Pull Ups vs Pull Downs

When people plan to build muscle, there are few things that come to their minds such as the type of training exercises to be performed, diet to be followed and supplements to be taken. There are some who would stick to simple exercises, whereas others prefer to train harder in order to build muscle faster.

Pull ups and pull downs are two important exercises that must be considered for strengthening the upper body muscles. Many are ambivalent about the benefits of these two exercises. In this write-up, pull ups will be compared with pull downs, emphasizing on their techniques and benefits.

Pull Ups

Pull up exercise is conducive to building muscle in the upper body, owing to the fact that it is a great compound exercise. The various muscle groups that are used in this exercise are latissimus dorsi muscle or lats, trapezius muscle or traps, pectoralis major muscle or pecs, deltoid muscle or delts and biceps. These muscle groups work collectively to lift oneself above the bar and then return back downwards to the former position.

Another plus point of the pull up exercise is that the movement is more natural and functional. They are more practical when compared with pull downs, as they have real circumstantial uses. The exercise strengthens the entire body, not just the lats. One can only change the number of reps and adjustments as there are no additional weights involved like in the case of pull downs.

Pull Up Technique

The pull up exercise is sometimes referred to as the squat for the upper body, where individuals have to grab the bar and pull themselves upwards with their elbows during which the shoulder blades are pushed back. This way one’s chest comes up to the bar level. After this, one goes downwards in a controlled manner. Tension must be there during pull ups, where there is no room for relaxation by hanging. Forearms also develop due to tension from pulling and hanging.

Pull ups can be done with a pull up bar without the need for any equipment. In this exercise, the core muscles contract when the chest is kept steady during the workout session. Whereas, in case of pull downs, the muscles are relaxed as the muscles are positioned on the equipment.

Pull Up Variations

There are numerous styles for doing pull ups. Standard pull ups can be done just by relying on bodyweight, whereas weighted pull ups are performed by placing a dumbbell between legs, using a dipping belt or a weighted vest.

This exercise can be done with a pronated grip, supinated grip or a combination of both. There is a variation of pull ups called the command pull ups or cliff hanger pull ups, where the body hangs sideways to the pull up bar with hands close to each other. Pull ups can be performed with one arm, where the other arm can freely suspend or hold on to the wrist of the other arm for grip.

Pull Downs

Pull down exercise is a great isolation exercise, which is conducive to developing the latissimus dorsi muscle or lats. The equipment can be easily adjusted to perform different types of pull downs, which give different results. This can be accomplished by switching the grip between a V bar and a standard wide bar. This exercise is beneficial to those whose area of weakness is their back. They are able to progress efficiently as pull downs focus only on that region. Pull downs are far more controllable in nature, owing to the fact that stability and balance muscles are not used in the training.

Individuals have to freedom to alternate between supersets and drops, based on their energy levels. There are lesser chances of muscle injury from pull downs when compared with pull ups, as it can happen only due to incorrect form rather than falling from failure.

Pull Down Technique

In order to do a pull down, one must grab the bar’s grip and be seated in an upright position. Then the handlebar is pulled downwards in the direction of the chest. During this exercise, the tension must be felt in elbows rather than hands. Once the bar has been pulled to the maximum extent, return it to the top without standing up. This way the tension keeps building. It is ideal for a person to start with weights equivalent to half of one’s bodyweight.

Pull downs give greater flexibility as the amount of weight that would be pulled down can be changed by regulating the weight stack, rather than gaining or losing weight. However, the downside of the pull down exercise is that it needs the apt exercising equipment to be available.

Pull Down Variations

Pull downs can be done in two ways based on the movement of the handlebar. In the first variation, the pull down bar is brought to the back of the neck in the seated position. In the second variation, the pull down bar is brought towards the chest in the seated position.

This exercise can be varied based on the hand spacing as well, which includes wide grip pull down and narrow grip pull down. They can be varied based on the orientation, which includes supinated grip pull down and pronated grip pull down. Pull downs can also be varied based on the type of equipment, the number of repetitions and weights involved.


Pull ups and pull downs are great for building the back region, especially the latissimus dorsi muscle. Yet, when it comes to activation of muscle groups, range of movement and building upper body strength, pull ups are better. Pull downs are also great, but they are not at par with pull ups. However, one can build the strength needed for pull ups by doing pull downs. Pull downs can also be done after pull ups to supplement back development. Nevertheless, it is recommended to incorporate both the exercises during workout sessions.