Close vs Wide Grip Lat Pulldown (Which is Better?)


Close vs Wide Grip Lat Pulldown

The lat pulldown machine is one of the most popular, and for good reason. It’s one of the best for building size and strength for your back. On one handy dandy machine, you target your latissimus dorsi, trapezius, and rhomboids. The movement also works your arms, employing use of the triceps and, in some cases, the biceps too. Exactly what the movement targets most, however, will depend on your grip.

For bigger, stronger lat muscles and more attention to the triceps, the wide grip is superior. However, if you’re trying to build better overall back strength, the close grip is best. A close grip will also hit your biceps harder. Both are excellent exercises and should be performed regularly. The better grip will depend completely on your goals.

Let’s explore the differences further. Read on to determine what will be best for your purposes.

Difference Between Close and Wide Grip Lat Pulldown

The key difference between close and wide grip lat pulldowns is the grip used. 

The exercise will appear similar and require similar movements. However, you have your hands considerably closer during the close grip lat pulldown.

As a result, you wind up utilizing a different area of the back during the contraction. The wide grip works your latissimus dorsi muscles and triceps. Likewise, the close grip will target your mid-upper back more thoroughly. That means stronger traps and rhomboids.

Therefore, the main differences between the two exercises are the grip used and the muscles targeted.

How to Do a Close Grip Lat Pulldown

Whereas a wide grip lat pulldown requires a standard bar, you have options for your close grip lat pulldown. You may use a standard bar that curves at the ends, a straight bar, a short straight bar, a V-bar. Your grip may be pronated, supinated, or neutral.

Of course, you’ll need the bar to reflect the grip you intend to use. For pronated or supinated, any bar will do. If choosing the V-bar, however, you will only be able to perform the movement with a neutral grip.

A supinated grip will hit your biceps just a bit harder than other grips here. Choose which grip feels most comfortable to you during the movement.

Here’s how to perform a close grip lat pulldown properly:

  1. Attach the desired handle and sit on the machine. Set the thigh pads so you have enough room to fit your legs, but you are snug and secure.
  2. Grab the bar and sit down while holding it.
  3. Lean back at a slight angle while holding the bar.
  4. Pull the attachment down to your lower chest, bringing the elbows down and back. Squeeze at the end of the movement.
  5. Control the weight as you slowly extend your arms back overhead to the starting position.

Remember– this exercise is for your upper back and arms. You should aim to use your arms and back completely on this one. Avoid throwing your whole body back to get the bar to move or using momentum. You should be capable of moving the weight slowly during the motion and squeezing hard or pausing during the contraction.

If throwing your whole body into the movement is the only way to get it to move, go lighter. You’re much better off doing solid reps with perfect form than racking up a heavy load and flailing through it.

How to Do a Wide Grip Lat Pulldown

The wide grip lat pulldown is a classic gym staple. Unlike the close grip, you get no real options for which attachment or grip. Instead, you’ll need a long bar that’s straight or curved and you must use a pronated grip.

Here’s how to perform a wide grip lat pulldown properly:

  1. Attach the desired handle and sit on the machine. Set the thigh pads so you have enough room to fit your legs but you are snug and secure.
  2. Grab the bar and sit down while holding it. Try to grip at 1.5 to 2 times your shoulder’s width.
  3. Lean back at a slight angle while holding the bar.
  4. Pull the attachment down to your chin and squeeze your back.
  5. Control the weight as you slowly extend your arms back overhead to the starting position.

As with most lifts, the bar path should be as straight as possible. Bringing it to your chin helps assure you keep it moving in this fashion, as lower than that will encourage your arms to pull back instead of down.

Keep in mind that, sure, it is called a “wide” grip lat pulldown, but don’t go too wide. If you’re going way too wide, you may shorten the range of motion relative to your arm’s length. That means you’ll move the weight less, thus doing less work, thus hurting your gains! Don’t hurt those gains and keep that grip comfortable!

You can always start narrower and work your way to a wider grip as you gain comfort on the movement.

Is Close Grip Lat Pulldown Good?

The close grip lat pulldown is an excellent exercise. 

That’s why you see seas of people in every gym flocking to this classic machine. Regular sets of close grip lat pulldowns will do wonders for your back. You’ll build the following muscles:

  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Trapezius
  • Rhomboids
  • Biceps brachii
  • Triceps brachii

Because a closer grip allows us to pull the weight down into our chests and back slightly, we’re hitting the mid back harder. That means your traps and rhomboids are going to get blasted. Your lats get worked during the movement, but to a lesser degree when compared to the wide grip version.

Because of the increased bend at our elbows, this means our biceps get a nice squeeze too. The close grip lat pulldown targets biceps better than the wide grip alternative.

Overall, this makes the close grip lat pulldown a fairly simple exercise to perform that yields great dividends to your fitness. We highly recommend regularly performing sets of close grip lat pulldowns during your routine.

Are Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns Good?

Wide grip lat pulldowns are great, especially for your lats. And why would you perform an exercise called the “lat” pulldown in the first place if you weren’t interested in working those lats?

The wide grip lat pulldown, similar to the close grip counterpart, works the following:

  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Trapezius
  • Rhomboids
  • Biceps brachii
  • Triceps brachii

Because the motion is still very similar, we’re going to work basically the same muscles as the close grip, but to different degrees. For one, our elbows are flexing less, so our biceps get squeezed less. This causes the triceps to bear the brunt in our arms and brings in the biceps only a bit.

For our back, the wide grip forces a harder contraction in our lats. Our traps and rhomboids still provide some assistance, but the real workers on this movement are those wings. If you’re looking to build bigger, badder lat muscles, the lat pulldown with a wide grip will get it done faster.

Therefore, the wide grip lat pulldown should be worked into your regimen and performed regularly. It’s an overall great movement for stronger lat muscles and upper body strength.

Which Lat Pulldown Grip is Best?

Both lat pulldown grips are great, but which is best will be determined by your goals. 

For those looking to prioritize the biceps, you’ll want to do the close grip pulldown. If you’re trying to build better overall back strength including a stronger mid upper back, the close grip is the pick.

Likewise, the wide grip lat pulldown is better for targeting your lat muscles. If you’re trying to build bigger lats and sculpt a more pronounced V-shape to your upper body, the wide grip is your best option. If you’re interested in stronger arms overall and targeting your triceps, the wide grip is the winner.

Neither grip is superior to the other. It all depends on your goals.

Close Grip vs Wide Grip Lat Pulldown Muscles Worked

Close grip and wide grip lat pulldowns are very, very similar. Because of this, it’s no surprise that the muscles worked are very similar as well. In fact, the muscles are identical:

  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Trapezius
  • Rhomboids
  • Biceps brachii
  • Triceps brachii

What varies is the degree in which these muscles are activated. Whereas a wide grip places more focus on the lats and triceps, the close grip calls in the mid upper back more so. That means the close grip hits your traps, rhomboids, and biceps even harder.

You’ll still perform work on all of these essential muscles regardless of which grip you choose. For this reason, it’s prudent to cycle between them. Try incorporating lat pulldowns into each back-focused routine you perform, but in Week 1 choose close grip and Week 2 choose wide grip. Alternate back and forth for the best results.

The only time when alternating makes less sense is if you are specifically focusing one area of your back. Lifters lacking the back strength needed on other lifts may choose to focus on close grip lat pulldowns. This will help to build up to better lifting power. Likewise, bodybuilders may seek to correct imbalances to their appearance by focusing on wide grip lat pulldowns.

If your goals are simply to enjoy a well-balanced approach to fitness, we recommend alternating grips regularly for the best results.

Neutral Grip Lat Pulldown Muscles Worked

The muscles worked during a neutral grip lat pulldown are identical to close and wide grip variations.

To be fair, a neutral grip lat pulldown is essentially a close grip pulldown. Close grip lat pulldowns may use a pronated, supinated, or neutral grip during the movement. Just as a reminder– neutral means your palms are facing each other. You’ll need a V-bar to accomplish this position.

Like other close grip lat pulldowns, you get more contraction from your traps, rhomboids, and biceps during the movement. The neutral grip may encourage the best bicep workout by comparison, as you’re primed for a real strong bicep squeeze on each rep.

An added benefit of choosing a neutral grip over pronated or supinated is the wrist relief it provides. Loading heavy weights and pulling using the overhand or underhand grips becomes taxing to the wrist over time. This may lead to undue stress on the ever-essential joint.

A neutral grip positions the wrist in a way that is less conducive to injury. Overall, it is one of the safest ways to move heavier weights on the lat pulldown machine.

Close Grip Lat Pulldown Benefits

There are a number of benefits to using a close grip during your set of lat pulldowns.

1) It targets your mid-upper back more.

If you want great gains by targeting the ever-important traps and rhomboids, the close grip lat pulldown is an excellent option. Because of your hand placement and elbow flexion during the movement, you’ll get a harder contraction in these areas.

The result? Overall better back strength that translates to other lifts.

2) You can lift heavier.

The placement also allows for you to lift just a tad more than while using wide grips. You get a stronger base and are able to generate more explosive power from this position. As we all know, lifting heavier performs more work. That means better gains.

Remember– the difference is relatively small. You may only lift 10% heavier on the close grip versus the wide grip. However, in the immortal words of Vin Diesel, “It don’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile.” More weight means more weight. And “winning’s winning.”

3) It hits your biceps harder.

Building a strong back is imperative for anyone who wants to cultivate overall great fitness. A solid, toned back looks great too. But what about the quintessential “pretty muscle– the biceps?

It’s true that biceps are far less functional than your back. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to bulge like Arnold and boast big biceps. Performing lat pulldowns with a close grip targets the biceps much more versus the wide grip variation.

For bulging biceps, the close grip lat pulldown is a great exercise to perform regularly.

4) It protects your wrists.

As the weight gets heavier and heavier, you may start to feel the effects on your wrist. While our backs and arms are strong, our wrists can only handle so much stress before the negative effects take hold. You may feel aches or pains in this important joint if you overdo it on the lat pulldown.

However, using a neutral grip during the close grip lat pulldown provides some relief and some protection while doing this exercise. When compared to pronated and supinated grips that may be used on wide or close grip variations, the neutral grip is best for your wrists.

Close Grip Lat Pulldown Cons

Close grip lat pulldowns do pose some inherent problems, however. Here are some cons associated with the close grip lat pulldown.

1) They hit your lats less.

The machine is technically called the “lat” pulldown for a reason. Ideally, you’re pulling down that weight to work the lats. If your goal is to build big lat muscles on your sides, you’re going to get there slower using a close grip.

Instead, use the wide grip. This will help you build bigger lats than the close grip can accommodate.

2) It has limits.

For the casual lifter, the lat pulldown is exceptional. It’s everything you need for a solid back workout on one handy dandy machine. The machine helps you get positioned properly and scale gradually. It’s very easy to manage things this way.

For advanced lifters, however, the machine will slowly become obsolete. While it’s great for initial building and strengthening of traps and rhomboids, it is limited. Shrugs or deadlifts using a barbell or trap bar will provide a far greater impact for intermediate or advanced lifters.

While great for beginners, the lat pulldown machine will slowly lose its effectiveness as you progress. You will need to move even heavier weights to keep the gains coming.

Wide Grip Lat Pulldown Benefits

There are a number of benefits associated with wide grip lat pulldowns.

1) They target the lats better.

Why are you doing “lat” pulldowns if you aren’t in fact trying to build your lats?

Regardless of your grip, you’ll get a great back and arm workout performing these. However, going wide ensures better targeting of your lat muscles. If you’re looking to build stronger lats or sculpt bigger ones, you should be going wider as opposed to closer.

2) They translate better to pull-ups.

The lat pulldown machine is an excellent beginner tool, but often becomes phased out over time. As you experience greater gains, the limits of the machine may provide you a less effective workout.

Once you hit this point, using free weights or relying on pull-ups becomes more crucial. Pull-ups are, in fact, one of the best back-building, arm-strengthening exercises you can employ. You’ll be better prepared to tackle sets of pull-ups if you’re used to going wide.

Wide Grip Lat Pulldown Cons

It’s overall a fantastic exercise to be performing regularly, but there are some drawbacks to wide grip lat pulldowns. Here are a few cons related to the movement.

1) You can’t lift as heavy as close grip.

With a wider grip, both your range of motion and ability to produce explosive power is diminished. This means if you’re accustomed to going heavy on close grip, you may not hit that mark on the wide grip sets.

Luckily, the difference is fairly negligible. You’ll still be able to move close to as much weight and get a great workout regardless.

2) It has limits.

This is less of a con for wide grip lat pulldowns and more of a con related to the machine in general.

At first, you will move light to moderate weights on the machine. You’ll appreciate the simplicity as well as the epic burn you get in your back and arms. Over time, however, you’ll move more and more weight. Eventually, you’ll run out.

While most of us never aspire to achieve this, it’s a very real possibility for dedicated lifters and fitness enthusiasts. Eventually, the lat pulldown machine will be only for light work, while the real work is done on heavy lifts.

Close Grip Lat Pulldown Alternatives

Sometimes you can’t do pulldowns. Maybe you have to be in and out of the gym fast that day and someone else is bogarting the machine. Perhaps you’re at home where you don’t even have a pulldown machine to use. Or maybe you simply want to switch things up.

No matter the reason, there are many alternatives that give you the same workout as a close grip lat pulldown. In some cases, the alternatives are even better.

Here are our favorites.

1) Incline Dumbbell Rows

If you’re basically trying to do the exact same thing but flipped, the incline dumbbell row is for you. Just like the close grip lat pulldown, it requires pulling weight towards your chest while squeezing your back. The only difference is that you’re lying on your stomach on an incline bench.

Here’s how to do incline dumbbell rows:

  1. Set up an incline bench and select your dumbbells.
  2. Sit backwards on the bench while holding the dumbbells. Bring your chest to the back pad and dangle your arms in front.
  3. Pull the dumbbells upward in a rowing motion.
  4. Squeeze your back at the top of the motion.
  5. Return to the starting position slowly.

2) Chin-ups

Pull-ups and chin-ups are some of the best exercises you can do in a gym. Period.

Selecting to do chin-ups gives you a workout similar to using the close grip lat pulldown. Like the pulldown, you’re hitting your back hard while also squeezing your biceps. It’s one of the best calisthenic movements no matter how you slice it.

Here’s how to do a proper chin-up:

  1. Grab onto a pull-up bar and hang. For chin-ups, you should use a close, supinated grip. That means your palms should face you.
  2. Pull up with your arms, squeezing your back and core as you ascend.
  3. Bring your chin over the bar.
  4. Slowly return to the starting position.

Remember– the negative motion is almost just as important. You’ll get a much better workout pulling yourself up and then controlling the descent. Simply falling back to the dead hang isn’t as effective.

3) Barbell Bent Over Rows

A barbell bent over row makes a good substitute in a pinch. This is double true if you use a close grip when you lift the bar. The lift will hit your triceps, lats, traps, and rhomboids while also engaging your core and encouraging strong posture.

Here’s how to do bent over rows with a barbell:

  1. Place a barbell at your feet and load it to the desired weight.
  2. Stand over the barbell, feet shoulder-width apart. Your back should be flat and your neck straight at all times. Reach down by hinging at your hips and bending your knees slightly.
  3. Grab the bar and lift it to the hanging position. Check in on your form to ensure the back is still flat, neck straight, knees slightly bent, and eyes forward.
  4. Pull the bar to your chest, squeezing your back at the top of the movement.
  5. Slowly lower the bar back to the hanging position.
  6. Repeated as needed. Set the bar down and rest.

It’s important to make sure you control the movement at all times. You’re doing yourself no favors if you pick up the bar and flail wildly. Jerking the bar up and letting it drop back down only will increase your risk of injury. And your back will get less of a workout too, which is the whole point of the lift to begin with.

Always use proper form when lifting.

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Christopher Covello

Christopher’s personal fitness and nutrition journey began in 2009 when he was working as a short order cook and came to recognize that his habits were unhealthy and unsustainable. He educated himself on mindful eating and balanced nutrition and has prioritized healthy living ever since. Today, Christopher writes in the fitness and nutrition niche, and is often found running, hiking, rock climbing, Spartan Racing, training at his CrossFit box, or practicing yoga.

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