Close Grip Lat Pulldown vs Wide Grip: Muscles Worked, Mechanics, and More

Written by:

Julien Raby

Last updated:

A woman does lat pulldown in a gym

The lat pulldown is necessary for building back width and thickness but many people don’t know what grip to use to reach their specific goals. In this article, we are going to break down the difference between the close grip lat pulldown vs wide grip. Let’s get started.


Close Grip Lat Pulldown vs Wide Grip: Body Mechanics

Firstly, we perform shoulder adduction. The movement starts from the posterior deltoid which is located on the back of the shoulder. Then we have elbow flexion and finally, scapulae retraction.

Due to the wide grip taken on the wide grip pulldown, the elbows flare out to the sides which helps to place the focus on the lat and the teres major (muscle near the shoulder blade) as long as you maintain a straight back. That means you do not need to bring the bar any lower than chin level.

Due to the close grip taken on the close grip pulldown, the elbows move in front of the body which helps to place some focus on the arms. When you’re doing a close grip lat pulldown, make sure you pull the bar all the way down to the chest to work the muscles.

While making these changes can help you place focus on different areas of the lats, your best idea is to use all versions to build the well-developed back.

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Wide and Close Grip Lat Pulldown Muscles Worked

The lat pulldown is working your latissimus dorsi which is a flat and broad muscle on the back of your body that gives you the so-called V-taper. The motion of the lat is to bring your upper arm down and back.

This exercise also targets a lot of different major muscles on the upper and lower back such as the teres major, teres minor, rhomboids, traps, and rear delts. Biceps brachii, triceps brachii, and forearm muscles are also engaged.

A study found that the close, medium, and wide grips activate the latissumis dorsi and trapezius similarly during the concentric phase. The main difference is that the medium grip lat pulldown and close grip lat pulldown target the biceps brachii more as the elbows are tucked against the sides. However, during the eccentric phase of the exercise, the wide grip pulldown tended to have greater activation of the latissimus dorsi muscles.

A 2009 study concluded that the lat pull-down in front of the head is safer for your shoulders than the lat pull-down behind the head. However, there wasn’t a difference in lat activity when comparing a lat pulldown behind the head versus in front of the head.

To sum up, you should expect the same results in muscle size and strength performing the close or wide grip lat pull-down.

Overhand vs Underhand Grip

A study found that an underhand grip (supinated; your palms facing toward your body) is more effective than an overhand grip (pronated; palms facing away from your body) at working the lower lats. This is because you can perform the exercise with the full range of motion.

Secondly, lat pulldowns with a supinated grip tend to engage the biceps more than lat pulldowns with a pronated grip. As a result, you can load your lats more for growth.

Why Does Changing Hand Position Affect Which Muscles Are Engaged?

Changing hand position definitely works our muscles differently. How you grip and how you hold the angle that you pull define which muscles are worked.

Different muscles in our body move in specific directions. Changing the way of our hand and back position puts our muscles in a position where they are able or not to optimally perform the exercise. 

Close Grip Lat Pulldown vs Wide Grip: Technique

The lat pulldown is one of the most effective compound exercises that you can do to build a beautiful back. Yet many people get this phenomenal exercise wrong. Here is how to perform the correct form.

In the starting position, you want to keep your rib cage as high as you can. Slightly tilt your body at an angle and just allow the elbows and the shoulders to hinge down. The elbows and shoulders will but the back shouldn’t hinge. The back should stay very stable so as you’re pulling down you want to bring your chest high up and squeeze. 

You don’t need to touch your chest at all because once you touch your chest you’re actually deloading. The goal is to breathe in as you’re going up engaging the muscle and keeping the shoulders down. Exhale as you’re coming down squeezing and engaging the muscles for a split second and keeping your rib cage up. The tempo is slow.

So, as you’re pulling down, your chest stays up. Your head is not dropped down. Make sure you keep your chin up so you can keep your spine in line.

For the Wide Grip Lat Pulldown

For the wide grip lat pulldown, the elbows flare out to the sides. You want to maintain a straight back and bring the bar to chin level to load all the muscles. Use an overhand grip when performing this variation.

For the Close Grip Lat Pulldown

You’re going to want your hands just about shoulder distance apart. The elbows move in front of the body when performing the close grip lat pulldown. Tuck your arms into your sides, pull the bar all the way down to the chest, and engage your arm muscles.

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Make sure your core is strong and then bring the bar to your chest or maybe just below your chest to your ribcage. Let the arms come all the way out.

Each time you pull the bar close to you it’s like doing a bicep curl and the lat pulldown at the same time emphasizing the muscles of your arms a lot more.

You can use both an overhand and underhand grip. Keep in mind that an underhand grip allows you to pull down more weight because your biceps are more activated.

Man does lat pulldown with a wide grip

Close Grip Lat Pulldown vs Wide Grip: Common Mistakes

Here are some common mistakes that you can see people make performing the lat pulldown. 

1. Too Wide or Too Close Grip

Most people grip too wide. It may place extraordinary stress on the pecs and shoulders whereas too close grip can put some stress on the forearms and arms.

2. Round Back Forward

The second mistake that people make is when they’re coming down, they’re rounding their back forward. They pull their shoulders down using their arms because the weight is too heavy and they can’t feel their back at all in this position.

3. Leaning Forward

The next common mistake is people leaning forward and pulling the weight behind their shoulders. Apart from not engaging their muscles properly, this will put a lot of stress on their shoulders because at this angle they are tilting forward.

4. Rocking Back and Forth

Another common mistake is people swinging their bodies back and forth unloading their muscles. Also, a lot of people are leaning and just pulling their arms down and they’re not engaging their backs at all.

5. Using Too Much Momentum

Once you lock your elbows, you deload and disengage the muscle. Try to control the weight all the way to the top without locking your elbows. You want to keep your shoulders down and your elbows slightly bent so you can still keep that connection on the load and the muscle that you’re training.

The most important thing is the mind-muscle connection. What you’re doing is pulling the weight down and thinking about the muscle. This will allow you to continue keeping your tempo so you have more consistency on every repetition.

6. Changing the Speed of Reps

Every rep should be identical to the previous one. You shouldn’t change the speed of the next rep because you’re getting tired and losing your form. Reduce the load so you can finish the exercise with the proper technique and maximize your results.

Close Grip Lat Pulldown vs Wide Grip: Attachments Used

Here are the 5 best lat pulldown attachments to choose from for your next lat pulldown training.

1. Revolving Lat Bar

Everybody knows this standard lat bar. It allows you to do both the close and wide grip lat pulldown. This handle is going to allow you to maximize that lat muscle coming down into the lower side of your back and also coming inside from the top and the middle of your back.

2. Wide Grip D Handle Attachment

With this handle, you’re actually pulling the lat muscle from the outside all the way to the inside because the grip is going to be facing the inside and not away from you as the regular lat pulldown is. 

Make sure you are coming from the lats and then pull into the inside of your back and squeeze. It’s the same tempo that you’re using only the handle is just different. By using this handle, you’re basically targeting your muscle from different angles from the outer back into the details of the inside of your muscles. 

3. Triangle Lat Pulldown Attachment

Basically what this handle is doing is changing the angle of the same exercise. You are going to be able to use more of your inner back muscles because your arms are coming a little bit closer. You’re still using your lat muscles but at the same time, you’re using more of the muscles in your middle back than the muscles in your outer back. 

4. Multi-Grip Lat Pulldown Attachment

You can use this bar with a neutral grip to perform the close, medium, or wide grip lat pulldown. For example, you can start your lat workout with a close grip lat pulldown and then finish it with the wide one.

5. Rope Pulldown Attachment

It’s an effective tool for performing a close-grip pulldown with a neutral grip. This attachment offers a couple of benefits. Using the rope for lat pulldown exercises you activate different fibers, which helps your muscles grow. Secondly, this grip attachment allows you to engage your arm muscles better.

Close Grip Lat Pulldown vs Wide Grip: Loading Potential

The wider the grip, the less loading potential no matter with a supinated or pronated grip. If we look at the body mechanics, we can see that when we use a wide grip, we reduce our leverage.

Anatomically, the fibers of your latissimus dorsi are located more vertically than horizontally. So, the lats are fully engaged and work better when performing vertical movements. 

In addition, close grip pulldowns offer a larger range of motion and better arm activation – both of which lead to a more loading potential. 

Close Grip Lat Pulldown: Alternatives

Here are the 7 best alternatives that target similar muscle groups to the close grip lat pulldown.

1. Neutral Grip Pull-Ups

The neutral grip pull-up is a variation that seems to live in the shadow of the wide grip pull-up. This is unfortunate because it’s a great variation that can take your pulling strength and upper body development to a new level.

The neutral grip pull-up is the easiest of the pull-ups. It’s also a great way to work not only the lats but biceps. 

How to Do It

To perform this exercise, your palms are going to be facing each other. You’re going to come to a fully lengthened position. Your arms should be fully lengthened at the bottom and then you’re going to pull with your lats and biceps bending your elbows. Your chin goes over the top of the bar. 

It’s crucial that you do the full range of motion. If you can’t do the full range of motion without pain or can’t complete the proper amount of reps, then this is not the right exercise for you. 

2. Chin-Ups

Chin-ups are generally easier than pull-ups and better recruit the biceps. Chin-ups tend to utilize shoulder extension with the arms moving in front of the body rather than shoulder reduction with the arms moving down by the sides.

How to Do It

To perform chin-ups, start hanging with straight arms with the hands shoulder-width or slightly closer. 

Using a supinated grip which is when your palms are facing the body, you engage your back and initiate the movement by pulling your shoulder blades down. Then bend your arms and try to pull yourself up as high as possible. In the last part of the movement, you let yourself down.

If you have any pain while doing this exercise do not proceed to continue. This does require a foundation of strength so make sure that you’re able to hit the proper rep scheme.

3. Face Pulls

It’s an upper back hypertrophy exercise to hit your rhomboids or rear delts if you do it correctly. The face pull is also helpful for opening up your posture.

Most people will perform this exercise standing. However, if you’re new to the exercise, a much better idea is to sit or kneel because you’re going to have a much greater base of support.

How to Do It

When you start the movement, you want to set up and squeeze the glutes to make sure that you’re in a neutral spine position. You’re not leaning back too much.

The next part of the movement is you’re going to roll the shoulders back. Then you’re going to pull the cable towards your eye line and hold. You want to open up and out bringing the end of the rope towards your ears. You’re pulling the rope apart to create tension.

Make sure that your palms are on the rope the whole time and that you’re not compensating and getting flexion and extension at the wrist. Another common mistake is loading it up with too much weight. 

4. Resistance Band Close Grip Lat Pulldown

It’s an absolutely great exercise to do traditional lat pulldowns if you don’t have access to a lat pulldown machine or if you’re not able to do pull-ups yet. Also, you can do this lat pulldown alternative at home when you don’t have access to gym equipment.

You are going to be using a resistance band, an anchor point, and a bench. You can use a medium or heavy-weight band to get this lat exercise done. You want to anchor your resistance band up as high as you can get it. Make sure it’s nice and safe so it won’t pull back at you. Take out all the slack from that band. 

How to Do It

Kneel down on the floor and then pull. Put your body in line with the bands so that you’re actually using your back and not any other muscles. Drive your elbows down, and push your shoulder blades together. 

5. High Row Machine

Make sure your seat is low enough so that you can barely grab the handles. If you’re too high, you’re not going to get a good stretch. You want to put the weight that is comfortable for you on the machine. 

You are going to get a good grip and pull. Come all the way down and hold for one second the peak contraction at the bottom. Make sure you bring your elbows down and back as far as they go. It’s not about a ton of weight. It’s about quality and control.

6. Cable Row

You are going to focus on the stretch and the peak contraction by pulling the bar into your belly. You are not going to focus on hitting as much as you can with your lower back. Your lower back moves but just a little bit.

7. Dumbbell Row

The next exercise you’re going to do is a dumbbell row. You’re going to be focusing on your lats and other back muscles.

How to Do It

What you’re going to do is pick up a reasonably heavy dumbbell one on each hand. Rule the shoulder blades back and step the feet about hip distance apart. You are going to take an inhale, push the chest out to bring the dumbbells in front of you, and then push the hips back to hinge forward at the hips. You want to bend over at a 60-degree angle.

Take an inhale, then exhale, and pull the dumbbells in towards your chest or your lower ribcage squeezing the shoulder blades together at the back and keeping the elbows close to the body. You do not want the elbows to flare out in this exercise. You want to be squeezing the shoulder blades together as you bring the dumbbells up. 

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Make sure your back does not round and it stays flat the whole time with the chest forward. Extend the arms down almost to a completely straight position and then squeeze them back. Make sure that you keep your hips pushing back the entire time to hinge forward and not put any pressure on the lower back.

Wide Grip Lat Pulldown: Alternatives

Here are the 7 best alternatives that target similar muscle groups to the wide grip lat pulldown.

1. Wide Grip Pull-Ups

The pull-up is one of the best compound back exercises for building strength and muscle in your upper back. Even being able to do just one rep is an amazing achievement because once you can do one pull-up, you can easily turn that one pull-up into 10 pull-ups in a row. 

Once you can do pull-ups, it’s going to unlock the door to so many other advanced pulling exercises that you’re going to be able to utilize in your workout routines to take your gains, strength, and performance to a whole new level when you’re not just looking strong, you’re actually strong.

The primary muscle groups used in a pull-up are going to be your lats and your biceps, but you’re also going to be recruiting and targeting your rear delts, rhomboids, and core with each pull-up repetition. 

The wide-grip pull-up gets a lot of love for a lot of reasons but for some people, they can be rough on the shoulders. They’re pretty hard and not accessible to everyone due to mobility or strength limitations. 

Starting position

You want to stand directly underneath the bar. Have your hands in shoulder-width or just outside of shoulder-width. 

Start with straight arms and a hanging position using the overhand grip which is when your palms are facing away from you. You’re going to be gripping the bar with your palm forward and your thumb locking your fingers. You want a very solid grip on the bar. That alone makes your pull-ups a lot easier.

Before you start your pull-ups, you want to be in a dead hang position with your body in a tight straight line and feet together. Point your toes if you can, squeeze your glutes, and engage your core and lats with your chin facing up, a big chest, and retracting your scapulas. 

This is an active dead hang position. Maintaining this form is going to ensure that you’re not swinging. So you’re able to focus on the intended muscle groups. You want to maintain this perfect form and position with your body for the entire duration of your pull-up repetitions until you come off the bar.

How to Do the Wide Grip Pullups

You want to start slightly leaning and engaging your back and rear delts, which is going to allow a greater range of motion. You’re going to be pulling to your chest versus straight up and down, which would only give you a range of motion towards your neckline. This is one of the main key points that makes the perfect pull-up.

When you’re doing pull-ups only up to your neck, you’re not going to nearly see as much results, strength, and benefits from the pull-up versus if you are actually pulling up all the way to your chest. So, you want to make sure to be leaning a little bit back so that there is a clear movement path straight to your chest line.

Pull all the way up while maintaining perfect form and have your chest reach the bar. Lean back retracting your scapulas and using a rowing motion to pull versus pulling straight up. Aim to have at least your chest reach the bar with every single rep.

2. Straight Arm Pulldown

This exercise is the best choice for building up your lats. The first thing you need is an EZ curl bar. Also, you can use a straight bar if you’d like to.

How to Do It

What you want to do is to maintain a neutral spine and a slight bend in your elbows and knees a bit. Make sure your wrists stay straight the whole time you do this exercise. Arching and tightening your back and sticking your chest out you’re going to bring the bar down to your thighs with your straight arms. 

Keep everything nice and tight as you raise the bar to about chin level. And then bring it back down to your thighs. Breathe out on the way down. 

3. Wide Grip Lat Pulldown With Resistance Bands

For this exercise, you are going to use a door anchor and a resistance band. You will strengthen your latissimus dorsi, rhomboid, and trapezius muscles that are situated next to your shoulder blade.

How to Do It

You want to sit on a chair and hold the band in both hands. Maintaining a neutral spine you are going to pull your elbows down to the sides and squeeze your shoulder blades together at the same time. 

4. Scap Pulldown

The scap pulldown is an isolated exercise that targets the scapular and is wonderful for shoulder health and recovery as well. This exercise is similar to the wide-grip lat pulldown. But you are not going to do the full range of motion. You are just going to do the scapula retraction. To perform this, you want to pull your shoulder blades down.

How to Do It

You are going to grab the handles and take a seat. Make sure your knees are locked under the pad. You are going to relax at the shoulder and then lock the scaps down. After that, decompress your shoulder joint as much as you can. You are not bending your elbows.

5. Dual Cable Lat Pulldown

The next exercise we’re going to show you is the dual cable lat pulldown. The key difference here is you use the two individual handles rather than a straight bar. Your joints are going to move more freely. Also, you have the opportunity to rotate your wrists; it may be a little bit of a more comfortable option for you.

How to Do It

You’re going to make sure that the top of the pad is right across the top of your thighs. Grab your handles, sit in position, and bring your feet out in front of you. Then as you pull down you’re going to widen your hands so you don’t want to come straight down with these. You want to make sure that your arms are a little bit wider than your shoulders at the bottom.

6. Lat Pullover Machine

This simple exercise isolates the back with no involvement of the biceps. There’s no other exercise that does that. When you do the lat pullover you’re exhausting your lats so that when you go to do your conventional movements (for example, pulldowns or rows) your biceps are still fresh and your lats are exhausted. Therefore you get more out of this. Another benefit of this exercise is that it offers the full range of motion. 

How to Do It

Keep your chest upright the entire time. Raise your arms, go for a deep stretch, and gently pull the bar down touching your waist. Your elbows should go behind you to fully target your lats.

7. Barbell Bent-Over Row

You can do this back exercise to reach any fitness goal you have. When we train our back, we’re typically pulling. We have vertical pulls like pullups and then we have horizontal pulls like bent-over rows. You should be doing both of these but execution is important especially if you want to train safely and effectively. 

The proper setup for the bent over-row is critical. We want to make sure that we prioritize execution over load. 

As for the setup, you want to approach the bar exactly the way you would on a deadlift with the bar over the middle of your foot. Pick it up like you would on a Romanian deadlift and get into the starting position. Just because you use a lighter weight it doesn’t mean you round your back and rush through it. 

How to Do It

You’re going to pull your shoulders back and rotate your pelvis outward. You want to get your hips out of the way of the barbell. Bend over the barbell and do almost a Romanian deadlift. You want to make sure that your core is tight to support your lower back. Also, make sure that your elbows and wrists are just below your shoulders, and then pull the weight up in a straight line. 

Don’t pull the weight up too high. Just pull it in a straight line. Make sure that you get your shoulders all the way back and squeezed all the way down.

Man doing lat pulldowns in a gym

Close Grip Lat Pulldown vs Wide Grip: Benefits

1. Muscle Growth and Building Back Width

It’s important to say that the appearance of back width is going to come from two main factors: your waist circumference and your lat development.

The smaller your waist is, the wider your back will appear and the better your V-taper will be. Obviously, you can’t make your waist narrower with training, you need a good diet for that. 

When it comes to back width, we’re going to focus on optimizing the growth of the lats. Both the close grip lat pulldown and wide grip are necessary for optimizing lat development.

2. Strengthening A Lot of Muscles of Your Body

A lot of different handle attachments offer various benefits. The most common variation of a lat pulldown is with hands wide. When you do the wide grip lat pulldown, you’re obviously working the muscles of your back and the big lat muscles. With a reverse bicep grip, you’re using your arm muscles a lot more and more of the middle of your back.

3. It Is Appropriate For Everyone 

This exercise offers highly scalable loading and a high degree of stability. It makes it an effective way to work the upper body muscles. In addition, it’s relatively safe to perform this exercise and it’s easy for lifters of all ages and levels of experience. So you definitely need to implement this exercise into your upper-body workouts.

4. Improved Posture

Sitting in chairs for many hours, aging, and lack of exercise can cause muscle weakness and tension in your back and shoulders. The lat pulldown can help to work these muscles, reduce shoulder pain, and improve your posture.

What Grip Width and Hand Position Is Best for the Lats?

Let’s have a look at what the data shows. One study tested the lat pulldown with wide pronated, wide supinated, narrow pronated, and narrow supinated grips. And what they found was really interesting. 

It didn’t matter if you went wide or narrow but both pronated grips were significantly better for targeting lat muscles than both supinated grips. It seems that we can say for sure that an overhand grip works better than an underhand grip.

The 2014 study compared three overhand positions: narrow, medium, and wide. This time each condition used relative loading. 

Medium Grip Overhand Pulldown

They found the medium grip to come out on top for a few reasons. Firstly, the 6-rep max strength was higher with the medium grip than the wide grip. Also, there was significantly higher concentric biceps activation with the medium grip. There was also a trend toward higher lat muscle activation with the medium grip as well.

Based on this body of activation data, if your goal is to make your back as wide as possible, there is a slight edge to using a medium grip overhand pulldown at about 1.5 times shoulder width pulled to the front of the neck.

However, because this EMG activation data is based on average not individual results we tend to only use this type of research as a first approximation since it can’t say for sure what’s going to maximize activation of your lats on its own. For that, we need to turn to biomechanics.


When you use a close grip, you emphasize shoulder extension by bringing your arm down more in front of you whereas when you use a wider grip you emphasize shoulder adduction by bringing your arm down more to the side. The lats can perform both shoulder extension and shoulder adduction. 

Most rowing exercises like dumbbell rows and cable machine rows are already going to hit the lats primarily through shoulder extension. So, when you do pulldowns or pull-ups, it makes more sense to focus on training through shoulder adduction which is going to mean using a wider pronated grip most of the time.

Who and When Do You Rather Want to Use the Close Grip Than the Wide One

So, should you use a close grip or a wide grip? It depends on your purpose. 

Generally, if you want to improve your pull-ups, you need to use a wide grip. A medium grip will help you if you are a lifter who wants to boost the lat size. Close grip lat pulldowns are for those who want to increase the strength and size of their back overall and target their biceps as well. 

Close Grip Lat Pulldown vs Wide Grip: FAQs

Is a close grip or wide grip better for pull-downs?

Many trainees are under the impression that wide grips will only train back width and narrow grips are only going to train back thickness but this actually isn’t the truth. For best results, add both lat pulldown variations into your training.

What is the best grip for lat activation?

The lats and the traps are both very highly active in the pulldown regardless of grip position. As long as you’re completing a vertical pull through a full range of motion with a well-controlled technique, you’re going to see significant improvements in back width and back thickness using any grip placement from one to two times a shoulder width.

Is reverse grip pulldown better?

The reverse (underhand) grip pulldown hits almost the same muscles as the overhand grip. The main difference is that it allows more biceps activation which helps you use more weight and place more overload to build a bigger back.

About Julien Raby

My name is Julien Raby and I’m one of the owner of BoxLife. Here’s my background on LinkedIn if you want more info. I’ve been active pretty much my whole life and I discovered Crossfit about 7 years ago. I want to help you improve your Crossfit performances by giving tips on specific movements, workouts and equipment. You have a question? Get in touch!