Pulldowns are one of the most effective exercises in the gym for strengthening your body, and lat pulldown machines are regarded as one of the most important pieces of equipment in a gym.
There are different grips you can use to alter the focus of the exercise and target different muscle groups. There are two main types of pulldown, and in this guide, we'll give you the full breakdown of close grip lat pulldown vs wide grip lat pulldown.
Table of Contents
- Close Vs. Wide Lat Pulldown Grips: Key Differences Explained
- Close Grip Lat Pulldown (Exercise Overview & Benefits)
- Wide Grip Lat Pulldown (Exercise Overview & Benefits)
- Tips & Tricks For Various Grip Lat Pulldowns (Mistakes To Avoid!)
- Common Lat Pulldown Grip Questions
Close Vs. Wide Lat Pulldown Grips: Key Differences Explained
At first glance, it might seem like these two lat pulldowns are pretty similar. In terms of carrying out the exercise, the main difference is where you place your hands rather than the motion or anything technical.
While it may not seem like a big change, the different grip can have an impact on your body. Here’s a quick breakdown of the key differences:
1. Strength Gains
There is some debate about which type of pulldown will give you greater strength gains, but some studies have found that a wide grip pulldown has greater activation of major muscle groups, which will result in more gains from this variation.
However, a close grip lat pulldown spreads the weight across more muscles and actually allows you to lift 2-5% more when working out. This should give you more significant strength gains.
When you talk about strength gains, you need to consider muscle activation and muscle gains. Some variations of lat pulldowns will work to focus the effort on specific areas and give you focused gains, while others will spread the load, which is more beneficial for the overall strength of your body.
Wide grip lat pulldowns engage your larger muscle groups, which in turn leads to muscle development particularly focused on your lats. This will give you a broader back and will improve the strength of your lat muscles.
Close grip lat pulldowns target a wide range of muscle groups, activating some of the smaller groups you might not usually exercise. By spreading the load, you can generally lift 5-10% more weight and therefore develop your strength more quickly across your whole body.
Both close grip and wide grip lat pulldowns will give you strength gains but in slightly different areas. Wide grip lat pulldowns will focus the work on your lats, but close grip lat pulldowns will provide you with a stronger back overall, particularly in the upper and middle back areas.
Every heavy lifter loves the lat pulldown. Read our article on the benefits of lat pulldowns to see why you need to do them.
2. Body Mechanics and Execution
The shape of your body is different with each grip. With a wide grip lat pulldown, your arms will be out to the sides but in line with the rest of your body. With a close grip lat pulldown, your arms will be tucked in close but should be slightly in front of your body. This change in stance means your body will react differently to the movement.
How you actually execute each of these lat pulldowns is surprisingly different, and you'll need to consider your positioning because your body needs to adopt a different shape for each. This will impact how your body is working, the muscles used, and the difficulty of the move.
A wide grip lat pulldown starts with your arms out to the side, but they remain in line with your body throughout. The bar should be coming straight down, and you are aiming to pull it past your chin towards your chest. This makes the movement more natural and requires less stabilization from smaller muscle groups to perform the exercise.
Close grip lat pulldowns have your arms close to your body and just slightly in front of you. You’ll lean forward to perform this variation and pull the bar to your lower chest or sternum. This forces you to engage your core and smaller muscle groups more to stabilize yourself, and therefore means you'll work a greater portion of your body.
It would be best if you always aimed to be slow and controlled. A close grip is generally easier for beginners because it spreads the load more evenly, so if you have less flexibility and you're new to training, then your body will respond better to this variation.
3. Muscle Activation
A wide grip lat pulldown activates your lats more fully, and while it will activate your arms and shoulders, it focuses primarily on your upper and lower back. A close grip lat pulldown does work your lats, but also activates your chest and arms more.
If you want to focus on your back, then you should opt for a wide grip lat as the close grip is more of a compound exercise.
Given that these are two variations on the same exercise, you might assume they are activating the same muscle groups. However, while they are both targeting your lats, they also engage some other important muscles which are important for your overall conditioning.
A close grip lat pulldown will target your upper and middle back, particularly the trapezius and rhomboids. It will also force you to use your core, shoulders, biceps, and lats as the weight is spread across your body.
A wide grip lat pulldown will primarily target your lats because you’re keeping your torso straight. This variation is great for building a thick, broad back, and it will help you work your lower back, chest, and arms.If you want to focus on growing your back, it is best to use a wide grip lat pulldown. If you want to see more varied gains, then a close grip lat pulldown is best for you.
4. Degrees Of Difficulty
A close grip lat pulldown is generally easier than a wide grip because the wide grip activates your lats and upper back rather than spreading the load across muscle groups.
If you're a beginner, then you may be best starting with a close grip and working your way up to a wide grip.
When we consider the difficulty of an exercise, we have to think about the movement itself, and the strength needed to perform it. A wide grip lat pulldown has a more natural motion as you are pulling the bar straight down in line with your body. In contrast, a close grip lat pulldown can be more challenging because the movement feels more constrained.
However, close grip lat pulldowns engage more muscles and spread the weight over your body. This makes the movement easier to perform, and most people consider them easier than a wide grip lat pulldown.
If you're a beginner, we recommend starting on a close grip until you've got used to the motion and built up your strength. After a few months, you should be able to move onto wide grip lat pulldowns and start to work them into your routine. Remember, you can usually lift 5-10% more with a close grip lat pulldown, so you may need to drop it down when you first move onto wide grip.
5. Other Exercises
Both types of lat pulldown allow you to carry out a few different variations, but the wide grip lat down is a bit more limited. With a close grip, you can mix it up with other strength exercises to get a well-rounded routine.
Lat pulldowns are popular, and there’s a wide variety of different variations. If you don’t have a lat pulldown machine and want to perform a close grip lat pulldown alternative, you can perform chin-ups, resistance band rows, or dumbbell pullovers. If you want to perform an alternative to the wide grip lat pulldown, you can do a high row, cable pulldown, or a regular pull up.
Both types of pulldowns have a lot of alternatives, but there are definitely more options to replace close grip pulldowns. This is simply because wide grip pulldowns focus mostly on your lats, and there are fewer exercises that target that specific muscle group. In contrast, close-grip pulldowns work most of your back, so it's easier to replace the exercise with other similar movements.
6. Attachments Used
Changing the attachment can change how a movement impacts your body and subtly alter which muscles are worked. Close-grip pulldowns can be performed with a wide range of attachments, including ropes, handles, a straight bar, a v-bar, or a row cable. This allows you to customize the movement and focus on one side of your body or engage smaller muscle groups in the middle or lower back.
Wide grip pulldowns can be performed with a wide bar and handles, but there are significantly fewer options because of the wide movement.
There are several alternative movements for each type of lat pulldown, but when it comes to attachments, close grip pulldowns offer many more options.
If you want to add some variety to your workouts, you can review our complete list of the best lat pulldown bars and attachments.
7. Weights Used
The amount of weight you lift will directly impact muscle growth and the benefits you see as a result of the exercise. Wide grip lat pulldowns focus the movement on a few major muscle groups, primarily your lats, which can limit the amount of weight you can lift.
Close grip lat pulldowns spread the weight across your body, allowing you to lift more. In fact, it’s estimated you can lift 5-10% more with a close grip lat pulldown compared to the wide grip alternative.
Both types of lat pulldowns are suitable for lifters of all abilities if you load the weight appropriately, but close grip lat pulldowns are best for beginners and allow you to lift noticeably more.
Close Grip Lat Pulldown (Exercise Overview & Benefits)
Your lats, or latissimus dorsi, are the largest muscle group on your back. They're essential for a full range of movement and are often described as the gateway to other muscles, opening the door to full body strength.
A close grip lat pulldown is generally regarded as one of the best exercises to strengthen your back. To do one, you'll need to sit facing the bar and reach upwards to grab the close grip attachment.
This should mean your hands are in line with the center of your chest. Lean slightly back and pull the attachment towards you, squeezing your lats as you do it. Hold it briefly at the bottom, then slowly return to the start position.
A close grip lat pulldown is a compound exercise that will work your back, shoulders, and arms in one movement. It will benefit your lats the most, but you should expect to see the benefit in your biceps and shoulders too.
Along with building your back, it will also help to improve your posture as it targets some muscle groups you won’t use every day. It’s the perfect exercise for those stuck in an office chair all day!
Here are some alternative close grip lat pulldowns below, but don't forget to check out our full list to build a barndoor back!
Reverse Close Grip Lat Pulldown
For a reverse close grip lat pulldown, you need to sit facing away from the bar, reach up over your head, engage your core and pull down. Bring your shoulder blades down until the close grip attachment meets your chest, and then slowly let it rise back up.
The key to this variation is to keep your core engaged throughout. It gives you a better whole-body workout but does require a strong mind muscle connection, so this is better suited for those with more experience.
A supinated lat pulldown is a variation that lets you work your biceps more than a traditional close grip. You should start sitting facing the bar and with your hands shoulder-width apart.
Bring your shoulder blades down and back and pull the bar down until it comes to your chest level. Pause for a second before raising it back up. Make sure your core remains engaged to get the most from this variation.
Alternating Lat Pulldown (With Handles)
One of the best ways to train each side of your lats is by using handles instead of a bar. This engages smaller muscle groups, and you have to really focus on keeping the balance.
Start by sitting facing the machine and reach up to grab both handles. Engage your core and slowly pull down one handle at a time, alternating side to side. Make sure you pull the handle down to chest level in a controlled way each time.
Close Grip Rope Lat Pulldowns
Using a rope for close grip lat pulldowns means you have to work harder to stabilize your body. This engages your core and some smaller muscle groups, giving you more benefits from the movement.
To perform a close grip lat pulldown, start by setting up the rope attachment to the machine. Sit down with your knees resting on the pads and hold the ropes in a neutral grip. Keep your body straight and pull the rope down, squeezing your lats as you go. Pause for a second at the bottom, then slowly release and return to starting position.
Wide Grip Lat Pulldown (Exercise Overview & Benefits)
Wide grip lat pulldowns are another great way to train your back. As the name suggests, the key difference is that your hands are spaced further apart with a wide grip, focusing the exercise on your lats but also your biceps, forearms, and core.
You won’t feel it in your shoulders as much with lat pulldowns, but you will feel it more in your forearms and core. Many people find wide grip lat pulldowns harder, so they're best suited for experienced gym-goers.
To do a wide grip lat pulldown, you'll need your cable machine (or something that operates in a similar fashion). Sit facing the cable machine and make sure your legs and knees are locked in position.
Next, lean slightly back and engage your core before reaching up to the bar and grabbing it with arms greater than shoulder-width apart. Pull down slowly, lowering your shoulder blades and until the bar reaches chest height. Pause and then slowly raise it back up in a controlled motion.
Resistance Band Lat Pulldown
If you don’t have a cable machine, you can use a resistance band in the same way. Attach the band to a door frame or a hook. Make sure it’s secure, then pull your hands down until they go to chest height before you raise it back up. This is a great way to exercise your lats if you can’t afford a cable machine.
Need a new resistance band to enhance your workouts? Jump over to our guide for the best ones on the market!
Supinated Lat Pulldown
You can focus the exercise on your arms by doing a supinated lat pulldown variation. Face the bar and go for the wide grip stance but have your palms facing towards you rather than away from you. You’ll immediately feel this in your biceps when you start the pulldown motion.
Alternating Lat Pulldown (With Handles)
You can opt to use handles instead of a bar so you can alternate the wide grip lat pulldown to focus the effort on one side of your body at a time. This is a great way to focus on your core to keep the handles steady as you go.
Behind The Neck Wide Grip Pulldowns
To perform a behind the neck wide grip pulldown, start sitting towards the machine with your thighs underneath the pads. With your arms shoulder-width apart, reach upwards and grab the bar, keeping your palms facing forward.
Keep your back straight and lean your upper body forward slightly so that the bar is directly over the back of your neck. Lower the bar slowly until it is just above your neck, pause for a second, and then raise it back up. You should feel your lats engage throughout the movement.
Behind the neck wide grip pulldowns are a great way to target your shoulders and biceps as well as your lats. There is some risk of straining your neck when performing this move, so make sure you start with a manageable weight.
Tips & Tricks For Various Grip Lat Pulldowns (Mistakes To Avoid!)
Pulling Away From Your Body
When performing a wide grip pulldown, some people can naturally pull the bar forward, so it moves away from your body instead of keeping it straight. This can result in your hands going in front of your elbows and impacts how much weight you can lift. Keeping the bar straight allows you to lift more and give you greater gains.
Leaning Too Far Back
You’ve probably seen people in the gym leaning back in the seat while performing a wide grip pulldown. This generally happens because they are trying to lift too much weight, and they’re using gravity to help. When you lean too far back, you're taking the pressure off your lats and working other muscles instead, meaning you get less from the exercise.
Moving Too Quickly
If you're performing a close grip or wide grip pulldown too quickly, it may mean that you're relying on the momentum of your body. This basically means that you are using your body weight to perform the lift, and not focusing the exercise on your back. Make sure you pause for a second when the bar is at the bottom and try to keep the movement steady and controlled.
Going Too Low
A common issue with those performing a close grip lat pulldown is that they go too low with the movement. By pulling the bar below your chest and down to your waist, you transfer the strain to your shoulders and actually diminish the benefit of the exercise. Try not to let the bar go below your sternum.
Engaging Your Arms
Many beginners will feel the strain of a close grip lat pulldown in their arms rather than their back. A pulldown should engage your arms, but the focus should be on your back muscles, and your arms are secondary. Try to move slowly and squeeze your lats as you move to get the real benefit of the pulldown.
Our number one tip to get the most from your lat pulldown is to control the weight. Don't ego lift and stack too much on because this often compromises your form. Instead, focus on the movement and the mind-muscle connection so you can really feel the benefit in your lats and back muscles.
By starting with light weights and building up throughout your workout until you reach your max, you'll see greater benefits and much less risk of strain or injury.
Common Lat Pulldown Grip Questions
How wide is an optimal grip for lat pulldowns?
Ideally, your hands should be 2-3 inches wider than your shoulders for wide grip lat pulldowns.
Do lat pulldown work shoulders?
Yes, both wide grip and close grip lat pulldowns work your shoulders, but you will probably feel it more with a wide grip.
Why do lat pulldowns hurt my shoulders?
If you don’t have the correct stance or form, then you can put excess strain on your shoulders. Remember to start with a low weight first and get the proper form before you add anymore on.
What should I do if any grip hurts my wrist?
You need a strong grip for a lat pulldown. You can loop a towel around the bar and pull this down to engage your lats. This will help you strengthen your grip and perform the exercise without injury. You may want to explore other exercises to improve your grip strength too.
How many reps should I perform?
You should aim to do 8-12 reps at a time. If you find you can do more, then you should up your weight before the next set.
Lat pulldowns are a really effective exercise to help strengthen your whole body, and you don't even need much equipment.
Both wide grip and close grip lat pulldowns will help to improve your posture and prepare your body so you can train other muscle groups more effectively, so they are worth working into your routine.
Hopefully, this article has helped you understand the key differences between each variation and which might be best for you.
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