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The Lat Pulldown: One Sure-Fire Way to Grow a Bigger Back

This machine exercise is a great way to build your lats.

The lat pulldown is a popular gym exercise performed with a machine and used to strengthen and build the lats muscles.

It is performed by stretching the arms overhead and pulling a bar toward you, your hands reaching shoulder height, and releasing the bar back up in a controlled manner for one repetition.

What are the lats?

The latissimus dorsi muscles, also known as the lats muscle, are the large V-shaped muscles that connect your vertebral column to your arms.

Their primary function is to stabilize the spine while providing strength to the shoulders and arms.

They are some of the biggest muscles in your back, spanning from the top of your hip bone all the way up to your arms.

Source: wikipedia

Read more: Lats Muscle: Building A Powerful Foundation for Upper-Body Strength

How to do a lat pulldown?

Lat pulldowns are similar to pull-ups, but instead of pulling your body upwards, you perform this exercise seated and pull an external weight down in a similar motion.

  1. Start by facing the machine and finding a comfortable seat, with your back straight, core engaged and feet grounded on the floor.
  2. Reach for the bar, this should be at a comfortable distance that requires you to almost fully stretch your arms. For a classic lat pulldown, grab the bar with a wide, overhand grip.
  3. Pull the bar down until it passes under your chin and your hands are about shoulder height. Make sure you keep your core tight and engage your back muscles throughout this movement. Your elbows should stay relatively close to your sides and your torso should remain in position.
  4. Pause for a second and squeeze your lats.  
  5. Bring the bar back up in a controlled manner, ensuring this motion is slow and you engage your core and back muscles throughout. The rep is completed when your arms are extended overhead again.

Lat Pulldown Machine Form

One of the biggest mistakes people make when performing lat pulldowns is to lean back and use their bodyweight to initiate the exercise. Good lat pulldown form requires you to keep your torso upright, engage your back muscles, and perform every rep slow and controlled.

Which grip is best for lat pulldowns?

You can perform lat pulldowns with either a closed or a wide grip. Both variations are correct and simply target slightly different muscles.

The first, also known as an underhand, shoulder-width grip, is similar to the way you’d hold a bar for chin-ups. This variation targets both your upper back and biceps.

Using a wide, overhand grip prevents your biceps from fully engaging and targets the lats over the back muscles.

The wider your grip, the more the lats have to work during the exercise.

That being said, a 2014 study that examined different grip positions on the lat pulldown concluded that fitness enthusiasts and athletes alike should expect similar results in strength and muscle size no matter which grip they choose.

woman performs lat pulldown in gymSource: FitNish Media on Unsplash

Lat Pulldown muscles worked

The lat pulldown is a compound exercise, meaning it targets many muscles at once. While it was designed to target the latissimus dorsi primarily, the exercise also works the following muscles:

  • Teres Major
  • Rear Deltoids
  • Rhomboids
  • Levator Scapulae
  • Core muscles
  • Forearm muscles

Stabiliser muscles include the triceps and the rotator cuff.

The exercise works your lats through a full range of motion, and even if other muscles are targeted, there are little exercises as good as the lat pulldown to build strength in the area the exercise gets its name from.

Lat pulldown alternatives and variations

Single Arm Banded Lat Pulldown

Dumbbell pullover

The dumbbell pullover is a classic bodybuilding exercise that works your chest and back primarily. When performed correctly, the exercise hits everything from the bottom of your pecs to your abs, lats and triceps.

Read more: Dumbbell Pullover: How to Do It, Muscles Worked, Benefits and Workouts

Dumbbell row

The dumbbell row primarily hits muscles on your back, but also improves core stability, while engaging muscles on your shoulders, biceps and triceps. They are a unilateral alternative to the lat pulldown and come with many benefits.

Read more: Dumbbell Row: Who Should Do It, Benefits, & Mistakes to Avoid (Plus 5 Workouts)

Romanian deadlifts

As a compound exercise, the Romanian deadlift targets many muscles at once when done correctly, from your lower body to your core. This strength and muscle building exercise is a version of a still-legged deadlift and, crucially, focuses on the eccentric movement pattern. 

Read more: Try the Romanian Deadlift for Stronger and Bigger Glutes

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