How to do Lat Pulldowns Correctly and Safely

 
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INTRODUCTION: USING THE LAT PULLDOWN FOR BACK DEVELOPMENT

The lat pull down is one of the only useful machines in the weight room. It allows you to train a large group of muscles at once making it an efficient and functional exercise.

If you cannot perform a pull-up, the lat pulldown is a great alternative to get a similar training effect.

In addition, the cable pulley system also allows for a more free range of motion of the weight as compared to other machines where the motion is rigid and fixed.

LAT PULLDOWN FORM VIDEO TUTORIAL

 

LAT PULLDOWN BENEFITS

  • Strengthens the upper back muscles, the biceps, the forearms and the lattisimus dorsi

  • Provides versatility by allowing you to change the width of your grip

  • Trains the same muscles as a pull-up, which is one of the best exercises of all time

 

MUSCLES USED IN THE LAT PULLDOWN EXERCISE

  • Lattisimus Dorsi

  • Rhomboids

  • Posterior Deltoids

  • Mid-Low Trapezius

  • Biceps

  • Forearms/Grip

 

PERFORMING THE LAT PULLDOWN EXERCISE WITH PROPER FORM

  • Approach a pull-down machine with a bar that allows you to maintain a grip outside of shoulder width

  • Adjust the knee pads to a height where you can keep your shins roughly perpendicular to the floor

  • Grab the pulldown bar with your palms facing forward at a grip outside of shoulder width

  • Place your knees under the knee pad and sit down

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  • From this position, arch slightly at the upper back so that your chest is sticking out slightly

  • Next, depress and retract your scapula to lock your shoulder blades in place

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  • Maintain this position and do not let your shoulder blades protract

  • Maintain a flat neutral back throughout the rest of your spine

  • Take a big breath and begin pulling the bar down

  • Initiate the movement by pulling your elbows down towards your pockets

  • Bring the bar down to touch clavicles

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  • Concentrate on squeezing your upper back muscles at the end position

  • Slowly return the bar back to the starting position

  • Do not change your back position in an effort to artificially make it seem like you are bringing the weight lower

 

  

SUMMARY OF THE LAT PULLDOWN TECHNIQUE

 
 

Click on each blue circle to view the key technical aspects of this exercise

 

COMMON LAT PULLDOWN MISTAKES

NOT BRINGING THE WEIGHT ALL THE WAY DOWN

If you do not perform a full range of motion, you are only cheating yourself and not working the muscles to their full potential. Touch your clavicles on every repetition but do not compromise your form

 

ALLOWING YOUR SHOULDERS TO INTERNALLY ROTATE AT THE BOTTOM

This usually happens when the weight is either too heavy, or you are performing too many reps. Keep your upper back arched and your shoulder blades back. If you cannot finish the final rep of the set, don’t try and force the bar to touch your clavicles. This will cause wear and tear injury to your shoulder and lead to anterior shoulder discomfort.
 

 
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USING EXCESSIVE MOTION OF THE SPINE TO LIFT THE WEIGHT

The weight is too heavy. Do not allow your back angle to change much during the lift

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Can Lat Pulldowns Help With Pull-ups?

The lat pulldown trains all of the same muscles as the pull-up so in theory, it should help. The problem is, you actually have to practice pull-ups to get better at them.

If you are an absolute beginner, you can start off with lat pulldowns, but if your goal is to get better at the pull-up, be sure to practice them as well. In our pull-up tutorial, we go over an easy way to begin training this exercise.

I Can Do Both. What’s Better? Lat Pulldowns Vs Pull-ups?

Free weight and bodyweight exercises will always be better than machine exercises. Stick to pull-ups.

With that said, pull-ups are more challenging as the require you to engage your entire body and core. Sometimes when I’m feeling lazy, I do lat pulldowns instead.

Should I Do Lat Pulldowns with an Overhand or Underhand Grip?

I recommend that you stick to an overhand grip. This grip will target your back muscles more than an underhand grip, which heavily involves the biceps. There are other exercises you can do to target the biceps. Let the lat pulldown work your lats.

Can I Do Lat Pulldowns Behind The Head?

I do not recommended that you perform this exercise behind the neck. It can place excessive strain on your shoulder and rotator cuff. You will get all of the benefits that you need from doing this exercise the normal way.

What’s The Best Lat Pulldown Grip? Should I Use a Close Grip or a Wide Grip?

The lat pulldown could be performed from different grip widths. The wider your grip, the more back muscles are used (more lats), and the closer your grip is, the more arm muscles are used. A good place to set your grip when starting out is just outside of your shoulder width.  Every 8-12 weeks vary your grip width to get a slightly different stimulus.

Lat Pulldowns Hurt My Shoulder. Why?

This is likely due to the fact that you are letting your shoulders internally rotate at the bottom of the exercise. Retract your scapula and keep your shoulders back in their shoulder sockets. See above in the common mistakes section.

If this still doesn’t help you, perform a neutral grip lat pulldown. (Use an attachment that allows you to grasp the handle with your palms facing each other.)

I Don’t Have The Lat Pulldown Machine. Can I Do Lat Pulldowns with a Band?

It is very difficult to replicate this exercise without the machine. If you have a closed loop resistance band, you can attach it onto a sturdy support, crouch and pull the band down towards you in a similar fashion.

Ultimately, you will be limited by the amount of resistance you can use with this technique.

Can I Do Lat Pulldowns with Dumbbells?

Again, this exercise is vert difficult to replicate. The closest thing you can do are dumbbell pullovers as an alternative. Either that or you can stick with pull-ups.

Can I Do Lat Pulldowns At Home?

The only way to do lat pulldowns at home are with the three strategies I mentioned above. You can either use a resistance band, do dumbbell pullovers, or simply do pull-ups.

HOW CAN I INTEGRATE THE LAT PULLDOWN INTO MY ROUTINE?

Want to know how to use this exercise in your workout? Check out The Best Workout Template For Busy Individuals to learn how to integrate it into your training!

 

LAT PULL DOWN ALTERNATIVES

Here are some other alternatives you can do to train similar muscle groups.

 

Alex & Brittany Robles are the founders of The White Coat Trainer, a site dedicated to improving the health and wellness of busy individuals. Learn more about them here and connect with them on instagram and Twitter. Feel free to send them a message here