The Complete Guide On Lat Pulldowns: Proper Form, Muscles Worked, & The Best Variations
By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, & PES, PN-L1
When performed with proper form, lat pulldowns are an amazing exercise. Not only are they a great exercise to build muscle, but they will also get you stronger so you can get better and do chin-ups with proper form (or pull-ups).
First off, you are going to want to make sure you can correctly engage your lats so you can get the most out of lat pulldowns. Learn about How To Feel Your Lats and then come back to this article.
- Lat Pulldowns Proper Form
- Muscles Worked During Lat Pulldowns
- The 5 Best Lat Pulldown Variations
- Choose a bar that feels good on your shoulders and attach it to the lat pulldown machine. It can be a traditional straight bar, V-bar, or a specialty bar like MAG.
- Start in a seated position and grip the bar with an overhand grip. If you are using a straight bar, your hands should be outside of shoulder width.
- Lean slightly back and pull the bar down and back, bringing the bar to your upper chest, throat area.
- Squeeze your armpits at the bottom of the movement for optimal lat activation.
- The second half of the movement is bringing the bar back to the start position. Lean slightly forward as the bar raises back to the starting position. Raise it up to about 90% of your starting position and then go into your next rep.
- Latissimus dorsi
These muscles are targeted during upper body workouts or more specifically a pull day workout.
Using a v-bar instead of a straight bar will put your shoulders in a safer position to target your back muscles.
You’ll get similar activation in all the same muscles as a normal lat pulldown but you may get the advantage of feeling it in your back more.
At the end of the day, use the bar that feels best for you.
I like to use this variation for clients that need a back workout for beginners.
An exercise I love that blends strength and mobility is performing full shoulder flexion while doing lat pulldowns with a narrow grip.
Instead of stopping at around 90% when you raise the bar back to the start, continue to drive your shoulders up and back into full shoulder flexion.
This is a great way to improve shoulder mobility while being able to build strength and muscle.
If you feel like you have tight shoulders and can’t get into full shoulder flexion, I recommend adding YWT’s, foam rolling your upper back and foam rolling your lats before your workout.
To target more biceps during your pulldowns, take a close, underhand grip.
I don’t love this movement as it’s hard to get full range of motion in your shoulders from this position, but if your goal is to add extra attention to your biceps, give it a try!
Instead of doing lat pulldowns with a bicep focus, I recommending doing traditional lat pulldowns and super setting it with a variation of bicep curls.
If you don’t have a lat pulldown machine, you can attach a handle to a cable machine and perform a one arm pulldown.
Drive your elbow into your knee and hold for a 1 - 2 count to get full lat activation.
I enjoy this substitution so I can focus on feeling each lat separately since you’re performing one side at at time.
The last of the variations and substitutes is for the person that doesn’t have access to a cable or lat pulldown machine. Sucks to be you. Jk jk.
Maybe you’re on vacation or working out at home. This is the one for you.
Attach a band to a stable surface that is a couple feet above your head.
Performing one side at a time, you’ll bring the band down and squeeze your lats at the bottom as hard as you can.
Since you’re using a band for this exercise, I love doing a set of these and then going right into band pull-apart for the upper back.
Lat pulldowns are considered a multi-joint movement, aka a compound movement since you’re working multiple muscles while performing the exercise. You target your lats, rhomboids, trapezius, and biceps.
Lat pulldowns are considered a pull movement, since you’re pulling the weight towards your body.
A pull movement can be either a vertical pull or horizontal pull, and in this case, the lat pulldown is considered a vertical pull. An example of a horizontal pull would be variations of one arm dumbbell rows.
Perform 3 - 4 rounds of 6 - 15 reps.
Rest 2 minutes between rounds.
Pick a weight that is challenging and is close to failure.
Lat pulldowns are an amazing exercise because they can be performed by all skill levels. Whether you are a beginner or advanced trainee, lat pulldowns can help you build strength and muscle in a safe, joint friendly way.