Building upper-body strength is a major goal for numerous gym goers these days but, no matter if you are a fit buff or not, it is important to keep in check the exercises and variations that are said to target a particular section of your body. 

This article will introduce one such deadly combo for creating that jacked upper body. Yes, we are talking about pull-ups and lat pull-downs. 

Pull-ups come under bodyweight strength training and primarily target the lats, but also the rhomboids, biceps, rear deltoids and traps. On the other hand, lat pull-downs is a strength training exercise developed to work the latissimus dorsi (back) muscles. Fitness Expert, Shubham Sharma, takes us through it all.

Benefits Of Pull-ups And Pulldowns


Stronger, Larger Back

Pull-ups, which are a simple movement to create progressive loading with, can help improve the width of a lifter's/back athlete's muscles.

Grip Strengthening

You'll develop a strong grip and be able to handle heavy loads because your hands and forearms are what connect your body to the pull-up bar. 

Improved Full-Body Coordination 

To do a decent pull-up, you'll need to use your entire body – literally from your fingers to your toes, thus boosting full-body coordination.

Lat pulldowns

Build Strength 

The lat pulldown can be as heavy or light as you choose, and it's simple to do so. This is a wonderful technique to increase strength as a beginner.


One of the advantages of this exercise is that it is known as "the back builder," and rightfully so. Because the lats take up the majority of your back, you can focus on getting that V-taper look.

Step-By-Step Instructions for Pull-ups And Pulldowns


  1. Grab the bar with your palms facing away from you and your hand’s shoulder-width apart. Hang with your arms completely extended; if your legs are dragging on the ground, bend them at the knees.
  2. Throughout, keep your shoulders back and your core engaged. Then pull yourself up. Concentrate on involving every upper-body muscle to assist you in your ascent.
  3. Raise your chin until it is above the bar, then slowly lower your arms until they are stretched again.

Lat pulldowns

  1. Begin by being seated at a cable pull-down machine with a broad bar attachment and grabbing it with a wide overhand grip. 
  2. Pull the bar down to your upper chest while keeping your abs sucked in and your back straight. 
  3. From the bottom position, hold for a count, squeeze your lats, and then slowly return to the beginning position.

Let’s Explore The Variations for Pull-ups And Pulldowns

Variations for Pull-ups

#1 Around the world pull-ups

To perform these, get into the base position for a pull-up with your arms stretched out and then rotate from one arm to the other before returning to the base position. These work both your biceps and back, helping you to build strength on each side.

#2 Close-grip pull-ups

To perform this get in a basic pull-up position, inhale then exhale as you begin lifting yourself towards the bar until the bar touches your chin. Inhale again as you begin your descent once you've reached the top of your pull-up. 

The brachioradialis muscle (forearm muscle) that originates on the outside of the elbow and goes up the top of the forearm when your hand is in a neutral posture – is put to a lot of work in this type of pull-up.

#3 Wide-grip pull-ups

For this, grab the bar with your thumbs pointing in the same direction, and ensure that your grip is wider than your body. Then pull your body higher towards the bar by looking straight ahead and after a little pause, return to your original position. 

The wide-grip pull-up is an upper-body strength exercise that helps you target your back, chest, shoulders, and arms. It also provides great exercise for your core muscles. This can also help improve strength for lat pulldowns. 

#4 Negative pull-ups

To do this, grab a bar and pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar, using the momentum from your jump. Now is when you actually begin this pull-up, by slowly lowering yourself, focusing on the lats, and maintaining a firm core. 

Then as you get closer to the ground, carefully extend your arms. Release the bar and return to the ground once you've reached full extension. Negative pull-ups aid with strength and muscle building in your back, biceps, and core. 

#5 Reverse Grip pull-ups

To do this, grab the bar with your thumbs pointing in the opposite direction. Then pull your body higher towards the bar by looking straight ahead and after a little pause, return to your original position.

The Reverse Grip Pull-ups also known as Chin-ups strengthens all major muscle groups in your back but mainly targets the lower Trapezius and Rhomboids at the time of full contraction. It will also recruit your Bicep muscles significantly in this variation.

Variations for Lat Pull-downs

#1 Reverse close grip lat pulldown

As the name suggests, all you need to change for this one is the grip; the way in which you hold the bar. Just as you hold the bar in an overhand grip for the conventional lat pull-down, for this you have to have an underhand grip and then the rest remains the same. It targets your back and lats.

#2 Single-arm lat pulldown

For single-arm lat pulldown, position yourself as you would for a regular lat pulldown with a D-handle attached. Then with your torso completely straight, arm fully extended, and chest out, reach up and hold the handle with your palm facing in. 

Lean back 10–15 degrees and look straight ahead with your working arm fully extended. Now as you bring the handle to your upper chest, squeeze your shoulder blades together, take a deep breath, focus on your lats and pull your elbow back and down. 

Then after a quick pause, slowly return the bar to its starting position. This helps activate your back, works your biceps and forearms.

#3 Wide grip lat pulldown

Grasp the bar with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart and your arms fully stretched and palms facing forward. Bend your back and stick out your chest by around 30 degrees. Exhale as you bring the bar to your chest. 

Contract your back muscles for a few seconds before inhaling and return to the initial posture. This primarily helps work your lats, shoulders, biceps, and middle back.

#4 Behind the neck lat pulldown

Begin by bringing your torso and head forward while holding the bar at the chosen grip width with both arms extended in front of you while ensuring to keep your neck and back straight. 

Now, pull the bar down to the back of your neck while exhaling/holding your breath and pulling your elbows alongside your body then exhale. Hold the contraction for a few seconds before slowly bringing the bar back to the initial position.These help target your upper and mid-back muscles.

How to build endurance?

Practicing the basic version of the pull up will help you increase reps for each variation over time. Be patient. Do not try to overburden yourself. Try increasing reps with each day and remember that it is okay to hit a plateau. Move at your own speed and you’ll achieve the desired goal. In the beginning, you can set a goal for 10 pull-ups but expect to fall short. 

Common mistakes to avoid when doing:


  • If you’re not engaging your lats why even bother doing a pull-up since your arms and shoulders would be doing most of the work then.
  • Kipping (leveraging momentum) is a great strategy to get more reps without completely exercising your back muscles, but repetitive swinging might harm your shoulder joints. 
  • If you’re not getting your chin above the bar, you’re not completing a full pull-up.
  • Do not grip too wide, instead of gripping just outside of shoulder width.
  • Not keeping your shoulders back places more pressure on your shoulders, putting you at risk of rotator cuff injury.

Lat Pulldowns

  • Pulling the bar to your waistline is a waisted motion since it does not engage your lat muscles.
  • Excessive backward lean is another common blunder. This usually indicates that you're positioned too far forward or that you're attempting to lift too much weight.
  • Do not pull down away from your body as even though it still targets your back, you aren't in a solid and strong enough position to overload the lats.

Make pull-ups and pull-downs a workout staple

Work on gradually increasing your strength with them week after week. Shift to a harder variation only when you are confident enough to move up the ladder. We’d suggest you first begin with pull-downs and its variations and then begin with pull-ups and its variations once you’ve built enough endurance. If you’d still like to mix and match both, progress but carefully and with proper professional guidance. Go ahead, flex that back and biceps!

Dec 15, 2021

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