Lat Pull Downs Vs Pull Ups: Which One Builds A Bigger Back?

Scott Herman
Written By: Scott Herman
February 6th, 2018
Updated: March 30th, 2021
Categories: Articles Training
Tags: Video Video
Team BSN athlete & Youtube star Scott Herman breaks down the differences between the Lat Pull Down and the Pull Up. Which exercise builds a bigger back?

Earlier this month, BSN athlete Scott Herman stopped by the M&S gym to share some of his training knowledge with us and our loyal M&S fans.

Together, we pitted several similar exercises against each other to determine which exercise is best for building its target muscle group.

In this episode, Scott breaks down the pull up and the lat pull down to determine which exercise is better at building a big back.

Pull Ups vs Lat Pull Down

This one wasn’t close. Scott clearly favors the pull up as the superior exercise when it comes to maximizing your muscle building potential.

That’s not to say there isn’t a time and place for the lat pull down. And we will get to those instances as we dissect Scott’s break down of the exercises.

As Scott mentions, if you can’t do pull ups currently, you’re more likely to opt for the lat pull down. However, you may be better off working on your pull ups through eccentric only pull ups or band assisted pull ups.

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Doing so will build your back and other muscle groups so you can perform pull ups in the future.

What’s the main difference between the two exercises? Pull ups will tax your central nervous system more than the lat pull down and will force a lot more muscle engagement from supporting muscle groups such as your biceps.

However, the lat pull down allows you to adjust your positioning to take your arms and shoulders out of the movement, better isolating the back.

Incorporating Pull Ups & Lat Pull Downs in Your Workout

For Scott, the pull up is always going to be the superior exercise and this is due to the fact that you can always progress the pull up by adding weight or slowing down the tempo.

That being said, Scott utilizes both exercises in his workout programs. He’ll generally start his workout with a heavy pull up variation in the 8-10 rep range. Then, later in the workout, he incorporates a pull down variation to isolate his lats.

And when it comes to training back, don’t forget to alter your grip to adjust the angle used to target the lats.