The lat pulldown exercise is a popular upper body strength training exercise that targets muscles in the back and arms. Typically, the exercise is completed on a lat pulldown cable pulley unit.
Lat pulldown recruits similar muscles and involves the same joint movement as the pull-up or chin-up. It's therefore a good option for people who may lack the strength to lift their entire body weight.
Benefits of Lat Pulldown: Muscles Worked
The lat pulldown is considered a compound exercise, which means it requires movement at multiple joints and requires the contribution of more than one muscle group. As you perform the lat pulldown, your shoulder joints adduct and slightly extend, which means your upper arms move in toward your body, and your elbows are flexing, or bending.
Handling the adduction and extension at the shoulders is the latissimus dorsi muscle. Your latissimus dorsi, or "lat," is a broad muscle in the back that spreads out from your spine to the back of each of your shoulders.
Responsible for flexing your elbow joints during the lat pulldown are your biceps brachii muscles at the front of your upper arms.
Lat Pulldown Technique: Doing the Exercise Correctly
Before sitting at the cable pulley unit, select your desired load by inserting the pin into the appropriate position within the weight stack. Then, sit at the cable pulley unit and place your thighs under the pad supports. Reach up and grasp the cable bar. Your hands should be positioned on the bar slightly wider than your shoulders with your palms facing forward. Sit tall and push out your chest.
Pull down the bar to your upper chest, keeping your elbows pointed straight down. The bar should cross the front of your face and stop just short of touching your upper chest. At the end, squeeze your lats by pinching together your scapulas. Then, control the bar back to starting position by extending your arms and allowing your shoulders to extend. Repeat until you've completed all of the desired reps.
Variations: Change Your Grip
While the wide grip is the most traditionally used grip for lat pulldown, you can change the grip to make the exercise easier or to place greater emphasis on your biceps muscles.
To place less stress on the shoulders and more attention on the biceps, bring your hands in for a narrow grip. Grip the bar with hands at shoulder width or slightly more narrow. Palms should still face away. While the latissimus dorsi is still handling most of the load, because your biceps are in a position where they can better contribute, you'll find you can lift a heavier weight compared to when using a wide grip.
The underhand grip version is similar to narrow grip, except that the hands are flipped around so that your palms are facing you. This grip places the shoulder in an advantaged state, making the exercise easier. You'll be able to lift an even heavier weight when using an underhand grip.
Common Mistakes: What to Avoid
The lat pulldown is a relatively simple exercise to master, but there are a couple of common mistakes that both beginners and advanced lifters have a tendency to make.
Mistake #1: Pulling the Bar Behind Your Head Rather Than In Front
Spend any time at the gym and you'll see lifters pulling the cable bar behind their head to their shoulders rather than in front of the face and to their upper chest. Behind the neck pulldowns are not only less effective at targeting the latissimus dorsi, but they place significant stress on your shoulder capsule and can cause serious damage like tendinosis.
Mistake #2: Rocking Back and Forth
As you perform lat pulldown, your torso should remain in a locked position. It shouldn't rock back and forth as you pull and release the bar. Lifters who do rock during the lat pulldown are using momentum to assist in the lift, and therefore "cheating," or making it easier on their muscles. If you find that you're rocking, it's because you're doing the exercise with too much weight. Lighten the load until you can perform the exercise while keeping your torso stable.
Mistake #3: Grip Too Wide
When using a wide grip, your hands should be no wider than an inch or two beyond the width of your shoulders. Any wider than that and you'll decrease your range of motion and reduce the involvement of your biceps.