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The lat pulldown is one of the most common exercises in resistance training. To execute this exercise, you’ll need a lat pulldown machine.
It’s a staple in all commercial gyms and within the home gyms of most fitness enthusiasts; the lat pulldown machine consists of a bench, thigh pads, ankle pads, and a wide lat bar attached to a pulley/weight system.
Widely used for developing strength and size in the upper back muscles, the lat pulldown is part of most exercise routines.
Targeting the Latissimus Dorsi muscles, located at your side mid- to lower back, proper execution and form of the pulldown will earn you the much-desired “V”-shaped back. There are also a number of other muscles and tissues that help achieve the proper movement, form, and look.
There are both wide and narrow grip techniques used in the lat pulldown exercises, with the most common two being the wide grip and the narrow grip.
- Wide Grip. This grip produces the most activation within the muscles and is the most frequently used in the lateral pulldown exercise.
By placing your hands toward either end of the bar, wider than shoulder length apart, and pulling the bar down in front of your head, the Latissimus Dorsi muscle is put into high activation.
- Narrow Grip. This grip requires a more narrow grip on the lat bar, with your hands placed only shoulder-width apart and your palms facing toward you. Just as with the wide grip, you pull the bar in front of your head. This change in grip and palm placement puts greater activation on the Biceps Brachii muscle.
It’s important to consider your hand placement during this exercise, as you’ll want to work both the Latissimus Dorsi and the Biceps Brachii equally to achieve the desired “V” back muscle definition.
Why the Lat Pulldown is Important
Lat pulldown exercises are essential in strengthening your back and shoulder muscles. They are also instrumental in correcting poor posture.
Sometimes called your “lats” or “wings,” the Latissimus Dorsi muscles pull your arms to your body and help support your spine. There are several common pulling exercises you can utilize to increase strength in this area: pull-ups, rows, and of course, the wide lat pulldown.
How to Perform the Lat Pulldown Correctly
With any exercise, proper form is critically important to achieve the look you want and to minimize injury risk. The lat pulldown is no exception.
The correct way to execute the lat pulldown properly:
- Sit on the machine bench with your torso facing the machine. First, secure your upper thighs under the thigh pads, positioning the pad somewhere between your knees and hip flexor crease. Your thighs should feel secure, and your feet should be flat on the floor with your knees at a 90-degree angle.
Press the thigh pads into a locked position so that they’re firm but not uncomfortable. The purpose of the thigh pads is to keep you firmly planted on the bench when lifting heavier weights. The pads don’t have to be touching your thighs – but they should be close.
Move your shins so that they’re snug against the ankle pads.
- For your first attempt at the lat pulldown, check that the weight stack is either set for low weight or is in the neutral position. You want to be sure your positioning is correct before you add weights. Right now, practice your form.
- Stand up and take a firm grip on the lat pulldown bar at a little more than shoulder-width apart (for the wide lat grip).
- With the lat bar in your hands, slowly sit back down on the bench and get into a comfortable position. Ensure your ankles and thighs are aligned.
- Control your movement and pull the lat bar to chest level, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Keep your chin and chest out, neck straight, and elbows back.
- Hold in place for a few seconds.
- Then, with great control and extending your elbows back to straight-arm position, release.
- Do a few practice movements, and then, when you’re confident, add the appropriate weight.
What Weight Should I Use?
This question is always a major talking point. We recommend you focus more on perfecting your form than adding weight.
The purpose of the lat pulldown is to strengthen your muscles, and you’re not going to strengthen muscles if you have to rock backward to pull the bar into the proper position.
You can always add weights after you feel confident about your form and your reps. Most advise doing between 12 to 15 reps of each type of grip. Remember, it’s about form first. So, weight can be added as you go.
Some critical variables (gender, weight, age, height) are necessary before advising on appropriate weights. There are some charts online that offer sound advice on weight starting points for beginners.
Plus, at Archon Fitness, we want to establish a relationship with you. If you purchase our wide lat bar, we are available to walk you through the exercises you can use to achieve your goals. We will give you appropriate advice on weight based on your specific situation.
Although the lat pulldown is a commonly-used favorite, you can walk into any gym in the country and you’ll see people executing the lat pulldown incorrectly. To get the most from your exercise and to avoid injury, let’s walk through common issues when using the machine.
- Leaning. Proper form dictates that your torso should remain stationary during the lat pulldown (not dependent on the grip you’re using). You should also not use a weight that’s too heavy.
Leaning backward to achieve the downward motion you desire can lead to injury of your back, shoulders, and your neck. It is also depriving the lats of doing the work you intend them to do!
If you find yourself leaning backward or swinging the upper portion of your body, drop some weight. Rethink your form. Then, slowly and with great control, pull the bar down the way you know you’re supposed to.
Remember, it’s all about form and function – not quantity!
- Over-Releasing. If you’re not extending your elbows to a straight-arm position at the end of your rep, then you’re not getting the full benefit of this exercise. The pulldown is fun, but the release works your lats, too. Make sure you extend with full control, all the way back up to the starting position. Then, pull back down. Always release with control – that’s half the exercise!
- Under-Mobilizing. The complete exercise includes pulling the bar all the way down to your chest. You are not to pull the bar down as far as your eyes or your chin. If you’re only pulling the bar halfway down, you’re not getting the full range of motion you should, and you won’t see the results you’re looking for, either. If you’re having difficulty pulling all the way down, try lightening your weights.
- Behind the neck. No matter what you might see other people do, please don’t ever pull the lat pulldown bar behind your neck. That is incredibly dangerous and can lead to painful injury. Plus, studies have shown that particular movement is not effective in building or strengthening the muscle.
Other Muscles that Benefit
We’ve talked a lot about your lats and how they benefit from this exercise. But they can’t be the only muscle group benefitting from this slow and controlled pull, right?
You’re exactly right! One reason the lat pulldown machine is so popular is that it kills lots of birds with one stone. Check out all the other muscles that benefit:
- Rear delts. These are the muscles at the top of your shoulders, toward your back. The rear delts help you move your arms to the front and side of your body. Desk jobs weaken these muscles. Use the lat pulldown machine to strengthen your rear delts, improve your posture, and build important muscles that prevent back pain.
Start by leaning back into a 45-degree angle, and pull the bar to your chest (like you would for a lat pulldown). Then, flex your rear delts. Try 10-15 reps with low weight and really control the release.
- Biceps. Work those biceps with the lat pulldown machine! For strengthening, use an underhand grip and a narrow grip (instead of the wide grip) about shoulder-width apart. Bring the bar to just below your chest for maximum results. 10-15 reps should do the trick! Remember, slow and steady!
- Triceps. Try this exercise standing up. Hold the bar in an overhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart. Bring the bar to waist level with your forearms parallel to the floor. Push down till your palms face back. 10-15 reps should have you in top form in no time!
There are many other modifications and exercises that are perfect for the lat pulldown machine, utilizing the wide lat bar, but these will get you started. As always, our team of fitness professionals at Archon Fitness wants to hear from you. Let us know how you’re using your wide lat bar and if there are exercises we can recommend so you get the most from your workout.