When you gear up for back training, you are going to come to a crossroad where you need to choose between lateral pull-downs and pull-ups. Which of these is best? Both seem to work similar muscle groups – and they do, so then it just becomes a matter of selecting which exercise offers you the most benefits. Here is what you need to consider…
1. Your Overall Back Strength Level. First, consider your overall back strength level. Take note: pull-ups are going to require a lot more back strength than pull-downs will, so you will need to be prepared to handle that. If you are a beginner, chances are regular pull-ups will be too challenging. You could do an assisted pull-up, but often it is easier to just start with a pull-down.
2. Your Experience. Also, consider your lifting experience level. Pull-ups will be a little more technical to perform than a pull-down, so many beginners will do better performing just a straight pull-down.
In addition, it will be slightly harder to get that mind-muscle connection when doing a pull-up versus a pull-down. Since achieving the mind-muscle relationship is essential for maximizing muscle growth and development, this lends more to choosing a pull-down rather than a pull-up if you are a beginner.
3. Your Core Strength. Your degree of core strength is the next thing to think about. Pull-ups will require more core strength to stabilize your body and keep you steady as you move throughout the lift.
This again shows the divide between beginner and intermediate trainees when you choose to do this exercise. If you are going to work your back using one of these moves later on in the workout session when your core is more likely to be already fatigued, you may want to go with pull-downs instead. Pull-ups will be more laborious so work better if done at the start of your workout program. This applies to all trainees, regardless of skill level.
4. Machine Availability. Finally, machine availability will also be a determining factor in your selection. If you do not happen to have a lateral or lat pull-down machine where you are exercising, this may mean you have no choice but to do a pull-up provided you have an overhead bar available.
At the same time, if you are a beginner and the gym has a lat pull-down machine but no assisted pull-up station, this may lend more towards doing a pull-down instead. Assisted pull-ups really do work best when you have an assisted pull-up machine as bands or getting someone to help you can be kind of finicky.
There you have a few things to think about when it comes to choosing between a lat pull-down and a pull-up. Both exercises are excellent choices for those who are looking to advance their back training and see excellent strength progression.