The lat pulldown is a pulling-based exercise. In simple terms, it allows you to use your body weight against gravity to build muscle in your back, biceps, and forearms. What makes the lat pulldown exercise so good at building muscle? This article will tell you everything you need to know about the lat pulldown benefits and why it’s one of the absolute best out there for muscle development.
Lat pull downs – and the many exercise variations – predominately work the latissimus dorsi muscle and are performed on a lat pulldown machine at a plate-loaded workstation.
When you sit at the lat pulldown machine, your thighs are underneath the pad attached to the seat. It is beneficial because it ensures your back is in a position where it is purely isolated.
The lat pulldown also almost forces your upper body to pull without the need to sway and jerk, which reduces the risk of injury.
It is frequently used as a replacement exercise for the regular pull-up. This is because lat pull downs don’t require the same level of upper body strength as the pull-up to complete each rep successfully and safely.
But, regardless of whether you’re a seasoned gym rat and you’ve been doing strict pull-ups for years, the lat pulldown exercise offers excellent benefits and has a place to be included in any training program.
And don’t get it twisted; lat pull downs shouldn’t be just a replacement exercise for pull-ups. It is a well-respected exercise to build a muscular back and improve upper body muscles if performed strictly.
What Are The Benefits of Lat Pulldowns?
The lat pulldown exercise is worthy of having a place in any workout program, regardless of the level of trainer. If you haven’t tried them before, I’d strongly consider giving them a go after reading the lat pulldown benefits listed below.
We’re at a time in life where a high percentage of people spend most of their days sitting, whether this is related to their job or they’re in the car for many hours.
Although this may be unavoidable, it doesn’t take away the fact that your back is unactivated and underused. This can lead to poor posture, which can produce pain in your shoulders, neck, and back.
Lat pulldowns can help activate the underactive muscles, almost “waking them up,” as it were. This can certainly help reduce any tension or pain you might have been experiencing, which will ultimately see an improvement in your posture.
The lat pulldown strengthens the latissimus dorsi muscles, the upper back muscles, and the muscles of the shoulders. However, they are also highly beneficial in strengthening the rhomboid and trapezius.
Build a Bigger, Wider Back
The lat pulldown is an excellent exercise if you want to increase your back’s size and width.
This exercise allows you to isolate the lats completely, so all the tension is on that area. You can get away with working the lats with high volume and using a variety of grips before the muscle reaches its fatigue limit.
It is also a fantastic replacement exercise for those who cannot perform pull-ups in high enough volumes to cause muscle growth in the back.
Lat pulldowns remove the limitation of grip strength that is a common issue when performing the pull-up.
Lat pull downs not only strengthen the back – they offer additional strength to a variety of shoulder muscles, including the infraspinatus, deltoids, and teres major, one of the rotator cuff muscles.
Exercises like the flat bench press, for example, add a lot of pressure and tension on the rotator cuff muscles, which is attributed to shoulder injuries, like a torn rotator cuff.
I am one of those people with badly injured rotator cuffs.
However, with strong rotator cuffs comes strong shoulders, and the lat pulldown is your friend here.
Lat pulldowns play a pivotal role in strengthening your biceps.
They’re significant when it comes to pulling or lifting something off the ground. Your biceps provides the strength to do so
How to Do a Lat Pulldown (With Proper Form)
Step 1 – Grasp the bar and take a seat
Take a medium to wide, double overhand grip on the bar, ensuring it is a few inches outside of shoulder width apart (I would highly recommend not using a grip too wide, as this can cause stress on the shoulder joint).
Rest the bar comfortably in the middle of the palm and not the fingertips, as your grip may suffer.
Now take a seat and make sure your arms are fully extended and under load when seated to emphasize the stretch on the lats.
Both feet should be flat on the floor, and the pad attached to the workstation should nicely tuck your thighs underneath it.
LosePhat Tip: Imagine bringing your lats out wide as you reach overhead.
Step 2 – Slightly arch your back and pull the bar straight down
Sit up tall and feel the stretch on the lats.
Pulling your chest up and creating a slight arch in your back, pull the bar down to the lower chest area.
Maintain good form and do not lean back and swing to complete a rep as you pull down.
LosePhat Tip: Bring your scapula together on each rep as you pull the bar down to the lower chest. It emphasizes the lats.
Step 3 – Stretch back up and repeat.
Once the bar has touched the lower chest, allow the arms to go back overhead while maintaining complete control.
Make sure you stretch the lats out and feel the tension. Momentarily pause at the top and repeat steps 1-3.
LosePhat Tip: Perform this part of the exercise slowly and maintain good form. Remember to feel the tension on the lats.
Lat Pulldown Alternatives
The regular overhand grip will, without a doubt, help you create a stronger, more muscular back. But if you’re looking to keep things exciting and to take your progression to the next level, add in some lat pulldown variation too.
Underhand Lat Pulldown
Perform this by taking an underhand grip on the bar, palms facing away, just as you would doing a pull-up.
Make sure your grip is around shoulder width apart, and the key is to keep your chest out and your back straight. Again, maintain good form and do not round your shoulders during the pulling motion.
Straight Arm Lat Pulldown
Do this standing with a slight flex in the elbows. Weight is irrelevant here; emphasize the entire stretch and feel the lats engage.
Close Grip Lat Pulldown
Here you will use an attachment named the Double D Handle to perform this exercise. Face your palms together and bend both elbows at a 90-degree angle.
Single Arm Lat Pulldown
This is a great variation to isolate and engage the lats. You will be using a stirrup attachment for this exercise. It is essential to keep your chest up and emphasize a great stretch on the lats when the arm is fully extended at the top.
Rope Lat Pulldown
You can perform this standing or seated. If standing, ensure you stick your glutes out to maximize the stretch on the lats.
Optimum Lat Pulldown Reps And Sets
When it comes to building muscle, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
However, overall, I am confident that the body responds better to a lower volume approach when performing significant compound movements like the deadlift and barbell row.
The reason is that you are using many muscles simultaneously, which fatigues the body at a much faster rate compared to isolation exercises.
In terms of the lat pulldown, I would encourage you to aim for three to five sets of 10-15 repetitions with a moderate load and always maintain good form.
Form should always be a priority in resistance training, especially when performing an isolation exercise.
There is no reason you cannot train your back twice per week as long as there is sufficient recovery between both days.
I would, however, only limit compound back exercises to one day per week as the CNS (central nervous system) can take a beating if it is under too much stress.
The following mistakes are witnessed very often in the gym, so take heed and don’t let this be you.
Arching Your Back
It’s essential to sit upright with your chest out as you pull the bar down. You are minimizing the risk of injury by doing this.
Using Too Much Forearm
A huge mistake I often see is someone using too much forearm to pull the bar down. It tends to be because they are trying to use too much weight. Be conscious to activate your lats when pulling the bar down.
Holding The Bar Too Wide
This mistake is predominantly seen in newbies. They do not realize they are placing lots of stress on the shoulder joints and not activating the lats as a whole. It’s essential to hold the bar just outside the shoulders but not too wide.
Pulling The Bar Down Too Far
Stop pulling when you reach the lower chest area. Your elbows should not be going any lower than they do at that point. If they are, you’re going down too far and placing additional stress on the shoulder joints.
You already know that form is critical in all exercises, so avoid the need to swing to move a few more pounds of weight. It’s counterproductive. Target your muscle appropriately by having complete control of the movement.
Not Engaging The Lats
This exercise – or any exercise – isn’t about getting from A to B; otherwise, there’s no stimulation in the targeted muscle area. Instead, fully engage the lats as you bring the bar down and pull from your lats. Bring your shoulder blades together at the end of each repetition.
Beginners are guilty of this. You are robbing yourself of progress as there is little tension on the muscle training this way. Use a full range of motion and engage the lats properly.
As always, it goes without saying that if you have any existing injuries, then consult a doctor or physical therapist to get confirmation if this exercise is safe for you to do.
I will encourage you to stop the exercise if you feel discomfort and stress on the shoulder joint or pain anywhere in general.
One final note is that I do not recommend the behind-the-neck lat pulldown. I’ve never liked it as it puts both the shoulder joint and spine in a compromising position, leading to an injury occurring.
Can I do a lat pulldown daily?
Nothing stops you from doing it daily, but I’m not sure why you want to. If muscle growth is your aim, then remember that the body grows when it is out of the gym, not in it. That said, I am a believer in training lagging body parts twice per week to help stimulate growth, so there is no reason why you cannot add lat pulldowns into your program twice weekly.
Will lat pulldowns build muscle mass?
Strictly speaking, no exercise builds muscle as such. A sound nutrition plan and plenty of recovery are the foundation of muscle building. Lat pulldowns are an excellent choice for stimulating the latissimus dorsi, though.
What is better, pull-ups or lat pulldowns?
There is no “better” here. Both are equally beneficial in their own right in building strong back muscles. And both have their advantages. For example, in my opinion, pull-ups are undoubtedly superior at developing strength. In comparison, lat pulldowns are more versatile as you can adjust the attachments and weight.
About the author
I'm Chris. I have a vast interest in all things relating to health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition. I also love to improve my mindset and learn how to increase my productivity. If you'd like to say hello or ask me a question, please visit my contact page, and I'd be glad to hear from you. Alternatively, you can find me on Twitter (@liveliftlife).