Have you ever wondered, “Will Lat Pulldowns Help With Pull Ups?”
Pull ups are a fantastic exercise, but they also happen to be one of the hardest to master.
In fact, many people regularly workout and still struggle to produce their first ever pull up.
The lats and biceps are typically viewed as the primary muscles used to perform pull ups, so it makes sense to get stronger in these areas.
Lat pulldowns will work these muscles, plus the movement closely mimics that of pull ups.
But, is this enough to help you improve and increase your pull ups?
Let’s find out.
Will Lat Pulldowns Help With Pull Ups?
Lat pulldowns will certainly train and develop many of the same muscles that are used in pull ups. These include the lats, biceps, rear deltoids, rhomboids, and traps. However, there also happens to be a huge amount of core activation during pull ups, which is significantly reduced during lat pulldowns. A better alternative would be to do kneeling lat pulldowns (as opposed to seated), which activates the core to far greater effect. Training the negative part of the pull up will also yield better results.
1. Lat Pulldowns Will Develop the Same Muscles Used in Pull Ups
I guess the main reason that many of us turn to lat pulldowns as a way to help with pull ups is because the movements closely resemble each other.
Furthermore, both exercises seem to work the same muscle groups.
- Rear Deltoids
So, you would think the better and stronger you get at lat pulldowns the closer you’ll be to achieving your first pull up (or more pull ups).
Once you’re able to perform a few reps of lat pulldowns with a weight equivalent to your own body weight you should in effect be closer to performing a few reps of pull ups.
However, for anyone who’s followed this methodology, they’ll know that this is far from the truth.
Yes, you may well be working many of the same major muscle groups that are used in pull ups.
But, you are missing out on potentially the most important muscle group.
According to a 2018 study conducted by the Journal of Physical Fitness, Medicine & Treatment, it’s actually the core muscles which are activated and involved most during pull ups.
I bet that comes as a huge surprise to you.
I’ve actually written more about this and included details of the study in my article, “Why Are My Abs Sore From Pull Ups?”
Believe it or not, weak core muscles could hold you back from performing pull ups just as much as weak lats or biceps.
And even though lat pulldowns train and develop most of the same muscles as pull ups, core activation is significantly reduced.
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2. A Better Lat Pulldown Alternative
The study conducted by the Journal of Physical Fitness, Medicine and Treatment actually used a number of exercises in order to ascertain and compare muscle activation.
The exercises tested other than pull ups and seated lat pulldowns were machine assisted pull ups and kneeling lat pulldowns.
Now, you would automatically assume that machine assisted pull ups would be the best alternative.
However, much the same as seated lat pulldowns, core activation was dramatically reduced during machine assisted pull ups.
So, once again, all the “conventional” muscle groups were worked, but there was very little core involvement.
With that being said, it was kneeling lat pulldown that provided the most core activation and involvement.
This actually makes a lot of sense to me.
Firstly, being on your knees removes the ability to cheat and use momentum through your legs.
Secondly, you’ll have to stabilize and activate the core as a way to protect your lower back.
And finally, the starting position is very similar to that of the cable ab crunch exercise.
Therefore, there’s a lot of ab and core work going on here.
So realistically, kneeling lat pulldowns will help much more with pull ups than the traditional seated variety.
Kneeling Lat Pulldown – Correct Your Pull Up Form
3. Try Negatives & Weighted Negatives
I always say that if you want to get better at a specific skill then you have to practice that skill more often.
However, when it comes to pull ups, if you’re struggling to do more than 1 or 2 reps then this could be a problem.
With that being said, there is a way to simply train 1-2 reps at a time and get better at pull ups, and I’ll explain how in just a moment.
But, for now the nearest you can get to practicing actual pull ups is through negatives.
Basically, the microscopic muscle tears which occur during exercise (which is how they get bigger and stronger) typically happens during the negative phase of the movement.
So, when it comes to pull ups it isn’t actually the “pulling up” part that builds muscle and strength, but rather the “lowering” part.
This means that you can actually just train the lowering part (negative) of the pull up and get stronger.
Your muscles will develop from doing this, plus you’ll also be using your core during negatives.
There are a couple of ways in which you can perform negatives.
Firstly, you can simply jump up to the bar for each “rep” and start in the top position of the pull up, or you could stand on a box that allows you to start in the top position.
However, either way you will want to lower yourself extremely slowly.
Do not simply drop into the bottom full-hang position, as this will do little for muscle growth, and could even cause a shoulder injury.
You can either lower yourself in stages and hold each position for 3-4 seconds, or simply take up to 10 seconds to lower yourself.
You’ll actually find this very difficult to start off with, but this is the ideal way to train negatives.
Plus, the longer you take to lower yourself over subsequent workouts is a sure sign that you’re progressing and getting stronger.
You can actually get to the stage where you can add weight and perform weighted negatives.
This will dramatically improve your ability to perform full pull ups.
How to Do a Negative Pull Up
4, “Grease the Groove” Pull Ups
I spoke a moment ago about being able to actually improve your pull ups by simply performing 1-2 pull ups at a time (if that is all you can currently manage).
There is a method of improving and increasing pull ups known as “Grease the Groove”.
The method and the phrase was first coined by Pavel Tstaouline, fitness instructor and founder of StrongFirst.
Basically, the method involves ensuring that you are completely rested before you perform any subsequent sets.
Pavel actually utilizes the “Russian Fighter Pull Up Program”, which incorporates the same methodology.
This involves performing 5 sets of pull ups (below maximum effort) throughout the day.
So, in effect, you could be “resting” 2-3 hours between sets.
Obviously, you will need to have access to a pull up bar throughout the day, but you can use this system to improve and increase your pull ups even if you can only manage one or two reps.
You can read more about the method in my article, “The Russian Fighter Pull Up Program”.
Lat pulldowns can help to develop the same muscles used during pull ups. However, kneeling lat pulldowns would be a better alternative, as there is more core activation, which is required to perform pull ups. Negatives are also better than lat pulldowns for training for pull ups, and are more likely to stimulate muscle and strength. If you’re able to do at least 1 or 2 pull ups you should also try the “Grease the Groove” method to improve and increase pull ups.
Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.