Lat pulldown 101: Steps, Proper Form, And Common Mistakes

Lat pulldown - fitzabout

The lat pulldown is a standard machine with little variation from model to model that target your back muscles.

The basic pulldown machine is essentially a cable machine with a high pulley, a seat, and a pad to hold you up during the exercise.

What is lat pulldown?

lat pulldown exercise - fitzabout

The lat pulldown is a strength training exercise that targets the muscles of the back, particularly the latissimus dorsi, or “lats,” as they are commonly referred to. It is typically performed using a weight machine, which has a bar attached to a cable. To do the exercise, you sit facing the machine with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. You then reach up and grasp the bar with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. With your arms fully extended, you pull the bar down towards your chest, keeping your elbows close to your body. You then slowly release the bar back up to the starting position. The lat pulldown can be a good exercise for strengthening the upper back and improving posture. It can also help to build strength in the upper body and improve muscle imbalances.

Muscles worked

During the lat pulldown exercise, the following muscles are worked:

  1. Latissimus dorsi: The latissimus dorsi muscles, also known as the “lats,” are the primary muscles targeted during the lat pulldown exercise. These muscles are the large, triangular muscles in your back that are responsible for pulling your arms down and back towards your body.
  2. Rhomboids: The rhomboids, which are located in your upper back between your shoulder blades, also play a role in the lat pulldown exercise. They help to stabilize your shoulder blades as you pull the bar down.
  3. Trapezius: The trapezius muscles, which are located in your upper back and shoulders, also help to stabilize your shoulder blades during the exercise.
  4. Biceps: The biceps muscles in your upper arms also work to some extent during the lat pulldown exercise, as they help to flex your elbow joint as you pull the bar down.
  5. Forearms: The muscles in your forearms, including the flexors and extensors, also work to some extent during the lat pulldown exercise as they help to grip the bar.

By targeting these muscles, the lat pulldown exercise can help to build strength and definition in your back and upper body.

Is it compound or isolation exercise?

The lat pulldown is considered to be a compound exercise.

A compound exercise is one that involves multiple joints and muscle groups. In the case of the lat pulldown, the exercise targets the latissimus dorsi (lats) in the back, but also engages the shoulders, biceps, and upper back muscles.

When you perform a compound exercise like lat pulldown, you are working multiple muscle groups at the same time, which makes it more efficient and effective than isolation exercises, which only target one muscle group. This is one of the reasons why compound exercises are often used in strength training and muscle building routines.

Benefits of lat pulldown

The lat pulldown is an effective exercise for building strength and definition in your back muscles. However, the exercise can have several potential benefits, including:

  • Improved posture: The latissimus dorsi muscles play a key role in helping you maintain good posture by supporting the spine. Strengthening these muscles can help improve your posture and reduce the risk of back pain. 1 2
  • Increased muscle strength: The lat pulldown exercise targets the latissimus dorsi muscles, which are some of the largest muscles in your body. By strengthening these muscles, you can improve your overall muscle strength and power. 3
  • Improved athletic performance: Strong back muscles are important for many athletic activities, such as swimming, rowing, and throwing. By doing the lat pulldown exercise, you can improve your performance in these activities. 4
  • Enhanced muscle definition: In addition to increasing muscle strength, the lat pulldown exercise can also help improve muscle definition, giving you a more toned and defined appearance.
  • Reduced risk of injury: Strong back muscles can help protect against injuries, such as strains and sprains. By doing the lat pulldown exercise regularly, you can help reduce your risk of injury. 5

How to do lat pulldown?

To perform a lat pulldown, you will need access to a lat pulldown machine. This is a piece of weight training equipment that consists of a cable and a bar attached to the cable, which you can pull down towards your body. You can also use resistance bands to perform a similar exercise.

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To use the lat pulldown machine, you will need to sit on the bench facing the weight stack and grab the bar with an overhand grip. You will then pull the bar down towards your chest, keeping your elbows close to your body.

Be sure to use proper form and start with a weight that is appropriate for your fitness level to avoid injury. You may also want to consider wearing a weightlifting belt or gloves to help support your back and grip.

1. Instructions

Here are step-by-step instructions for doing the lat pulldown exercise:

  1. Lean back on the back pad of the sled, placing your shoulders against the two shoals; Most pulldown machines have a pad on top of the seat that locks your legs in during the exercise and prevents the weight from actually lifting you off the seat.
  2. If it’s adjustable, you’ll want to start by setting it to the correct height.
  3. Simply sit on the seat facing the machine and adjust the seat height by pull the pad down, so it covers your thighs. It should be snug, but not tight. Your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle when you sit down. Your feet should be flat on the ground. The bar is level with your chest.
  4. Once you’ve set the pads at the correct height, stand up and grab the bar overhand grip.
  5. Still holding the cable handles, squat back down (the weight will slow your descent) and lower your thighs back down to the pads. Your palms facing away from you, and extend your arms fully.
  6. The distance between your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, draw your shoulder blades down and back and lift your chest.
  7. Sit tall and engage your core to maintain good posture throughout the exercise. Keep your chest up and shoulders relaxed. This is your starting position.
  8. Unlike most machines and all free weight exercises, you are actually lifting the weight as the bar/handle descends.
  9. Exhale as you pull the bar down towards your chest, keeping your elbows close to your body. Your elbows should stay in a fixed position next to your sides throughout the exercise.
  10. As you pull the bar down, squeeze your shoulder blades together and imagine trying to touch them together in the middle of your back.
  11. You can lean back slightly, but don’t lean too far to try to use the momentum to pull the weight up.
  12. Some degree is fine. Once the bar reaches your chest, hold for a moment and then slowly extend your arms to return to the starting position. Return the handle to the starting position in a smooth and controlled motion.
  13. Inhale as you return to the starting position and repeat the exercise for the desired number of repetitions.
  14. At the end of the set, stand up before letting go of the handles to avoid rolling off the weight stack.

2. Tips

Here are some tips and techniques to help you get the most out of the lat pulldown exercise 4:

  • Use a full range of motion: To fully engage your back muscles, it’s important to use a full range of motion. This means pulling the bar all the way down to your chest and fully extending your arms at the top of the movement.
  • Vary your grip: Varying your grip can help target different muscles in your back. Try using a narrow grip, a wide grip, or an underhand grip to engage different muscle fibers.
  • Use proper form: It’s important to use proper form when doing the lat pulldown exercise to avoid injury and get the most out of the exercise. Keep your shoulders relaxed and your elbows close to your body as you pull the bar down.
  • Increase the resistance gradually: As you get stronger, you’ll need to increase the resistance to continue challenging your muscles. Start with a lighter weight and gradually increase the resistance as you get stronger.
  • Don’t overdo it: It’s important to give your muscles time to rest and recover between workouts. Aim to do the lat pulldown exercise two to three times per week, with at least one day of rest in between.

By following these tips and techniques, you can help ensure that you are getting the most out of the lat pulldown exercise and making progress towards your fitness goals.

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3. Common mistakes

Here are some common mistakes people make when doing the lat pulldown exercise, and how to avoid them:

Using too much weight:

It’s important to start with a weight that is appropriate for your current strength level. Using too much weight can compromise your form and increase your risk of injury.

Pulling with the arms:

The lat pulldown exercise should be focused on engaging the back muscles, not the arms. To avoid pulling with the arms, keep your elbows close to your body and focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together as you pull the bar down.

Arching the back:

It’s important to maintain good posture throughout the exercise. Avoid arching your back or leaning too far back in the chair, as this can strain your lower back.

Rounding the shoulders:

Keep your shoulders relaxed and down throughout the exercise. Rounding your shoulders can lead to poor form and compromise the effectiveness of the exercise.

Bouncing at the bottom of the movement:

Avoid using momentum to complete the exercise. Instead, control the bar as you pull it down and pause briefly at the bottom of the movement before extending your arms to return to the starting position.

4. When and how to incorporate lat pulldown exercise?

Lat pulldowns can be incorporated into a workout routine in a few different ways, includes:

  • As a back exercise: Lat pulldowns can be used as a primary exercise for targeting the back muscles, specifically the latissimus dorsi (lats). They can be incorporated into a back workout, usually after doing exercises such as rows or pull-ups.
  • As an assistance exercise: Lat pulldowns can also be used as an assistance exercise to supplement other exercises such as pull-ups or chin-ups. This can be done by incorporating lat pulldowns into a workout routine after completing the primary exercise.
  • As a warm-up exercise: Lat pulldowns can be used as a warm-up exercise to prepare the back muscles for other exercises. This can be done by doing a few sets of lat pulldowns with a lighter weight before moving on to heavier exercises.

When incorporating lat pulldowns into a workout, it is important to maintain proper form and use a weight that is appropriate for your fitness level. Start with a light weight and increase as you become stronger. Aim for 2–3 sets of 8–12 reps for optimal results.

5. Repetitions

When incorporating lat pulldowns into a workout routine, it is recommended to aim for 2–3 sets of 8–12 reps.

This rep range is considered to be the optimal range for building muscle strength and size. It is also important to use a weight that is appropriate for your fitness level and to maintain proper form throughout the exercise.

It is also influential to not to forget that variety is the key in any workout, and it is good to switch up the exercises, rep ranges and resistance to target different muscle fibers and avoid plateaus.

If you are looking to increase muscle endurance, you can aim for 2–3 sets of 12–15 reps with a lighter weight. If you are looking to increase muscle power, you can aim for 2–3 sets of 3–5 reps with a heavier weight.

It’s always essential to listen to your body and adjust the reps and weight accordingly to avoid injuries.

6. Who can do and don’t lat pulldown exercise?

There are certain individuals who may not be able to perform the lat pulldown exercise, or may need to modify the exercise to accommodate any injuries or health conditions they may have. These individuals may include:

  • Individuals with back injuries or back pain: If you have a back injury or chronic back pain, you may need to modify the lat pulldown exercise or avoid it altogether. It’s a good idea to consult a physical therapist or medical professional before attempting this exercise.
  • Individuals with shoulder injuries or shoulder pain: If you have a shoulder injury or chronic shoulder pain, you may need to modify the lat pulldown exercise or avoid it altogether. Again, it’s a good idea to consult a physical therapist or medical professional before attempting this exercise.
  • Individuals with elbow injuries or elbow pain: If you have an elbow injury or chronic elbow pain, you may need to modify the lat pulldown exercise or avoid it altogether. It’s important to listen to your body and avoid any exercises that cause pain or discomfort.
Note:
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It’s always a good idea to consult a medical professional or personal trainer before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have any injuries or health conditions. They can help you determine which exercises are safe and appropriate for you to do, and can offer modifications as needed.

Bottom line

The lat pulldown is a common exercise that targets the muscles in the back, including the latissimus dorsi (or “lats”) and other muscles in the upper back and shoulders.

You can change the lat pulldown by either changing your grip on the pulldown bar or swapping out the bar for another attachment. By taking a shoulder-width underhand grip, the bar will recruit your biceps more, and usually allows you to handle a bit more weight. 6 7

You can also switch out the long bar for a V-grip, which allows you to get a closer, parallel grip. This grip recruits more biceps than the overhand wide grip, and will also give you more of a stretch in your latissimus. 8

It’s important to remember that the lat pulldown exercise is just one of many exercises that can be used to target the muscles in your back. Other exercises that can help to build strength and definition in your back muscles include:

  1. Pull-ups: Pull-ups are a compound exercise that targets the lats, rhomboids, and other muscles in your back.
  2. Rows: Rows, such as bent-over rows or seated rows, also target the lats, rhomboids, and other muscles in your back.
  3. Back extensions: Back extensions, such as superman exercises or bird dogs, can help to strengthen your lower back muscles.
  4. Deadlifts: Deadlifts are a compound exercise that targets the lats, as well as the muscles in your lower back, glutes, and legs.

By incorporating a variety of exercises into your workout routine, you can help to target all of the muscles in your back and create a balanced, well-rounded strength training program.

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ⓘ Article Sources

  1. Vishakha Vishwakarma, Dr. P. R. Suresh. “Effect of Latissimus Dorsi Muscle Strengthening in Mechanical Low Back Pain.” PCPS & RC, People’s University, Bhopal – M.P., India. International Journal of Science and Research. ResearchGate Impact Factor (2018): 0.28. SJIF 2019: 7.583.
  2. Snyder BJ, Leech JR. “Voluntary increase in latissimus dorsi muscle activity during the lat pull-down following expert instruction.” J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Nov;23(8):2204-9. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181bb7213. PMID: 19826307.
  3. Lehman GJ, Buchan DD, Lundy A, Myers N, Nalborczyk A. “Variations in muscle activation levels during traditional latissimus dorsi weight training exercises: An experimental study.” Dyn Med. 2004 Jun 30;3(1):4. doi: 10.1186/1476-5918-3-4. PMID: 15228624; PMCID: PMC449729.
  4. Snarr, Ronald MEd, CSCS*D1; Eckert, Ryan M. BS, CSCS, CPT2; Abbott, Patricia PsyD2. “A Comparative Analysis and Technique of the Lat Pull-down.” Strength and Conditioning Journal 37(5):p 21-25, October 2015. | DOI: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000173.
  5. Zemková E, Zapletalová L. “Back Problems: Pros and Cons of Core Strengthening Exercises as a Part of Athlete Training.” Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 May 18;18(10):5400. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18105400. PMID: 34070164; PMCID: PMC8158512.
  6. Sperandei S, Barros MA, Silveira-Júnior PC, Oliveira CG. “Electromyographic analysis of three different types of lat pull-down.” J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Oct;23(7):2033-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181b8d30a. PMID: 19855327.
  7. Andersen V, Fimland MS, Wiik E, Skoglund A, Saeterbakken AH. “Effects of grip width on muscle strength and activation in the lat pull-down.” J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Apr;28(4):1135-42. doi: 10.1097/JSC.0000000000000232. PMID: 24662157.
  8. Andersen, Vidar1; Fimland, Marius S.2,3; Wiik, Espen1; Skoglund, Anders1; Saeterbakken, Atle H.1. “Effects of Grip Width on Muscle Strength and Activation in the Lat Pull-Down.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 28(4):p 1135-1142, April 2014. DOI: 10.1097/JSC.0000000000000232.

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