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How to Do a Lat Pulldown: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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Lat Pulldown

The pulldown exercise works the back muscles and is performed at a workstation with adjustable resistance, usually plates.How to Do a Lat Pulldown: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

You pull a hanging bar toward you while seated until it reaches your chin, then you controllably release it and raise it again for one repeat. You can include this exercise in a strength-training program for your upper body.How to Do a Lat Pulldown: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

How to Do a Lat Pulldown

Sit comfortably on the pulldown seat, with your feet flat on the floor. Check the height of the bar. You may need to adjust the bar height by shortening or lengthening the chain or cable that supports the bar or your seat height. Get a gym trainer to help with this if necessary. How to Do a Lat Pulldown: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

The bar should be at a height that your outstretched arms can comfortably grasp the bar without having to stand up entirely, but you should also be able to still extend your arms to achieve a full range of motion. If the station has a thigh pad, adjust it so that the upper thighs are tucked firmly under the pad. You will benefit from this when you put effort into the bar.

  1. Grasp the bar with a wide grip with an overhand, knuckles-up grip. Other positions and grips are possible but start with this standard position.
  2. Pull the bar down until it’s approximately level with the chin. Exhale on the downward motion. While shifting slightly backward is OK, aim to keep your upper torso stationary. Keep your feet flat on the floor and engage your abs as you pull. The bottom of the motion should be where your elbows can’t move downward anymore without moving backward. Be sure to stop at that point and do not go lower.
  3. Squeeze the shoulder blades together while maintaining square shoulders.
  4. From the bottom position, with the bar close to your chin, slowly return the bar to the starting position while controlling its gradual ascent. Don’t let it crash into the weight plates.
  5. Continue until you complete eight to 12 repetitions in a set. Rest, then continue to complete your program of sets.

Benefits of Lat Pulldowns

It’s essential to target your back muscles to help with proper posture and to ease pulling movements, like opening a door, starting a lawnmower, swimming, or even performing a pull-up. In many cases, having strong lats may even help with back pain relief.How to Do a Lat Pulldown: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Muscles Worked During Lat Pulldowns

This exercise mainly targets the latissimus dorsi, more commonly referred to as the “lats,” which is a muscle just under the armpits that spreads across and down the back. The teres major, a muscle close to the base of the shoulder blade, is also worked during lat pulldowns.

This exercise isolates the back muscles so you may work on them alone without wearing out your triceps or biceps.

Other Variations of Lat Pulldowns

You can perform this exercise in different ways to meet your skill level and goals.

Light Weights or Bands for Beginners

Beginners may want to start with light weights or a band to ensure they use the correct form. You can also try performing the exercise standing, with one leg forward as if walking.

Alternative Grips

Try wider, narrow, under- or overhand grips to target specific muscle groups. Using a middle-distance grip, with forearms upright and hands about shoulder-width apart, work the biceps and middle back. A wider grip recruits more back muscles, and a close grip pulldown emphasizes the forearm muscles.2

Straight Arm Pulldown

The straight-arm pulldown targets the muscles on the back of the upper arm, known as the triceps, and demands you to maintain your elbows almost fully extended the entire time (this exercise is typically performed standing).

Reversing Your Grip

Reversing the grip to underhand with knuckles facing downward and palms up puts more work on the muscles on the front of your upper arm, known as the biceps.

You can reverse your grip in any position on the bar—wide, middle, or close.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors so you can get the most from this exercise and prevent strain or injury.

Arching Your Back

Maintain an erect posture while pulling down the bar with your chest raised. Keeping your spine in a neutral position might help prevent injuries to your lower back.

Using Your Forearms

Make sure the force of bringing the bar down is coming from your back and not your forearms. Pull down from your armpits to engage your lats.

Holding the Bar Too Wide

Grab the bar just outside your shoulders, but not too wide, especially if you’re a beginner. Keep your elbows pointed down as you lower the bar and not out to the sides.

Pulling Down Too Far

Stop at the point where your elbows would need to go backward to continue pulling the cable down. If the elbows go backward, it will put excessive stress on the shoulder joint. You should only lower the bar to your chin or just below.

Using Momentum

As with most weighted exercises, perform the pulldown slowly and with control. Doing it fast uses momentum and reduces the use of the targeted muscles.How to Do a Lat Pulldown: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Safety and Precautions

The pulldown behind the neck is not recommended for safety reasons, as the rotation of the shoulder joint and possible spine contact with the bar could lead to injuries.How to Do a Lat Pulldown: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

If you have any wrist, elbow, or shoulder problems, talk to your doctor or physical therapist to see if this exercise is appropriate. Stop this exercise if you feel any pain or too much stress on your shoulder joints.

The number of reps you do in one workout will depend on the weight used, your experience level, and strength.

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