Pull-ups versus Rows for Back Development

Having a wide back and a slim waist is one of the main signs of physical attraction for men also known as the “v taper” , and for women they can give that illusion of an “hourglass” shape.

In this post, i will discuss rows and pull ups/pull downs since they are a must in every resistance training routine.

The back is one of those muscle groups that don’t get a lot of attention from trainees. The chest and the arms are always the “best sellers” when it comes to workouts. But the back is a little more complicated than just doing pull downs.

The Back Anatomy

Insert fancy anatomy text book chart***

Not really, the only thing you need to know is that the back is a multitude of muscles including:

The lats, the traps, the rhomboids, teres major, teres minor, rear delts and supraspinatus.

How to train your back

You need to think about the back as a whole, rather than just focusing on the lats. When it comes to back training, you should put your main focus in 2 types of movements. A row and a pull down/pull up, or vertical pulling and horizontal pulling, you also need to learn good form to correctly recruit the back muscles.

One of the main lifts you should focus on is pull ups. Most beginners and overweight individuals cannot perform pull ups correctly. To be able to perform pull ups, you have some options which includes:

  • Using resistance bands to assist you
  • Only do the negative (eccentric) part of the pull up
  • Do pull downs until you are strong enough to do pull ups.
  • Use the assisted pull up machine until you can do pull ups.
  • If you have a somewhat high body fat percentage (+20%)  body fat focus on reducing some body fat.

These are solid steps to do your first pull-up. Once you can do pull-up try to add weight to the pull-up when possible using a progression scheme.

Rowing movements

If you were to do only one back exercise, i would have you doing pull ups. But rows have a place in training and they can contribute to a whole back development. I like rowing movements because everyone can do them and they contribute to a good posture (when done correctly). They also train the back muscles effectively. These are my favorite type of rows:

  • Seal Row
  • Pendlay Row
  • T bar row
  • V bar row
  • One arm dumbbell row
  • One arm cable row


Some people say that rows are mainly for back thickness and some people say that pull ups/pull downs are for width. They are just partially right. You can modify the back exercises to fit your goals. For example you could do a dumbbell row and row to your hips instead of your upper back. And you could do sternum pull ups to emphasize back thickness. Its all about the execution. But assuming you do pull ups and rows in the “normal” way then rowing will help thickness and pull ups/pull downs will help with width.

So which one is better?

For a complete back development you should include both. But if i had to prioritize one i would prioritize pull ups. They will contribute more to the V shape in men and the hourglass shape for women. Cheating in rows is very common too, even for advanced lifters and you can end up with an unwanted injury.

Pendlay and Seal Rows are my favorites, Overhand pull ups and neutral pull ups will be safer for you too, a lot of people find that they will get elbow pain from doing chin ups as their main movement.

So if you can incorporate both movements into your training routine. You will definitely see improvements in your physique and in your posture.  Don’t just train chest and arms. As always feel free to leave a comment.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.