What’s better for your back development – pull-ups or barbell rows? Both exercises have proven to be effective over many decades of physical exercising. To determine which one is better, we have to put them into a context.
Pull-ups do not require a lot of equipment and can be done almost everywhere, unlike barbell rows. If you have space and the tools, you can install a pull-up bar in your own home and do pull-ups GTG style.
You can’t find a guy who can do 20 pull-ups in a row with good form and has poor lat development. A diet of pull-ups has always shown good results in the lat department.
Sometimes pull-ups can cause elbow and wrist pain, but in general, are a very safe exercise that will give you many warnings before an actual injury happens. Most of the time the pain is caused by overtraining and/or improper technique.
Barbell Row Advantages
1. A complete back exercise
While the pull-up places more emphasis on the latissimus dorsi and makes your back wider, the barbell row is a complete back exercise that will hit your back from top to bottom. Even your lower back gets worked.
You may experience lower back problems during barbell rows, but in general, it’s a safe exercise. If anything goes wrong, you can just drop the barbell.
3.Great carry over to the deadlift
The popular powerlifter Ed Coan has said many times that the barbell row is one of his favorite deadlift assistance exercises. And while the pull-up is also a good assistance movement, it does not come even close because the barbell row mimics the back position during deadlifts and teaches you proper back alignment and awareness.
Conclusion: As far as pure back engagement and development is concerned, the barbell row is more complete. When making a choice take into consideration your goals, level of experience, available equipment, and injury status.