Which Is Better: Chin Up Vs Lat Pulldown?

If you want to build lats like that of a viper and a back that looks like a Christmas tree, you must’ve heard about two exercises- the chin-up and the lat pulldown. If you haven’t even heard of these exercises or are just starting out, you’ve got a long road ahead of you. Don’t close this page and run off though, we do have something for the beginners as well as the pros.

The chin-up vs lat pulldown goes as far back as lat pulldowns themselves. Most people have their own personal preferences and their verdict usually doesn’t make sense to others. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of these two exercises so that you know which one to incorporate into your training. So without further ado, let’s get this settled.

Differences Between the Two

The reason why people are confused between lat pulldowns and chin-ups is that there are a lot of similarities. These exercises target similar muscles and this is why people choose their preferred move based on other criteria. In the following subsections, we’re going to discuss the differentiating aspects of the chin-up and the lat pulldown to make things a lot clearer.

  1. Target Muscle Groups

Performing the lat pulldowns will activate similar muscles as a chin-up will, however, the chin-up forces you to make use of your core strength as well. This means that if you want to work your pecs, traps, brachialis, and even biceps, then you can get away with doing lat pulldowns only. If you want to also engage your abdomen and wrist flexors, you’ll be better off doing the pull-up. 

  1. Form

If you perform an exercise without proper form, you aren’t going to extract the maximum value out of it. Not only that, but you might also end up severely injuring yourself. Maintaining proper form throughout the entirety of a chin-up will be far more difficult for a beginner. The lat pulldowns are a great alternative if you don’t have the strength needed to do chin-ups, but if you can do several chin-ups from a dead hang, you shouldn’t be bothering with the lat pulldown.

  1. Difficulty

As we’ve already seen above, maintaining proper form during a movement is difficult. If it weren’t difficult to do these movements, our muscles wouldn’t grow. The chin-up demands a lot of physical strength from a person and only a few people can do even one of these. This doesn’t mean that the strength can’t be developed with consistency and progression, you need to stick with your training, and soon, you’ll be able to do chin-ups effortlessly. If you’re a beginner who’s finding chin-ups incredibly hard to perform, you should stick with the lat pulldowns and try progressing with those first.

Which One Is Better?

Trying to determine which exercise is the best and which is useless sounds like an exercise in futility. We can’t really just declare that one exercise is better than the other when there are millions of people all over the world doing that exercise. Chin-ups have their own advantages and pulldowns have their own advantages. You can decide which exercise is better for you after comparing the advantages and the disadvantages of each.

Chin-Ups

chin up
chin up
  • Advantages
  1. The biggest benefit of doing a chin-up is that it’s a compound movement that utilizes multiple muscles of your body. 
  2. Another benefit of doing chin-ups is that they’re basically free. You don’t need any fancy and expensive equipment to exercise, just hang from anywhere and get on with it.
  3. Chin-ups force you to use your core so that you can stabilize yourself. Consistently doing chin-ups will automatically give you more real-world strength than an isolated gym exercise.
  4. The number of progressions for chin-ups is numerous, from a simple chin-up to a one-arm chin-up, your strength is the limit.
  5. The risk of injury is extremely low when doing a chin-up with proper form. Try to avoid the common issues like kipping and stretching your neck over the bar, and you’ll be far safe than you’d be with a machine or weights.
  • Disadvantages
  1. The learning curve of chin-ups is significantly more difficult and demanding than a lat pulldown. You need to devote time and energy to be able to perform even one of these. 
  2. If you’re looking to isolate a muscle group from others and focus your attention on it, it won’t be possible with a chin-up. Calisthenics exercises, by their very nature, are complex movements in which you have to engage multiple muscle groups at once.

Lat Pulldowns

lat pull down
lat pull down
  • Advantages
  1. If you aren’t able to do chin-ups yet and still want to exercise your back, lat pulldowns can work just fine. You can use them to build your strength until you can do proper chin-ups.
  2. The biggest benefit of a lat pulldown is the ability to adjust the weight. While you can’t change your own weight while doing a chin-up, you can just remove a plate from the pulldown machine to make it easier. 
  • Disadvantages
  1. The lat pulldown in itself will never be a comprehensive movement for back-building. While chin-ups have been used by athletes of all levels to build their back, lat pulldowns are mostly limited to complete beginners.
  2. There’s an upper limit to the amount of weight that can be added to a lat pulldown. After a certain limit, you’ll be adding way more weight and making less progress. The chin-ups would be a much better alternative at this point as the gains will be enormous with a proper diet.

Although you should easily be able to figure out which exercise is better, we’re still going to go ahead and crown the chin-up as the better one. Chin-ups are the ultimate calisthenics movement and form the basis for many other types of exercises. The lat pulldowns are to be used as a stepping stone until you can squeeze out a few proper chin-ups. The chin-ups will also be much easier to incorporate into your home gym, whereas, the lat pulldown machine is going to cost you a hefty sum of money to obtain. As far as chin-ups are concerned…go find a tree to hang on!