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Difference Between Barbell Rows and Pullups

by
author image Jolie Johnson
Based in Austin, Texas, Jolie Johnson has been in the fitness industry for over 12 years and has been writing fitness-related articles since 2008 for various websites. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English and philosophy from the University of Illinois.
Difference Between Barbell Rows and Pullups
A woman is doing a pull up on an outside bar. Photo Credit DragonImages/iStock/Getty Images

Barbell rows and pullups do not look anything alike. They are executed with different body positions, joint movements and with different equipment. However, they work the same muscles in your upper back, middle back and arms. Include rows and pullups in your routine to work your lats from different angles.

Execution

To do a pullup, grab a pullup bar with an overhand grip and lift your feet off the floor. Pull yourself up until your chin reaches or passes the bar, lifting the chest, pulling the shoulder blades together and aiming the elbows down towards the ground. To do a barbell row, stand with your feet about hip-width apart holding a barbell in front of your thighs. Push your hips back and lean your torso forward. Keep your back straight and keep the hips back to avoid your lower back from bowing under. Start with your arms hanging straight down, pull and hold your shoulder blades together as you pull the bar into your abdomen area.

Function

Barbell rows and pullups work the same muscle groups. The latissimus dorsi, large muscles that run down each side of your spine, are the primary movers during both exercises. Smaller muscles in your back act as secondary movers; these include your rhomboids and trapezius muscles. Your biceps, the muscles on the front of your upper arm, assist. The muscles of your core, including your transverse abdominus and your obliques, activate during the pullup exercise to help stabilize your body.

Movement

The lattisimus dorsi are responsible for several movements of the shoulders and scapulae, or shoulder blades. The barbell row and pullup exercises each work the lats through different joint movements. The pullup works the lats through shoulder adduction -- pulling your upper arms down toward your sides. The barbell row works the lats through shoulder transverse extension -- pulling your upper arms out to the sides and away from your chest -- and scapula adduction -- pulling your shoulder blades together.

Considerations

The standard pullup is a more challenging exercise than the barbell row because you have to lift your entire body weight against gravity. The barbell row offers an almost unlimited number of resistance options, but you do have to lift the barbell itself. Although the barbell row and the pullup work the same muscle groups, since they work them from different angles you should include variations of both exercises in your back routine for a thorough workout.

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