Are Lat Pulldowns Safer Than Weighted Pull Ups?

August 22, 2023 0 Comments

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In this article I will be answering the question “are lat pulldowns safer than weighted pull ups?”. Both exercises are great for building the lats and strengthening the upper back.

Both will also help to strengthen your grip, though this depends on the thickness of the pull up bar and pulldown bar respectively. This article will explore whether lat pulldowns are the safer of the two exercises.

Are Lat Pulldowns Safer Than Weighted Pull Ups?

Overall, both exercises are effective and relatively safe. You can even make lat pulldowns less safe by cheating excessively or performing behind the neck pulldowns with bad form.

Weighted pull ups allow you to make progression on the pull up and get very strong. It should be noted that heavier people will have more trouble in general than lighter people with pull ups.

If you are heavy and you add a good amount of extra weight through using a dipping belt, you can start experiencing safety issues. You have less control with pull ups, especially as you get fatigued.

With a lot of overload from the additional weight, you can increase the risks of straining a lat or even tearing it. This is something that I have noticed as I’ve strained my lat multiple times from weighted pull ups.

However, not everyone will strain their lats from weighted pull ups. You should make a note of how you are feeling when doing weighted pull ups. If the movement feels great and you are able to do it pain free, you should continue. 

Overall, lat pulldowns are safer than weighted pull ups due to the additional control that you have. The key is to perform the exercise with good form. 

More Control With Lat Pulldowns

Overall you do have more control when performing lat pulldowns. Pulls up target the stabiliser muscles to a greater degree as you are moving your body through space.

With lat pulldowns you can really get a good mind muscle connection and overload the lats and upper back muscles. You can hold the contraction at the bottom of every rep.

In terms of increments, it is very quick and easy to make changes in weight by changing the pin on the cable stack. You can use a wide variety of attachments like the lat pulldown bar, V bar and various handles.

There are also specialist pulldown bars that can be used for lat pulldowns. These bars have you holding onto the ends with your fingers. 

In terms of pull ups, you will have slightly less control on each rep. This is because you have to work harder to stabilise yourself and get in the right groove. 

With most pull up bars you have a choice over doing neutral grip, underhand grip or overhand grip. The underhand grip will hit the biceps more, you can perform underhand grip lat pulldowns as well to work the biceps to a greater degree.

Effect Of Bodyweight On Pull Ups

It goes without saying that the heavier you are the more difficulty you will have with pull ups.

If you weigh 150kg you will find pull ups more difficult than someone who only weighs 70kg! Even Brian Shaw, one of the strongest men in the world, can just do 6 pull ups with his bodyweight of over 400lbs.

When we then start talking about weighted pull ups, the exercise becomes even more challenging for heavier guys. Weighted pull ups will be more stressful on the joints for larger people.

In my case, even when I weighed 100kg and was doing weighted pull ups with an additional 20kg, I found that the movement was quite stressful on my lats.

I strained a lat a few times doing weighted pull ups. This is why I choose not to do pull ups now and instead focus on lat pulldown variations with different attachments.

I find that the inverted row is safer than the weighted pull up, you can progress that exercise safely without incurring the risks of straining or tearing a lat.

For larger people, weighted pull ups are harder to control. As you fatigue, it is possible that you can strain a muscle a lot more easily. 

Lat pulldowns can also cause issues if you are using poor form. Typically, you are increasing the risks of injury if you go super heavy on lat pulldowns and cheat a lot by leaning back.

Adjustments Quick And Easy To Make With Pulldowns

One of the benefits of the lat pulldown is how easy it is to make adjustments. All you have to do is move the pin on the weight stack. For very small increments a lot of gyms have 1.1kg and 2.3kg small plates that can be added.

This process is very quick with lat pulldowns. You can also make adjustments on the weighted pull up by adding weight to your dipping belt.

This can be tedious though if you are using different added weight on each set. From a safety point of view, lat pulldowns are better.

However, pull ups do work more overall muscle mass and are the better exercise if you can do them safely.

Previously on my site I have discussed how you can target your lats with minimal bicep involvement.

Pull Ups Are Highly Functional

A big benefit of pull ups is that they are highly functional in real life. Being able to hang on to something and pull yourself up is a skill that can literally save your life.

If you ever find yourself hanging off the edge of a cliff, being strong on pull ups can help you to survive and pull yourself up. 

Pull ups will also develop your grip strength immensely. If you do weighted pull ups off a thick pull up bar and progress over time on this exercise, your grip will become a lot stronger.

You can also improve your grip by doing weighted dead hangs on the pull up bar after your pull ups. This will help to stretch out the lats and actually contribute to more growth.

Are Behind The Neck Pulldowns Dangerous?

Typically you will see pulldowns performed in the gym in two ways. The most common is bringing the bar down in front of your body. Some people do behind the neck pulldowns, which is where you bring the bar down behind your neck.

Generally, behind the neck exercises are not recommended. This is because the shoulder is in a more injurious and compromised position. This is not to say that you can’t do this exercise.

Just like the behind the neck press which Ed Coan famously did regularly, the behind the neck pulldown can also be performed if executed safely.

You should ensure that you don’t bring the bar down to far below ear level. In addition, it is not recommended to go super heavy on this exercise. It is better to use a moderate weight and control every rep.

What I like about lat pulldowns is the variety that you have at your disposal. You can use a V bar, two handles and various types of lat pulldown bar attachment.

This gives you so many options to work the muscles from different angles and induce growth. 

I have explored on my site before the safety of the Klokov press which is done behind the neck.

Final Thoughts

Are lat pulldowns safer than weighted pull ups? On the whole they are safer as you have a lot more control throughout the entire range of motion.

In addition, they tend to put less stress on the joints than weighted pull ups with a lot of weight added. Lat strains are a lot more common on very heavy weighted pull ups.

It should be stated that everyone will have different experiences. If you enjoy weighted pull ups and haven’t experienced any issues, you should continue doing them and progress.

Pull ups are the superior exercise as you are moving your body through space and engaging more muscle mass. However, the pulldown can allow you to work your lats with control and target the upper back muscles from many angles.

If you want to share your views on this topic, please comment below. As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!

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