Lat Pulldown Exercise: Tips, How-To, Common Mistakes + FAQ

The lat pulldown is a popular exercise for building a toned back. The exercise can be performed in many different ways and is also fairly easy to learn. In addition, you also train many other muscles with the lat pulldown, so that it fits perfectly into a balanced training schedule for more muscle mass.

In this article we explain the lat pulldown step by step, we discuss common mistakes and we describe the many variations of this exercise that you can try.

Which muscles do you train with the lat pulldown?

The lat pulldown primarily focuses on the muscle group that is included in the name of the exercise. The word 'lat' refers to the musculus latissimus dorsi or the broad back muscle. This is the part of the back muscles that provide the width of the back.

In the gym, this muscle is also called the 'wings'. A well-developed broad back muscle in combination with a narrow waist provides a well-known v-shape.

In addition to the broad back muscle, you also indirectly train other muscles while performing the lat pulldown. Similarly, the back of the shoulder muscles are used to a certain extent to perform the exercise.

Lat Pulldown Exercise

The biceps are also used to pull the bar down, and because you have to squeeze hard not to let the bar slip out of your hands, even your forearms are used.

The lat pulldown can therefore put a lot of muscles to work, but the back muscles are by far the most dominant in this exercise.

Execution of the lat pulldown

For correct execution of the lat pulldown, you can go through the steps below. By following these steps you can ensure that you perform the exercise as efficiently as possible. This reduces the risk of injury and allows you to reach your goal faster.

  1. Choose a handle for the cable station

    You should choose a handle that you can hang on the cable. For starters, a standard elongated handle is fine. This looks like a short barbell, but with a closure in the middle to hang from a cable station. Hang it on the pulley, so that the device is ready for use.

  2. Sit down and grab the handle with both hands

    Now take a seat on the seat. Now grab the bar with both hands. Grab it in such a way that your hands are pointing away from you with the palm of your hand. Then sit on the seat and make sure it is adjusted so that your arms are fully extended while they are under tension from the weight. Place your legs under the pads so that you are not pulled up while performing the lat pulldown.

  3. Now pull the bar down to just below your chin

    With a controlled movement, you now pull the bar down. Make sure to push your shoulder blades in during the downward motion. You should also push the chest forward. Move the bar down until it is just below your chin.

  4. Now move the rod back up in a controlled manner

    Make sure to keep your chest pushed forward, even during the upward movement. Raise the arms back up until they are fully extended. You have now completed one repetition.

  5. Repeat as many times as desired

    You can now repeat this as often as you want. For example, a good starting point is to do 8 to 12 reps. Make sure you have mastered the technique of the exercise before you start to increase the weight.

The above explanation, therefore, assumes that you use the standard elongated handle. However, there are other handles you can use for the lat pulldown. More explanation follows after the section below about the mistakes most often made when performing this exercise.

Common mistakes

Below are five mistakes most commonly made when performing the lat pulldown. Avoid becoming a person who always does the exercise wrong and goes to the gym well prepared.

  1. Do not push
    shoulder blades in. Many people do this exercise with their shoulders forward instead of the chest out. This makes it very difficult to push the shoulder blades inwards so that this is hardly done. To be able to perform the exercise properly and to use your back muscles as much as possible, it is important to push the chest forward. This way you can push the shoulder blades inward during the downward movement and perform the exercise correctly.
  2. Not stretching
    the arms Not stretching the arms causes you to make a shorter movement with each repetition. This shorter movement, therefore, ensures less activation of your muscles and lets that be exactly what you do want. Therefore, straighten the arms completely after each movement to complete repetitions.
  3. Do
    not pulling the bar all the way down Not pulling the bar low enough also results in less activation of your muscles. A shorter movement can ultimately result in less muscle damage and therefore less muscle growth. Therefore, try to pull the bar so low on each repetition that it comes just below your chin.
  4. Hanging too far back
    In order to make the exercise a little easier unconsciously, many people lean back. This changes the angle of the lat pulldown and it becomes a cable row, as it were. Of course, there is nothing wrong with a cable row, but there is if you are actually doing a lat pulldown. Hanging back a little bit to be able to pull the rod straight down is of course fine, but make sure you keep the hanging back to a minimum.
  5. Using too much momentum
    Another mistake many gym goers make is using (too much) momentum on the lat pulldown. The upper body is moved up and down violently, creating momentum and making pulling down a lot easier. This may allow you to use more weight, but it is certainly not more effective. So stay neatly still with your upper body and let your back muscles do the work.

Variations of the lat pulldown

As you may have already read, there are quite a few ways to perform the lat pulldown. Below you see the six most well-known ways to perform this exercise. We have briefly explained how to perform each variant, but in principle, this is the same as described in the explanation earlier on this page.

wide grip

A wide grip lat pulldown is in many cases also seen as the regular lat pulldown. Many cable station bars are made to have clear handles at the ends to hold the bar. These are specially made so that you can (among other things) do a wide grip lat pulldown. The implementation of this exercise is therefore the same as the explanation you read earlier in this article.

neutral grip

A neutral grip lat pulldown means that you perform the exercise with a handle where the hands are positioned towards each other. So you have a handle on both sides of the rod that runs perpendicular to the rod itself. If you grab it with both hands, your hands are pointing towards each other, as it were.

You will notice that you can pull deeper with a neutral grip lat pulldown than with a 'normal' grip. This is because the position of your arms is placed in a position that gives you just a little more room to move in the lower part of the exercise.

close grip

A lat pulldown with a close grip is in many cases also a neutral grip pulldown. This is because a narrow handle is used, where the hands are also placed directly opposite each other. However, since the hands are placed so close together in this case, it is often referred to as a separate exercise.

You will also feel a close grip lat pulldown a bit more in the biceps than, for example, a wide grip pulldown. So keep this in mind if, for example, you still want to train your biceps after this exercise.

reverse grip

The reverse grip lat pulldown can basically be thought of as a biceps exercise rather than a back exercise. In this variation, you grab the bar with your palms facing your body. In this way, much more power comes from your biceps than from your back. You can also use a normal straight bar for this.

Behind the neck

It is also an option to do a behind-the-neck lat pulldown. In this case, your body should therefore lean forward a bit more, after which you pull the bar behind your neck. With this variant, the movement you make is therefore already a lot shorter than with other variants, since you have much less room to move. In addition, the angle of the exercise is also difficult. It is a lot more difficult to properly push your shoulder blades in.

It can also be a difficult and even very uncomfortable position for the shoulders of some people. There are no studies showing that a behind-the-neck lat pulldown generates more muscle activity than other variations. Combine this with the knowledge that the exercise is unpleasant for many people to perform and you have very little reason to choose this lat pulldown variant.

single arm

The last variation we will discuss is the single-arm lat pulldown. In this case, you perform the exercise unilaterally, in other words: with one side of the body. First of all, you need a single handle to hang from the cable station. You then perform the exercise, in which everything is broadly the same as with a regular (wide grip) lat pulldown. Use your free hand to keep your body neatly straight, if necessary.

With a single-arm lat pulldown, you can put extra focus on a weak spot. For example, do you notice that you are stronger on one side or that the muscle mass on your back is better developed on one side? With a single-arm lat pulldown, you can train such sides separately, so you can put extra focus on this.

Frequently asked questions about the lat pulldown

We round off the explanation of the lat pulldown with frequently asked questions about this back exercise. Below you will find some of these questions. Is your question not listed, but would you like an answer? Then ask your question at the bottom of this page and we will respond as soon as possible.

Is the lat pulldown also for shoulders?

The lat pulldown will also affect your shoulders, but that's not the main muscle group this exercise is intended for. Would you like to strengthen or grow your shoulders? Then it is advisable to perform specific exercises for this.

Lat pulldown in front of or behind your neck?

We advise you to opt for the regular variant, so before your neck. This is because the other variant is not only more difficult to perform, but can result in an injury more quickly. In addition, the behind-the-neck lat pulldown does not cause more activation in the muscles than the regular variant.

Lat pull down vs pull up?

Both have a very similar movement, yet are very different exercises. With the lat pulldown, you pull a weight down via a cable and with a pull-up, you pull your own body weight up. For this reason, both exercises are great to perform if you want to train the back muscles. So you don't have to choose between the two. It is fine to alternate these after a few weeks.

What are good alternatives?

Can't or don't want to do a lat pulldown? Fortunately, you have a lot of alternatives. Consider, for example, the pull-up, which is a top exercise. In addition, you can also choose back exercises that have a different movement, but also use a cable, such as the seated cable row. Curious about all alternatives? View all back exercises here.

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