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Should I Take a Wide Grip or Close Grip for Lat Pulldowns?

July 01 2011

This is the most common question I get asked when I talk about lat pull downs to a new client. As you will see,  this question also gets to the root of one of the major problems.

Does changing grip width make a difference?

should I take a wide grip or narrow grip for lat pulldowns

The Magnitude of Effect: In research, they call this the “magnitude of the effect”. If you change your grip from narrow to wide grip, how big of a difference will it make on your physique?  Good researchers worry about the clinical significance than just statistical significance.

Even if you do all the adjustments with the grip, 90% of the people who come to the gym will never come to that single digit body fat level where they could tell these small difference in lats. They should focus or worry about things which will make the biggest difference.

Population: If you are a bodybuilder, you are justified worrying about the grip width and such. You will be getting down to 4-6% body fat levels where the judges can clearly see how well your lats look in the lat spread pose. 

This is one reason why wise men say never copy routines of bodybuilders. Their goals are way different from the majority of the population and their training will reflect them. Their priorities are a lot different than yours. This also one reason why ‘some’ bodybuilders do not make the greatest of trainers.

Other examples: Some other examples where people worry about the minutiae and forget the big picture are:

1. Spending hours doing cardio but have no clue about their food and calorie intake
2.Doing high reps to burn more calories or /and trying to burn calories using weights
3.Focusing on isolation exercises like curls & shoulder raises
4.Doing half an hour of ab exercises
5.Eating a ton of protein , but not getting enough calories in the first place.

I will stop here, but I can just keep going.

So what should I focus on?

Three things: The three most important aspects which will make the biggest difference in your physique are your diet, weight progression, and sleep.

Just pull: As long as you are pulling and getting stronger, you are doing it right.  It doesn’t really matter if you are doing lat pulldowns or chin ups, close grip or narrow grip or whatever.

If you are good with the first 3 points, then you are welcome to worry about little things like how many reps, which grip, and so forth.

But does the grip width make a difference?

image

  • The wide grip pulldowns to the chest showed the greatest activity for the lattisimus dorsi compared to wide grip pull downs behind the neck, closed grip pull-downs (V grip), or a supinated grip. 
  • A recent study (2010) concluded that that the width do not really matter, what matters is the wrist position (pronated or supinated). A pronated wrist position ,irrespective of the width, is optimal for maximally activating the lats

Practical Applications

  • A comfortable grip width for lat pull downs ,with pronated wrists, pulled to the front is the best position for lat pulldowns
  • Focus on your diet, weight progression and sleep. These are the top things which will make the biggest difference in your physique.
  • Anytime you start to worry about certain aspects of your workout, ask how big of a difference will it make in your physique?

Reference 1
Reference 2

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Bill | Sat July 02, 2011  

Good stuff. The take-home is to not sweat the small stuff. I’d be interested in what difference pull-down grip makes in muscles like the biceps. Just looking at the exercise you would think supination would result in more bicep activation, but maybe not. I was reading somewhere on the glute guy’s web site about studies on pushups show that the narrow position results in more pec activation. That’s just the opposite of what’s been thought. It’s interesting, but in the end it’s not going to matter to the average Joe too much.

Bill

Bill

Anoop | Sat July 02, 2011  

Hi Bill,

Thanks for commenting.

Exactly. It is just funny when I hear first time clients who cannot make it 3 workouts in a row worry about their grip width and such. 90% of the people would have an above average physique if they worry about their diet, workout progression and maybe sleep too.

Even bodybuilders can only tell these weak points when they are up on the stage with extreme levels of bodyfat. They are training all those details for that 10-15 min of glory on the podium. It is not worth people’s time to worry about these, and most will not hit a 5% body fat in their life, ever. And if they do, it won’t be in front of judges eyeing for the slightest flaw.

And don’t take me wrong, I love to go into the details. I used to work in a lab which researched molecular pathways involved in muscle loss. I just don’t think it is what most people need. It is just taking their eyes off from the big picture.

OMAR | Sat July 02, 2011  

Great article Anoop.  I like your training related articles the best.

Soni | Sat July 02, 2011  

Good one!

Dominik | Sun July 03, 2011  

Missing the shoulder health aspect. One of the most frequently injured joints in the weight training population.

IIRC Abduction and external rotation (as it occurs in a wide vs. close grip) places the shoulder joint in a more dangerous position. (referenced in Cressey’s material for example)

I enjoy your work & keep on writing smile

Anoop | Sun July 03, 2011  

Thanks Omar, Sony & Dominik for commenting.

The high-five position (abducted-external rotation under load) is more of a problem in behind the neck pulldowns. Since you pulling in front of you, there is not much external rotation to worry about in a regular pulldowns.

Kathleen | Tue July 05, 2011  

Nice post. And let’s not forget good form and execution on the list of “what matters.” Lots of people do pulldowns and totally miss the negative.

I remember, years ago, Dorian Yates was quoted in one of the muscle mags as preferring BB rows using a shoulder-width underhand grip. I am sure that sent LOTS of young men to the gym doing the same. 

For me, changing grips is more about keeping things interesting in the gym. I use them all and also change where I place my hands on the bar. It’s what keeps me going to the gym for 20 years.

Anoop | Wed July 06, 2011  

Thanks Kathleen! I agree and the pulling with the biceps too. Maybe another time.

Harish Shetty | Fri July 08, 2011  

Focus on your diet, weight progression and sleep. These are the top things which will make the biggest difference in your physique.

Above comments are the best take away any person who is training.

people focus more on the grip of the bar then the food they eat.

sometime i see people going crazy with supinated close grip pull down, i feel close grip pull fatigues bicep much before the back. the whole purpose of doing exercise as gone waste.

Anoop | Mon July 11, 2011  

Thanks for the comment, Harish.

Joe Cannon | Tue August 16, 2011  

Great work as usual Anoop. I am linking to this in the question of the month in my fitness email newsletter. Keep up the excellent writing!
Joe

Adam | Tue February 21, 2012  

Mike Reinold thinks that a pronated grip may be safer for the general population, as the biceps tendon at the shoulder is continuous with the labrum, and a pronated grip reduces the tension here. If the lat EMG is better, and the evidence says it could be safer, those are good reasons for me.

JAYESH LOPES | Sun February 26, 2012  

HI I APPRECIATE ALL OF U FOR PUTTING EFFORTS
PRONATED GRIP IS YOUR NATURAL AND FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH TO CLIMB SO AS PER MY EXPERIENCE YOU CAN PULL MORE POUNDAGE,....
JLO FITNESS
JAYESH LOPES

dano | Fri March 02, 2012  

on which planet is a pronated grip most natural? because on this planet a neutral grip is.  neutral grip @ shoulder width ... get off the internet and get after it.

Chinups rule | Fri March 23, 2012  

Neutral grip @ shoulder width is indeed the most natural and strongest grip. Second is supinated and third pronated. Yes, we usually use pronated grip when climbing fences etc. as there is no choice but to use that wrist position.
And I wouldn’t use wide grip of any kind on weighted pullups.

Anoop | Sun March 25, 2012  

And the whole point of the article is not to mull over the minutae. And you guys are dong exactly the very same by arguing over pronated and supinated.

If supinated is more comfortable, use that.

JAYESH LOPES | Sun March 25, 2012  

I HAVE NOT MENTIONED IN MY BLOG THAT U SHOULD NOT USE SHOULDER WIDTH BUT I HAVE STRESSED ON PRONATED GRIP TO BE USED FOR CLIMBING WALL .FINE IF MY FRIENDS (dano N Chinups rule) CLIMB A WALL WITH SUPINE I HAVE NO ISSUE PLZ TRY..
N PLZ GIVE ME EXAMPLES…THANKS

HI..ANOOP I NT THR TO ARGUE
WHY PRONATED GRIP IS NATURAL GRIP
1)AS I MENTIONED IF U WANT TO CLIMB U CAN CLIMB A WALL ONLY WITH PRONETED GRIP ON THIS PLANET…
2)IF U WANNA WRITE SOMETHING ONLY PRONATION WILL DO..ON THIS PLANET
3)EVEN U WANT TO EAT OR HAVE SOUP U R WRIST HAS TO MOVE FROM PRONATION TO SUPINATON ON THIS PLANET…
THANKS
JAYESH LOPES

joe | Mon April 02, 2012  

useless article. kind of upset i read through it.

Michael PhD, MD, CSCS | Thu May 24, 2012  

As the saying goes, “A little knowledge is dangerious.”  While muscle activty is something people should speak of, a more important issue is “proper biomechanical form.”  It is only after one understands both anatomy AND biomechanics, will the answer be clear (by the way, the term “understands” means “is an expert” in this context).  Until such time, most people will argue over what is “proper.”  Just because the body can perform an activity or exercise in a particular manner does not mean that it is proper.

Additionally, please remember that for every “evidence-based white-paper” that is written PRO topic, there is one written CON subject.  Thus, until you are an expert in the two aformentioned fields, it may be more wise to listen instead of speaking.

Anoop | Sat May 26, 2012  

Hi Michael,

Thanks for the comment.

I really don’t understand what you are saying in the first paragraph.

I agree. And that is why we start with meta analysis and systematic reviews. Below that comes single RCT’s. Looking at one or two studies in isolation is not how it is looked at anyway.

JAYESH LOPES | Thu May 31, 2012  

HI GOOD DAY TO ALL…MY DEARS AND NEARS ONE …..
I APPRECIATE …………..PHILOSOPHICAL ADVICE GIVEN BY …Michael PhD, MD, CSCS
I EXPECT AT LEAST TECHNICAL ADVICED FOR LAT PULLDOWN FROM EXPERTS AS PHILOSOPHICAL AS YOU R…
I DON’T WANT TO DISAAPOINT ANY ONE WHO LOVES SUPINE GRIP
I RESPECT SUPINE GRIP…. AS PER JOINT OF ACTION BOTH ARE SUPERIOR GRIP
AS I ALWAYS SUGGEST PRONETED GRIP….
WHEN YOU’RE USING A PRONETED WIDE GRIP THE JOINT OF ACTION IS PURE ADDUCTION.
AND WHEN YOU’RE USING A SUPINE GRIP THE JOINT OF ACTION IS EXTENSION AND THERE ARE MANY WORKOUTS INVOLVE EXTENSION AT JOINT HERE YOU MIGHT END UP OVERUSING EXTENSION MOVEMENT ALL THE TIME OR OVER DEVLOPE IN UPPER CROSS…
IF SOME ONE HAS TO USE SUPINE GRIP FOR REASON THAN ONE THING TO UNDERSTAND THAT ALL EXTENSION HAPPENS AT 90 DEGRRES ONLY SUPINE GRIP AT LAT PULL HAS 80 DEGRRES ANGLE TO START MOVEMENT WHICH GIVES U 10DEGRRE CARRYOVER TO THE OTHER EXTENSION MOVEMENT WHICH OCCURES AT 90 DEGRRES.
SUPINE GRIP WITH MAXIMUM WEIGHT / HEAVY WEIGHT BICEPS MAY FATIGUE EARLY/TEAR CAN HAPPEN/CANT TAKE MAXIMUM LOAD, IF TENSION BECOMES TOO GREAT ON BICEPS GTO (GOLGI TENDON ORGANS) WILL INHABIT THE MUSCLE THAT THEY COME FROM.WITH INHABITION OF BICEPS IF U STILL WANTS TO CONTINUE TRAINING LATS THAN ITS U R CHOICE.
BUT ONLY PRONETED GRIP HAS ADDUCTION AT JOINT OF ACTION
IF YOU THINK ABOUT THIS ANATOMICAL POSITIONING, YOU CAN SEE THAT THE LATISSIMUS DORSI WOULD BE HIGHLY ACTIVATED ANY MOVEMENT WHICH INVOLVED PULLING THE ARMS BACK FROM AN ABDUCTED POSITION TOWARD THE BODY’S MIDLINE. THE CLOSE-GRIP AND SUPINATED-GRIP VERSIONS OF LAT PULL-DOWN DON’T ACCOMPLISH THAT.
REGARDS AND THANKS
JLO’S FITNESS
JAYESH LOPES

Paul | Fri June 01, 2012  

One more thing, I’ve done some research and I do agree on the grips, but closer grips give you lat thickness while wide grip give you width in the lats. I was told this by my coach who has a Masters I believe in Kinesiology.

Anoop | Fri June 01, 2012  

H Paul,

I got your email. If you are pursuing this field, I would be more skeptical of what people say, even if they have Master’s. I have 2 Master’s.

Closer grips stretch your last more since is has a better line of pull, especially for lower lats. If the muscle gets bigger, it will get thicker and you will look wider.

The point of the article we fret about the minutae and forget the big picture.

Thanks for the comment, Paul.

JAYESH LOPES | Fri June 01, 2012  

HI

ANOOP

APOLOGIES FOR THE ERROR IN MY BLOG ABOUT

(AT LAT PULL HAS 80 DEGRRES ANGLE TO START MOVEMENT WHICH GIVES U 10DEGRRE CARRYOVER TO THE OTHER EXTENSION MOVEMENT WHICH OCCURES AT 90 DEGRRES.)

BUT

LAT PULL HAS 180 DEGRRES ANGLE TO START MOVEMENT IN SUPINATED CLOSE GRIP WHICH GIVES U 90 DEGREES CARRYOVER TO THE OTHER EXTENSION MOVEMENT WHICH OCCURES AT 90 DEGREES.
THIS IS ONE REASON I WILL USE SUPINE CLOSE GRIP AS WELL AS BOTH JOINT OF ACTIONS ARE SUPERIOR TO EACH OTHER.

REGARDS
JAYESH LOPES

Darrel Clouse | Mon July 01, 2013  

I have been training with some of the best athletes in the world during my 40+ year in athletics. Boxing, powerlifting, road racing bicycles, triathlons, a little bit of American football,and….MORE BOXING.

I have found the advice, instructions, rational, and examples to be outstanding AND academics backed by “real world” experience. Yes…..Dorian Yates DID do “behind back” wide grip pull downs,..at least he did in 1993 when I trained along with him ONE Saturday morning in Albuquerque, New Mexico at Gold’s Gym. I skipped the “behind the back” pull downs. Thanks Anoop.

Leif | Wed August 07, 2013  

Jayesh: Nobody will read your posts if you are ALWAYS YELLING. “ALL CAPS” is extremely difficult to read.

Anoop, thanks for the informative article.

Darrel Clouse | Thu August 08, 2013  

A clarification to my July 1 post: I have indeed competed in a WIDE variety of athletic events during the past 40+ yrs (I forgot about rodeo bull riding too; 2 or 3 dozen rides). This does not imply that I am an expert at any of the sports listed! Jack of all trades and master of none. I have simply enjoyed athletic challenges most of my life and continue to do so this very day.

I find the advice and lessons on exercisebiology.com to be very well based in “real world, outside the lab” experience and application. In other words, exercisebiology.com, its moderator and contributors offer great instruction and ideas. Thanks.

Anoop | Fri August 09, 2013  

Thanks Darrel for the comment.

Darrel Clouse | Sat August 10, 2013  

Anoop,...back on June 1 you made a comment…“I would be more skeptical about what people say even if they have Masters. I have 2 Masters.” Are you suggesting the reader should thus be TWICE as skeptical regarding your comment? Ha! Hardy har har. Its a joke, get it?

Jayesh Lopes | Wed August 21, 2013  

I have seen people talking nonsense abt thick lats/wide chest/long biceps ect.ect
Please understand joint of Actions They are already set U cant change them.
Progressive Overload + Sport nutrition + Rest Will make Grt Definition.

Thanks And Regards
jlos Fitness
Jayesh lopes

Natron | Mon February 03, 2014  

Not a good article at all really!
I’ll debate this!

What do you think?

Smileys

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