The Ultimate Lat Pulldown Guide: Technique, Benefits, and Variations

lat pulldown cover

Everything you need to know about the Lat Pulldown from technique, back benefits, and variations.

The lat pulldown machine is one of the most popular gym equipment. It has the glam and macho appeal that draws in the fitness newbies and experienced lifters to strengthen their back muscles. 

Be it a motivational YouTube training video, or a snippet of Rocky Balboa training for a big fight, it will probably feature the star performing a set on the lat pull-down machine.

Almost every gym around the world has a lat pulldown machine, and yet most lifters fail to make the most of it. The ultimate lat pulldown guide will ensure you do not leave gains on the table. 

Lat Pulldown Exercise Details

  • Target muscle: Latissimus Dorsi
  • Synergists: Brachialis, Brachioradialis, Biceps Brachii, Teres Major, Posterior Deltoid, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor, Rhomboids, Levator Scapulae, Middle and Lower Trapezius, Pectoralis Minor
  • Mechanics: Compound
  • Force: Pull

Benefits of Lat Pulldown

Kai pulldown

Pull-up is an incredibly effective exercise for building upper body strength and muscle mass. But there is a catch. Performing a pull-up is no joke, and performing 30+ pull-ups in a workout will test your mettle. 

Performing a pull-up will fire up every muscle fiber in your back, arms, and shoulders. While nailing this exercise could prove to be a lifesaver sometime in the future (if you find yourself hanging from a building or a chopper in the event of an alien invasion), most people usually give it a pass for its friendlier sibling – the lat pulldown. 

1. Engages the same muscles as a pull-up

The lat-pulldown involves a similar movement to the pull-up, challenging your mid and upper-back muscles, trapezius, arms, and grip. The exercise is a god-send for beginners or people who cannot perform a bodyweight pull-up.

Next Read: 6 Badass Exercises You Can Do With A Pull-Up Bar

2. Puts you in the driver seat

The lat pulldown machine gives you more control over how much you lift and the rep tempo as compared to vanilla pull-ups. You could perform a new variation of the lat pull-down every week just by switching up rep tempos. 

Check Out: How To Increase The Time Under Tension To Maximize Your Gains

3. One of the best ways to build a V-taper

Back exercise best

Forget Red Bull, lat pull-downs give you wings that make you look like you can fly. It targets the latissimus dorsi – the large, flat muscles across your mid-back. A strong and wide back is also vital for a Superman chest. The more you work on your lat pull-downs, the better equipped you’ll be to go big on the bench press.

4. Constant tension on your working muscles 

The cable-operated machine ensures constant tension on your muscles throughout the movement pattern – even on the eccentric part of the lift. Unlike the pull-ups, lat pulldowns also put less tension on the secondary muscle groups during a set. 

Must Read: The Gym Machines You’re Probably Using Incorrectly

5. Can Help Improve Your Posture

By working the muscles in your back, lat pulldowns can improve your posture. You will rarely see a person with solid V-taper suffering from a bad posture. On top of this, lat pulldowns can improve your performance during other compound exercises that use your back muscles like pull-ups, deadlifts, and good mornings.

Related: Programming Vertical Pulling For Greater Back Gains

Common Mistakes While Performing Lat Pulldowns

The lat pull-down machine is usually swamped – especially during rush hours at the gym. Listed below are the most common lat pulldown errors:

1. Partial reps

Lat pulldown

Partial reps are a sign that you have more weight on the cable than you can lift. If you cannot pull the bar down to your chin level, you are letting your ego get the better of you. 

Once you have the bar at your chin level, you need to contract your lats and shoulder blades. If you cannot perform this step, you are leaving gains on the table. 

Also, make sure you are not pulling the bar using your forearms. Focus on contracting and relaxing your lats as you move the weight. Tip: Activate your lats by pulling down from your armpits.

Related: Is This The Worst Case Of Ego Lifting?

2. Arching your back

While you might be able to lift a few extra pounds by arching your back as you pull the bar down, it can put unwanted tension on your lower back and expose you to an injury. Sit upright and keep your chest lifted while performing the exercise. 

3. Pulling the bar down past your chest 

This is a rookie mistake, and it can stem from both – lifting too light or heavy. Pulling the bar past your chest and almost in line with your stomach takes away almost all the tension from your lats and back. Keep your chest lifted and stop when you reach chin level. 

4. Using momentum 

Back workout

Most lifters make the mistake of swinging back and forth while performing lat pulldowns. It is yet another case of ego lifting. While using a jerking motion might help you pull down the weight, it takes away the tension from the primary muscles and increases the odds of an injury. 

Sit upright, keep your chest lifted throughout the exercise and perform the pulldown with control. Utilizing rep tempos and contracting your back with every rep ensures optimal muscle fiber recruitment. 

Also Read: Lat Pulldown Vs Pull-Up: Which Is Better For Wide Lats?

How To Perform a Lat Pulldown

In bodybuilding, your results depend on how well you perform an exercise, and your diet and recovery programs. Follow the steps below to nail the first part of the equation:

  1. Adjust the seat or thigh pads so that your upper thighs are tucked firmly under the pads. Place your feet flat on the floor. 
  2. Grab the bar with a wider than shoulder-width overhand grip. 
  3. While breathing out, pull the bar down until it is almost at your chin level. 
  4. Make sure your torso is stationary and you are not reclining back while lowering the bar. 
  5. Squeeze the shoulder blades together while maintaining square shoulders. 
  6. Return to the starting position with a slow and controlled motion as you exhale. 
  7. Do not lock out your elbows at the top of the movement. Keep the weight engaged, and do not let it crash into the racked plates. 
  8. Repeat for recommended repetitions. 

Lat Pulldown Variations

Bored of the good old lat pulldown? Use these variations to keep your muscles guessing:

1. Underhand Lat Pull-down

Underhand pulldown

  • Changing grips is a great way to add variety to the lat pulldown exercise. 
  • Reversing your hand placement to a supinated (palms facing you) grip puts more tension on your biceps. 
  • The underhand lat pull-down is a great variation if you are performing the exercise at the end of your back workout when your posterior muscle group is relatively fatigued.

Read: How The Underhand Lat Pulldown Can Give You Wing-Like Lats

2. Wide-Grip Lat Pull-down

Wide grip pulldown

  • Using a wide grip engages the latissimus dorsi to a higher degree compared to the shoulder-wide grip. 
  • In this variation, you will pull the bar down to your upper chest, pause, and squeeze the life out of your lats. 
  • Make sure you are keeping your torso upright and not reclining back while performing the movement. 

3. Close-Grip Lat Pull-down

  • In the close-grip lat pulldown variation, you will be holding the bar with a narrower than shoulder-width grip.
  • Embrace your core and pin back your shoulders as you pull the bar under your chin. 
  • Squeeze your lats at the bottom of the movement. 
  • Return to the starting position with a slow and controlled motion.
  • Repeat for recommended reps. 

4. V-Bar Lat Pull-down

V bar pulldown

  • Cable-operated machines give you the liberty to swap the wide bar for several other attachments to target your back differently. 
  • Replace the bar with a v-grip attachment. 
  • Secure your legs under the thigh pads and maintain an upright torso throughout the movement.
  • While keeping your chest lifted, pull the v-grip attachment until your palms are a few inches away from your upper chest. 
  • Pause and contract your lats at the bottom of the movement.
  • Return to the starting position with a controlled motion and repeat for recommended reps. 

Read: V-Bar Pulldown – Exercise Guide

5. Behind the Neck Lat Pull-down

Behind back lat pulldown

  • Behind the neck variation is probably the most advanced lat pulldown technique on the list.
  • Grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width overhand grip.
  • Straighten your body to a point where the cable and pull-down bar is directly above your spine, and tuck your head forward to allow the bar to be safely lowered. 
  • Shrug your shoulder blades back to set your shoulders, this allows the tension to stay on your lats throughout the exercise.
  • Slowly lower the bar behind your head until it is at your ear level as you breathe out.
  • Squeeze your lats at the bottom of the movement.
  • Return to the starting position with a slow and controlled motion.
  • Repeat for recommended reps.

Lat Pulldown Alternatives 

Depending on your experience level, you could use the following exercises to train your back optimally:

1. Pull-up

Pullup

 

We are sure you are not surprised to find pull-ups on the list. Once you develop enough strength to perform pull-ups with the correct form, you should make them a constant in your back training regimen.

  1. Stand on an aerobic stepper and grab the pull-bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip.
  2. Hang from the bar and bend at your knees so that your lower legs are parallel to the floor.
  3. Pull yourself towards the roof while focusing on your back until your chin reaches the bar level.
  4. Return to the starting position with a controlled motion.
  5. Repeat for recommended reps.

2. Negative Pull-up

If you are a beginner, negative pull-ups are a great exercise to build strength for the orthodox pull-ups. It involves performing only the lowering, or eccentric phase of an exercise. 

  1. Start by standing on a box or bench. 
  2. Jump high enough so your face it at the pull-up bar level and grab it with a shoulder-width grip. 
  3. Once you have gripped the bar, lower yourself as slowly as you can while focusing on your lats. 
  4. When you reach the bottom of the movement, release the bar and step back.
  5. Step back onto the box and repeat for recommended reps.

Related: Use Negative Training For Positive Mass Gains

3. Unilateral Lat Pull-down

Unilateral pulldown

This variation of the lat-pull down works each side of your back individually. It is great for fixing muscle imbalances and improving symmetry. If you do not have access to a unilateral lat pulldown machine at your gym, you could use the standard lat pulldown machine with a D-bar handle attachment. 

  1. Hold the D-handle attachment with a neutral grip.
  2. Rotate your palm as you pull the handle towards your chin.
  3. Your palm should be facing you at the bottom of the movement. 
  4. Pause and contract your lat.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position. 
  6. Repeat for recommended reps before switching hands.

Next Read: The Benefits Of Unilateral Training & Why It Matters

4. Straight Arm Lat Pull-down

The straight arm lat pulldown is a great exercise for building a V-taper. It also avoids over-using your arms which is the case with the standard lat pull-downs. 

  1. Attach a wide-grip handle to a cable pulley. 
  2. Stand upright with a shoulder-width stance.
  3. Grab the bar with a pronated (overhand) grip at shoulder-width and lean forward slightly by hinging at your hips. 
  4. Keep your elbows slightly bent throughout the movement and initiate the movement by depressing your shoulder blades and extending the shoulders.
  5. Pull the bar to your thighs until your lats are fully contracted.
  6. Return to the starting position with a slow and controlled movement. 
  7. Repeat for recommended reps. 

Check Out: Mastering The Straight Arm Pulldown

5. Bent-Over Barbell Row

Bent over barbell row

Bent-over barbell row work your lats and multiple back muscles. 

  1. Grab a barbell with a shoulder-width overhand grip.
  2. Unrack the bar and stand upright.
  3. Slowly lower your torso until your upper body is at a 60-degree angle with the floor.
  4. Keep your knees slightly bent and maintain an arch in your back throughout the movement.
  5. Lift the weight to your sternum, keeping your elbows tucked in and close to your body.
  6. Contract your lats at the top of the movement.
  7. Slowly return to the starting position. 
  8. Repeat for recommended repetitions. 

Conclusion 

Lat pulldown is suitable for lifters of all experience levels, and most gyms have the machine. While the lat pulldown is a part of most back training routines, it is essential to be following the correct form to get the most bang for your buck. 

You should also try new variations and alternatives to keep your muscles guessing and avoid hitting a plateau. Things as small as switching up the number of reps, sets, and rep tempos can do the trick and get you that much sought-after V-taper. 


Which is your favorite lat pulldown variation? Let us know in the comments below. Also, be sure to follow Generation Iron on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Vidur is a fitness junky who likes staying up to date with the fitness industry and loves publishing his opinions for everyone to see. Subscribe to his YouTube Channel.