T Nation

Pull Ups or Pull Downs?


I've been doing pullups for the last couple of months, but I recently read something that said I might want to work pull downs instead until i get a little stronger. I can 'get' 5x4 on pullups, but I start failing and can't get a full ROM. Would it be better to use pulldowns to get the full ROM until I'm strong enough for pullups, or keep struggling with what I'm doing now? I'm much stronger with chins, and am about to start adding weight to my 5x5 on those.

If it helps, my full back workout consists of chins, supported rows, and dumbbell rows on Tues and pullups (mebbe pulldowns) cable rows, and deadlifts on Fridays.



I am personally anti-pulldown... so, that being said, you may want to try 8 sets of 3 using a dip belt and a 5 or 10 pound weight for a few weeks... or even heavier if you can...

good luck!


Pullups are better than pulldowns. Try changing grip or rep/set schemes instead


The other day, I asked my gym owner if I could bring in a dip belt for pullups. She said they don't allow dip belts, even for dips!

Because it would rip the equipment off the wall.

Now what do I do, its the only "real" gym in my area.


I think that your source of information is very questionable, as lat pulldowns are far inferior to the pullup. Pullups work nearly every muscle in your arms and is a great back workout. What you should be doing is trying to up your max pullups. I increased my pullups greatly by doing 3 sets of pullups to failure every night. If you don't have the luxury of owning a pullup bar, do 3 sets to failure every day you can get in the gym. I guarantee you will see an increase.

P.S. Fuck pulldowns


if you can get 4 complete reps on your first set, your not doing too bad. But you fail to mention your goals, are you seeking size or strength?

If your looking for size, do your pullups to failure while supersetting with pulldowns and get ~8 reps. 3-4 sets of that should be sufficient. If your going for strength, give more time between your sets and try to get a total of at least 30 reps using however many sets it takes. Well, 30 might be a bit high at first, but work up to it.

Also on a side note, I personally hate db rows, i feel barbell rows are superior in many ways... range of motion, usable weight and correct posture.


I was having a problem adding reps to my pullups. I was stuck at 15 and couldn't get past it. I said eff it one day and added a weight. I then did a set without weight after and I got the same reps. I would add weight maybe 10lbs and then try a set afterwards to see where if you drop reps. If anything I would use an assist machine when fatigued to get more reps, only if one was not available would I then do pulldowns.

So basically warm up with pulldowns do one rep pullup and then add weight for an 2 all out sets. After this set do a nonweighted set. Then after this if you are not getting many reps go to an assist or pulldown machine. Just my 2 cents ...


I'm sorry, but what's the difference movement wise, I realize the difference in the exercise itself, but it seems from a biomechanical standpoint, they're damn near similar, not that hard to notice this. Might there be a slight difference, I would give you that, but nothing worth it to say pulldowns are worthless and inferior.


Hold a dumbbell between your feet.


Charles Polquin has a great article on another site about putting together a good Chinup/Pullup program. Personally, Lat pulldowns have never done much for me growth or strength wise. The big difference between the two, even though both appear very similar visually is the fact that with pulldowns, you are pulling the resistance to you.

On chinups/pullups you're pulling the resistance to the bar. They require completely different recrutiment patterns. Stick with pullups and chinups, just add weight and make sure you perform the full ROM. Also there are a ton of variations you can do. Try Gironda chinups, they are tough!


Having a girl gym owner is your first problem....




She doesn't have freestanding pu/dip machines.


I've read that pulldowns are fine for those without the strength to do pullups, but once you can manage pullups, stick with 'em. That said, sternum pulldowns supposedly recruit more from your back than standard pulldowns. Also, I have read that partial reps are ok in the circumstance you describe, i.e. you can complete a full ROM for the bulk of your reps/sets, but at the end you can't.


I've read somewhere that doing negatives on the pullup bar is an awesome way to up your rep count...


Or hold the girl gym-owner between your legs, er feet.


OK, well maybe I'm making too much of this. If I do a 5x4, I can get my head above the bar for all except the last rep of the last set. I thought I had to touch my sternum to the bar to get the full benefit, and I can only do that about 5 times.

Should I just keep at it with no weight until I can touch my sternum for the full 5x5? Also, I dunno if it makes a difference, but the gym has that funky split pull up bar that angles down just a little bit.

I am mixing up grips, I do a 5x5 of chins on Tuesday,and a 5x4 of pull ups on Friday.

Thanks again for the comments guys.


This thread looks kinda familiar...


Well seeing as this is already going, I have a question...as of right now I do not have the strength to do pull-ups, so what I am wondering is what is the best doing assisted pullups with the machine or pulldowns?


Assisted pullups are good, pulldowns are fine too. Might even want to throw in some negatives. Use a bench or box to get at the top of the pull-up position, and slowly lower yourself.