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. In order to determine which one is better, we have to put them into context.
Pull-ups do no require a lot of equipment and can be done outside on monkey bars or other street fitness equipment, unlike barbell rows. If you have the 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 15+ pull-ups and has weak back and biceps. A diet of pull-ups has always shown good results.
Pull-ups sometimes cause elbow and wrist pain but in general are a safe exercise that will give you many warnings before an actual injury happens. Often the pain is caused by overtraining and/or improper technique such as not using the thumbless grip.
Barbell Row Advantages
1.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 exercises that will hit you 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 and if anything goes wrong, you can just drop the bar.
3.Great carry over to the deadlift
The popular power lifter Ed Coan has listed many times the barbell row as one of his favorite deadlift assistance exercises.
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.
Recommended read: How To Program and Improve Your Weighted Pull-ups
Highly recommended article: How To Do Barbell Rows With Proper Form For Maximum Gains
Conclusion: Neither is better than the other but as far as pure back engagement and development is concerned the barbell row is the more complete. When making a choice take into consideration your goals, level of experience, available equipment and injury status.