Gain Muscle Training Uncategorized

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.

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. When it comes to aesthethics, the shouder to waist/hip ratio has been determined as one of the most atractive features in men. This study shows that men with a better shoulder to hip ratio was correlated with a more sexually active life.

I think that the back is highly underrated in the fitness community, you need to have a complete back development for health and for aesthetics. To train your back correclty you need to understand certain concepts. Fitness gurus now reccomend pullups as their go-to exercise and claim you wont need anything else. Rowing definetely has its place and importance and this is what we will discuss in this article!

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.

Pullups/Lat pulldowns


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  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.

How a great back workout looks like

It will depend on how you structure your workouts, if you do full body then you will do less exercises per session if we compare it with a body part split. In a week, you need to have at least one rowing movement and one pull-up/pull down movement in the week, you can also think about having at least one horizontal pull and one vertical pull. These movements will help to overload your back. Use these exercises to gain strength and work on a lower to moderate rep range, then use something like a face pull, lat machine and rear delt fly’s to complete your back workout.

Your back is a big muscle group and it can handle higher training volumes. You can do 9 – up to 18 sets of back exercises depending on your training experience, nutrition, rest and hormonal factors. 9-12 sets per week is a great guideline if you are still building your strenght base. But not let’s give some examples of a great back workout:

Body part split

Pullups 3 sets of 6 – 8 reps

Pendlay row 3 sets of 6 – 8 reps

Reverse grip lat pulldowns 3 sets of 12-15 reps

Seated cable row 3 sets of 12 – 15 reps

Facepulls 3 sets of 12-15 reps

Low back extensions 3 sets stop 2 reps away from failure

This is how a good routine looks like, assuming you train back 1x per week, if you train it twice the split all those exerises in two sessions. There is no magic rep range or frequency, just make sure you overload the muscle and provide a proper stimulus. Recover and sleep and repeat. This will give you great back gains. Stay tuned for more workouts like this!


Thank you for reading! If you liked the article please let me know in the comments. If you have any questions, feel free to post them too.

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