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Are Pullups or Rows Better for Back Width?

author image Rick Rockwell
Rick Rockwell is a self-employed personal trainer and experienced freelance writer. His articles have been published throughout the Internet. He has more than eight years of experience as a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and lifestyle coach. His company, Rockwell Fitness, is dedicated to educating and empowering others to live healthy lifestyles.
Are Pullups or Rows Better for Back Width?
A man is doing a pullup. Photo Credit Ibrakovic/iStock/Getty Images

Back exercises are classified either as horizontal or vertical pulling movements. You either pull weights toward you horizontally from the front as in a row, or pull the weight vertically down across your body. Figuring out which exercise is best for your specific workout needs is important. It is commonly accepted that weighted pullups increase back width while rows increase back thickness and muscle mass.

The Muscles

The three most prominent groups of back muscles are the latissimus dorsi, commonly known as lats, the trapezius muscles, called traps, and the posterior deltoids. The lat muscle is the largest and broadest, making up the triangle from your hips to your shoulders and extending out underneath your armpits. The traps have three portions, the upper, middle and lower. The upper traps form the angled muscle that goes from the back of your skull down to the top of your shoulders along the clavicle. This portion of the traps is clearly visible on both sides of the neck. The middle and lower portions of the traps run from the thoracic vertebrae 4 through 12 and insert at the top of your shoulder blade. The lower portion of the traps also runs underneath the lats, so when you work the lower trap muscles, you make your back look thicker. The deltoid forms the rounded contours of the shoulders and consists of three heads: the anterior, posterior and lateral. The posterior portion of the deltoid is located on the backside of your shoulder directly below the upper portion of the traps and at the top of the scapula.


Seated cable rows work most of the muscles in your back: your traps, rhomboids, lats, posterior deltoids, and the erector spinae muscles, but the lower traps perform the most work in this exercise. You can use the narrow triangle grip or the wide, lat bar. Narrow grip focuses work on the lats, wide grips emphasizes the trapezius and rhomboids. Sit on the bench and grab the cable attachment in both hands. Place your feet against the foot platform and slide back on the bench so that your legs are only slightly bent. Keep your back straight. Pull the cable attachment toward your upper abdomen and bend your elbows as it gets close to you. Allow your elbows to come on the outside of your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Pause, then slowly return the weight until your arms are stretched forward and your lower back is flexed forward. This completes one rep. Do two sets of 12 to 15 reps.


Pullups work the latissimus dorsi, which makes your back look wider. Reach up and grab the pullup bar with a wide, overhanded grip. Bend your elbows and pull yourself up until your neck reaches the height of your hands. Bend your knees throughout the movement. Extend your elbows to lower yourself until your arms are straight to complete one rep. Do two sets of 12 to 15 reps.

Overview and Caution

Combine these two exercises for an efficient way to build muscle thickness and gain width. No matter which workout you choose to do, always use proper form, not just to avoid injury, but to ensure that you work the muscles as intended. The muscles in your back should do most of the work. Keep in mind that different grip widths can be used. A wide grip lessens your range of motion but only leads to possible shoulder injury if you're moving more weight than you're able to sustain or if you're using improper form.

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