Lat pulldowns are a staple in many of the programs I have written for my athletes and used myself.
But when it comes to performing the lat pulldown, knowing which grip is best for you is important so you can ensure your training is aligned with your goals. Otherwise, you might be costing yourself progress.
So, is the close grip or wide grip lat pulldown better? Which grip is better for the lat pulldown will depend on your goals. A wide grip is better for lifters who want to increase lat strength or size or for those looking to improve their pull-ups. A close grip is better for those looking to target their mid and upper back or increase the strength of their back overall.
In this article I will cover:
- The differences between a close and wide grip lat pulldown
- How to perform each, along with tips and common mistakes
- The muscles used in each exercise
- The pros and cons to each grip
The Differences Between A Close And Wide Grip Lat Pulldown
There are key differences between the close grip and wide grip lat pulldown, and these can be broken down into four points.
The four main differences between the close and wide grip lat pulldown are:
- How You Execute Each
- Muscles Used
- Weight Used
The wide grip lat pulldown will typically only use a standard straight bar with a pronated (overhand or with your palms facing down) grip.
The close grip pulldown could be either pronated, supinated (palms facing up or underhand), or neutral (palms facing each other) and could be performed using a straight bar or V-grip attachment.
2. How You Execute Each
While the close grip and wide grip lat pulldown are similar, there are two key differences in how you execute each movement.
When doing the wide grip pulldown, you will keep your torso as upright as possible and pull the elbows down vertically, aiming the bar towards your chin or upper chest.
When doing the close grip pulldown, you will lean back slightly and pull the elbows back and down, aiming the attachment towards your lower chest or sternum.
3. Muscles Used
While both exercises train the back, each will target certain muscles within the back more.
The wide grip lat pulldown will target the latissimus dorsi as you are maintaining a more vertical torso angle and pulling the bar straight down.
The close grip lat pulldown will target the mid and upper back (the trapezius and rhomboids) as you are leaning back and pulling the elbows back and down to bring the bar towards your lower chest.
Using a supinated grip during the close grip lat pulldown will also involve the biceps more than a close neutral grip or a wide pronated grip.
4. Weight Used
The close grip pulldown will typically allow people to use more weight due to the increased involvement of the mid back musculature.
In my experience, I can use approximately 10% more load with a close grip compared to a wide grip.
Close Grip Lat Pulldown: How To, Tips, Common Mistakes, Muscles Used, Pros And Cons
How To Do A Close Grip Lat Pulldown
- Attach a straight bar or V-grip to the top of a lat pulldown machine and set the thigh pad with just enough room to sit under. You can also use a cable crossover if your gym does not have a pulldown machine.
- Grip the handle with a neutral or underhand grip. I personally prefer a neutral grip as it feels more comfortable and keeps more load in my back rather than my biceps.
- Sit down while holding onto the bar.
- Lean back slightly. Aim for 10-15 degrees — the goal is to have enough room to pull the bar or V-grip down into your lower chest.
- Pull your elbows down and back until the attachment nears your lower chest.
- Control the load back to the start position until your elbows are fully extended.
If you do not have access to a lat pulldown machine, read my article 13 Best Lat Pulldown Alternatives (Dumbbell, At Home, Cable) to find the best alternative for you.
Tips For Performing The Close Grip Lat Pulldown
My top 3 tips for performing the close grip lat pulldown are:
- Use a grip that is most comfortable to you. A close grip does not have to mean your hands are right next to each other. Use a grip that gives you room to pull your elbows down and back and also to feel the exercise in the target muscles (the traps and rhomboids).
- Pause slightly at the bottom. Pausing at the bottom forces you to keep control of the load and really feel what muscles you are using to move the weight rather than cheating reps or shifting more load to other muscle groups.
- Keep your torso still. Swinging your torso back and forth to move the load is only going to cost you progress in the long run. Keep the torso in a consistent position and pull using your back rather than using momentum.
Common Mistakes With Close Grip Lat Pulldowns
The most common mistakes I see when doing the close grip pulldown are:
- Using a short range of motion. Lifters either do not fully extend at the top of the movement, or they cut themselves short at the bottom of the rep. Pull from a fully extended arm position down to your chest and control the weight back to the top again.
- Using momentum to cheat the reps. Whether you’re throwing your torso backwards to drag the load down or coming up off the seat and using your body weight to get the weight moving, cheating reps is just making your training less effective.
Cheating on pull-ups is another common mistake I see. If you’re unsure how fast you should do pull-ups, check out the article Is It Better To Do Pull Ups Fast Or Slow?
Muscles Used During Close Grip Lat Pulldowns
The muscles used when doing the close-grip lat pulldown are:
- Latissimus Dorsi (the large muscles on the sides of your mid and lower back)
- Rhomboids (the muscles in the middle of your upper back)
- Trapezius (the muscles close to your neck in your upper back)
- Biceps Brachii
While all pulldown variations will use these muscles, the close grip lat pulldown will use less of the lats and more of the rhomboids and trapezius.
This is due to pulling the elbows back and down rather than working throughout a more vertical range of motion.
The increased elbow flexion also means that the biceps will be working more than other pulldown variations.
Benefits Of A Close Grip Lat Pulldown
- You can use more weight. If you’re looking to increase the overall strength of your back, you can use more load compared to a wide grip pulldown. This is also helpful if you’re working your way towards increased chin up strength or maybe even your first chin up.
- You train the mid and upper back more – If targeting the mid back is your goal then these are a great option to train these more alongside rowing movements at a differing angle.
While vertical pulling can increase the strength of your back, read my article Do Pull Ups Help Deadlifts? (Yes, Here’s How) to find out how it also benefits your deadlift.
Cons Of A Close Grip Lat Pulldown
- They are less lat targeted. Many lifters use vertical pulling movements to target the lats more in their training. By doing a close grip lat pulldown, you may not be getting the same outcome you expected compared to a wider grip.
- For more advanced lifters, loading can become an issue. As most lifters can use more load with a closer grip, more advanced or stronger lifters may find themselves limited by the load available on a lat pulldown machine.
Wide Grip Lat Pulldown: How To, Tips, Common Mistakes, Muscles Used, Pros And Cons
How To Do A Wide Grip Lat Pulldown
- Attach a straight bar to the top of a lat pulldown machine and set the thigh pad so you have just enough room to sit under. If your gym doesn’t have a lat pulldown machine, you can also use a cable crossover.
- Grip the bar with a pronated grip between 1.5-2 times your shoulder width and sit down while holding the bar.
- Start narrower to begin with and work your grip outwards if needed. The goal is to find the grip that allows you to pull as vertically as possible.
- Keep your torso upright and pull your elbows straight down, bringing the bar to your chin. For most people, this will be enough range of motion as pulling any further will force you to pull back rather than down.
- Control the load back to the start position until your elbows are fully extended.
Tips For Performing The Wide Grip Lat Pulldown
My top 3 tips for performing the wide grip lat pulldown are:
- Trial different grip widths. Using a wide grip does not simply mean putting your hands at the end of the bar. Start with a grip at 1.5 times shoulder width and experiment with a slightly wider grip in your warm up sets. For your working sets, use the grip that allows you to pull as vertically as possible and feel the load through your lats.
- Pause slightly at the bottom. As with the close grip lat pulldown, pausing at the bottom of the wide grip lat pulldown forces you to maintain control of the load and feel which muscles are working rather than cheating reps or recruiting other muscle groups.
- Keep your torso upright. Leaning back will shift more load to your trapezius and rhomboids, but keeping the torso upright will keep the loading in your lats.
For more tips on targeting the lats, check out the article How To Activate Your Lats More During Pull-Ups (5 Tips)
Common Mistakes With Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns
The most common mistakes I see when doing the wide grip pulldown are:
- Going too wide. A wide grip is relative to the size of your body and not necessarily the length of the bar attachment. An excessively wide grip will also limit the effective range of motion you are able to work through for each rep.
- Leaning back too much. Targeting the lats is the goal with a wide grip lat pulldown. As such, your setup needs to reflect this. By leaning back, you shift loading away from the lats and into the mid and upper back.
Muscles Used During Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns
The muscles used when doing the wide grip lat pulldown are:
- Latissimus Dorsi
- Biceps Brachii
The wide grip lat pulldown is the most lat-dominant pulldown variation. The wider grip gives you room to pull more vertically while maintaining a more upright torso angle.
This will still train the trapezius, rhomboids, and biceps alongside the lats, but it will activate them to a lesser degree compared to a close grip variation.
Benefits Of A Wide Grip Lat Pulldown
- They are more lat focused. Many lifters look to vertical pulling exercises such as pulldowns or chins ups to train the lats. A wider grip is more aligned with these goals as they target the lats more than a narrower grip variation.
- They carry over more to pull-ups. As pull-ups also use a wider grip, wide grip lat pulldowns are a great option for those looking to improve their pull-up strength or to train a similar movement within a higher rep range.
Wondering if pull-ups are enough to train the back and biceps? Check out my article Are Rows & Pull-Ups Enough For Back And Biceps?
Cons Of A Wide Grip Lat Pulldown
- You cannot use as much load. If you’re looking to increase your back strength, a close grip variation might suit you better as loading is typically less when using a lat-targeted wider grip.
Wide Grip vs Close Grip: Which Is Better?
Which grip width is better when doing a lat pulldown is going to depend on your training goals.
The wide grip lat pulldown is better for those aiming to train their lats more directly, be that for strength or hypertrophy. It is also better for those with goals of improving their pull-up strength or simply looking to train in a higher rep range than they can currently perform with pull-ups.
The close grip lat pulldown is better for lifters looking to increase their overall back strength as you can use more load. It’s also more ideal for those looking to train their rhomboids or trapezius more than their lats.
However, both variations may have a place within your training program if you have varying back size and strength goals.
Related Article: What Attachment To Use For Cable Rows?
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the Difference Between Wide Grip and Close Grip Lat Pulldowns?
The main difference between the wide grip and close grip lat pulldown is the muscles used. The close grip pulldown will target the trapezius and rhomboids more, whereas the wide-grip pulldown will target the lats more.
Which Lat Pulldown Grip Is Best?
This will depend on your goals. A wide grip will be best for those looking to increase the size and strength of their latissimus dorsi. A closer grip will be best for those looking to increase the size and strength of their rhomboids and trapezius.
Are Close Grip Lat Pulldowns Good?
Close grip lat pulldowns are an effective exercise for training the upper back musculature, specifically the rhomboids, trapezius, and latissimus dorsi. This makes it a great option for those with strength and size-related goals for their back.
Other Upper Body Exercise Comparisons
- Dips vs Decline Bench Press: Pros, Cons, Which Is Better?
- Pendlay Row vs Barbell Row: Differences, Pros, Cons
- Bench Press vs Overhead Press: Differences, Pros, Cons
- T-Bar Row vs Barbell Row: Differences, Pros, Cons
- Floor Press vs Bench Press: Differences, Pros, Cons
- Upright Row vs Lateral Raise: Differences, Pros, Cons
- Dumbbell Bench Press vs Barbell Bench Press
- Barbell Shrugs vs Dumbbell Shrugs: Differences, Pros, Cons
- Lat Pulldown vs Pull-Up: Differences, Pros, Cons
To summarize, which grip is better will depend on your goals.
The wider grip will be best for targeting the latissimus dorsi and improving the size and strength of that muscle. It can also be used to improve your pull up strength. The close grip will be better for those looking to target their mid and upper back, including the rhomboids, trapezius, and lats, and to increase the size and strength of your back overall.
About The Author
Jacob Wymer is a powerlifting coach and PhD Candidate in Biomechanics and Strength and Conditioning, researching the application of barbell velocity measurements to powerlifting. He is involved in powerlifting across the board, from athlete to meet director. Jacob runs his coaching services at EST Barbell. You can also connect with him on Instagram.