The Best Way To Do Lat Pulldown
When it comes to the upper body, the Lat Pulldown is the one-stop shop exercise…
Essentials of the Lat Pulldown Exercise
Want a stronger upper body?
One brief exercise could be your ticket to more defined arms, sculpted shoulders, and a leaner looking waist.
If you’ve read our leg press article, you’ll recall that the leg press is the one-stop shop for just about all lower body muscles.
When it comes to the upper body, the Lat Pulldown is the one-stop shop.
In this article, we’ll dive into the details of what muscles this exercise targets, how to perform it properly, and why we execute the lat pulldown in a way that’s different from what you see in most public gyms….
Performing the Lat Pulldown
When starting in a stretched position, you’ll find that your shoulders are shrugged. The first part of the movement is to pull your shoulders down. After your shoulders are down, then start bending your elbows to lift the weight (the positive phase of the rep).
As with other exercises, using a full range of motion is best for maximally stimulating your muscles to grow stronger and larger (Pedrosa et al., 2022). You should pull as far as you can, ideally until the handles are close to your chest and your elbows are to the sides of your ribs.
As you pull the handles down into this position, it’s normal to focus on pulling the handles down. However, there’s a “Jedi mind trick” that you can use to make sure you feel the correct muscles.
Instead of focusing on pulling the handles down, focus on pulling your elbows down and back. This is actually what the lats are doing. When people focus on pulling their elbows down instead of the handles, they are more likely to feel their lats and demonstrate proper form.
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The most popular and most discussed upper body exercise is the chest press (bench press). This exercise is often the focus of strength tests and is a favorite of men who typically want to build their chest muscles.
However, the largest and maybe the most important muscle in the upper body is the latissimus dorsi, or “lats.” The lats cover most of the back ranging from the middle of the spine to the bottom of the spine and crosses over the back to the top of the arms.
The lat pulldown strengthens several large and functionally important muscles of the upper body and also increases the size of muscles that impact our physical appearance.
Lats: The Pulling Muscle
The lats are a critical muscle for a few reasons. They are vital to any movement where we pull, such as when we open a door, drag a couch or other furniture, or start a lawnmower. The lats are also an important muscle for aesthetics. More than any other muscle, the lats provide shape to the upper body. When the lats become larger, they provide a ‘V’ shape to the upper body.
The lats are trained by a few exercises, including chin-ups, pull-ups, compound row, and the lat pulldown. The lat pulldown, as the name implies, is focused on the lats. The pulldown also trains a few other muscle groups, including the rhomboids (between the shoulder blades), traps (mid and upper back), rear deltoids (back of the shoulders), and the biceps.
If you’ve gone to The Perfect Workout and public gyms, you’ll notice that we execute the lat pulldown differently than most. What are our recommendations for performing the lat pulldown? Keep reading!
The Best Way to Do Lat Pulldown to Avoid Injury
When starting the lat pulldown, you should feel that you’re in a “stretched” position. Your elbows are straight and your shoulders are up as you have to reach to hold the handles. This is an important detail in the execution of the exercise.
The stretched position and the part of the movement around the top (when the elbows are straight or close to straightened) is the portion of the exercise that leads to most of the strength and muscle growth that the pulldown provides (Pedrosa et al., 2022).
Some people perform the lat pulldown with the handles/bar closer, where they don’t have a stretch. This is a mistake and skips some of the most crucial parts of the movement!
Start the movement in a stretched position with straight elbows.
Before we discuss how to perform the pulldown, there’s another significant detail to know about the set up. Most people perform the pulldown with a bar, which they grab with their palms facing away from their torso. When pulling down, the elbows are flared out. This traditional lat pulldown approach is actually unhealthy for the shoulder joint.
Having the elbows out and the palms facing away is called the “high five” position, and it’s linked with lifters having shoulder issues. Specifically, using this position creates anterior shoulder instability (Corrao et al., 2010; Kolber et al., 2010).
In other words, training in this position could cause pain in the shoulder joint and increase the risk of a shoulder dislocation. To avoid this, we perform the lat pulldown with a “neutral” grip, where the palms face each other and the elbows stay in front of the torso during the movement. Our Nautilus lat pulldowns are built to be performed with the neutral grip instead of the “high five position.”
After reaching the bottom point in the movement, slowly start upwards (the negative phase of the rep). You’ll notice that the shoulders are shrugged at this point- don’t worry, we all do it! Drop your shoulders every time you start performing the negative phase.
Continue the negative phase until the weight you’re lifting taps the weight stack. At that point, your elbows should be straight and you should have a stretch in your lats. Once tapping the weight stack, immediately start the next rep.
As we like to say – barely touch, barely start.
The lat pulldown is a critical exercise as it focuses on the largest muscle in the upper body: the latissimus dorsi (“lats”). The pulldown also targets other back muscles, the shoulders, and the biceps.
When setting up the exercise, use handles or another connection that will enable you to avoid the “high five” position (palms facing away, elbows out). Also, start with a stretched position with straight elbows.
Focus on pulling your elbows down as far as possible, then drop your shoulders as you start lowering the weight. Lower the weight until the weight touches the weight stack and you feel a stretch in the lats.
In just one short set performed one or two times per week, you are training the major muscles of the upper body while improving the shape, tone and strength of your back and arms.
To get the most out of the lat pulldown, work with one of our Trainers to get proper coaching and guidance at any of The Perfect Workout studios.
We know strength training is important, but nutrition is also a huge piece of your wellbeing. If you'd like help learning how to implement these new habits alongside your workouts, schedule a Nutrition Intro session today! Email [email protected] to get started.
- Corrao, M., Pizzini, G. H., Palo, D. R., Hanney, W. J., & Kolber, M. J. (2010). Weight training modifications for the individual with anterior shoulder instability. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 32(4), 52-55.
- Kolber, M. J., Beekhuizen, K. S., Cheng, M. S. S., & Hellman, M. A. (2010). Shoulder injuries attributed to resistance training: a brief review. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(6), 1696-1704.
- Pedrosa, G. F., Lima, F. V., Schoenfeld, B. J., Lacerda, L. T., Simões, M. G., Pereira, M. R., … & Chagas, M. H. (2022). Partial range of motion training elicits favorable improvements in muscular adaptations when carried out at long muscle lengths. European Journal of Sport Science, 22(8), 1250-1260.
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