There are a few pieces of equipment that I would advocate in a strength training schedule, and lat pulldown is one of them.
Lat pulldown mimics the movement of pull-ups. And most beginners lack the strength to do pull-ups with proper form. So for them, lat pulldown becomes the best option to strengthen the back muscles in the vertical direction.
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Which muscles does lat pulldown work?
Lat pulldown is a compound movement. It involves your shoulder and elbow joints.
This exercise primarily targets the Latissimus Dorsi (lats)–the broadest back muscle. It also works your teres major, middle trapezius, biceps, rhomboids, and posterior deltoid.
To get the maximum benefits, you need to know how to do the lat pulldown perfectly and what mistakes to avoid.
How To Do Lat Pulldown Perfectly?
- Start by adjusting the leg pad so that you can firmly fix your thighs under it.
- Stand underneath the bar handle and hold the bar handle slightly wider than your shoulder width with a full thumb grip. Sit down holding the bar, with the knees tightly locked under the leg pad.
- Now lean back just a little and depress your shoulders to lock the shoulder blades in position. Keep your chest out and back in a neutral position.
- Now take a deep breath and pull the bar towards your body. Your elbows will be pointing down.
- Pull down the bar till it hits your sternum—upper chest.
- Bring the bar back to the starting position in a controlled manner. There should be no jerky pause at the top.
Pro Tips – Things to remember when doing a lat pulldown
- Wedge yourself securely under the leg pad. It will prevent weights of the lat pulldown from raising your body off the seat. Also, a stable base helps you generate maximum power to lift weights properly.
- How to breathe in a lat pulldown—Take a deep, powerful breath at the top of each rep. Hold your breath till you complete the rep. The holding of breath will provide additional stability to keep your body in a proper position.
- Which grip is best for lat pulldown—The wide-grip overhand pulldown is best for building a v-shape back.
- Sitting should be such that the bar is directly above your head. This sitting arrangement allows the cable to travel straight down.
- Aim to hit the upper chest. Anything lower than this will be too low, putting stress on your rotator cuff muscles. And anything higher than this will not be a complete range.
- There should not be any jerk at the top after each rep. A jerky stop means you are letting your muscles loose and allowing the weights to pull the bar up. This lack of muscle tightness reduces the effectiveness of the exercise. Also, it increases the risk of a shoulder injury.
So, what are the benefits you get when you do the lat pulldown with proper form?
Benefits of doing the lat pulldown
1. Lat pulldown strengthens your back muscles
Lat pulldown mainly targets your latissimus dorsi (or lats). The latissimus dorsi is the largest muscle of your back. It originates from the ribs and lower spine and inserts into your humerus.
It’s a fan-shaped muscle that gives your back the aesthetic ‘v shape’. Sturdy and well-developed lats not only add strength to your upper body but also give you an appealing look.
Lat pulldown also strengthens your upper back muscles—rhomboid, teres major, middle-fibre of the trapezius.
2. Lat pulldown works your biceps
The pulling movement of the lat pulldown recruits your bicep muscles. The function of the biceps is bending your elbows.
When you bring your elbows down at the bottom of the movement, you are effectively targeting up your biceps along with your lats.
3. It makes your shoulders strong
Lat pulldown also helps in strengthening your shoulder muscles. Most notably, it works the posterior deltoid at the back of your shoulder, plus the rotator cuff muscles—teres minor and infraspinatus.
4. Lat pulldown helps you with pull-ups
Lat pulldown mimics the movement of the pull-ups and works on the same muscles as in pull-ups. Therefore, lat pulldown helps you develop the pulling strength of the muscles in the vertical direction.
As your strength grows with lat pulldowns, you can advance to pull-ups.
To do the lat pulldown perfectly and get all these benefits, you must avoid the following mistakes.
7 Worst Lat Pulldown Mistakes
1. Gripping too wide
There is an old myth—and I have seen many experienced lifters falling for this – that gripping too wide will give wider lats.
People who think this is true do not understand the basic human anatomy, the function of the lat muscles, and how the muscles grow.
Gripping too wide will reduce the range of motion, and the lat muscles will not engage effectively. Thus, grabbing too wide won’t help you develop wider lats.
2. Leaning back too far
Leaning back too far for every rep creates momentum, which allows you to pull heavier weights.
But, people lifting this way can never bring the bar up in a controlled way. It will always look as if they are trying to play see-saw with the weights. First, they try to pull the weights down; then the weight tries to pull them up.
Here, momentum will do most of the work instead of your lat muscles.
3. Pulling the bar below the chest level
If you are pulling the bar below the sternum (upper chest), there are two problems. First, the weight is so light that you can bring it so low.
Second, pulling below the clavicle (collar bone) will engage your shoulder muscles instead of your lats. This type of movement will be less effective for the lats.
Also, it will put unnecessary stress on the shoulder joints, beating the entire purpose of this exercise.
4. Not having a proper range of motion
Half-hearted efforts will never produce great results. Similarly, doing partial range will never give you good muscles.
To train the lats perfectly, you have to do a full range of motion. Bring the elbows down to the clavicle level and squeeze them into your sides. If you are doing partial reps, you are not recruiting your lat muscles efficiently.
Hence, the lats will not get enough stimulation to grow.
5. Pulling the bar in front of your body
This is a common mistake amongst beginners. Pulling the bar in front of your body will cause anterior gliding of the humeral, putting stress on the shoulder joints.
Also, your elbows will be going forward, which will reduce the recruitment of your lats.
6. Rounding of the back
Rounding of the back may happen towards the end of the set. In the last few reps, the weight feels heavier, but anyhow you want to get the designated number of reps. So you round your back and let your chest drop.
There is no point in doing these kinds of reps. You will not only lose the tightness of lats but also put additional stress on your spine.
7. Behind the neck lat pulldown
Never do this variation. It produces nothing other than an increased risk for shoulder injuries.
You will avoid most of these mistakes if you realise the prime purpose of this exercise.
What is your purpose for doing lat pulldown?
Is your purpose of doing lat pulldown is to lift as much weight as possible without giving a damn about form and technique? If so, what’s the reward of lifting heavy weights with such a poor form – ego satisfaction?
If lifting heavy weights is your target, why not try to do pull-ups instead of lat pulldowns.
So, why exactly are we using this exercise?
We are doing this exercise for strengthening the back muscles. The proper form allows the recruitment of the back muscles in the best possible way.
Your target in this exercise is not to lift as heavy as possible. The target here is to pull the maximum weight without losing the proper form.
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