will be focused on the arm moving further back.

    Hope that is helpful.

    1. Anthony

      Thanks for your incites and the suggested drill from coach Sonnon. I’ll defiantly add it to my mobility drills.

  4. Author

    I wish I read this article a year ago! After training on a lat pull down machine for about 3 months with little to no progress (and good progress in other workouts), I could do only two pull-ups.

    After that I started doing regular pull-ups as much as I can and in about a month I reached the point where I would do 3 sets of 5-6 reps.

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