Lat pulldowns are a great addition to anyone’s strength training program, strengthening your back by training your latissimus dorsi. The lat pulldown is one of those exercises I look forward to in the gym every week. Not only do lat pulls help me sculpt a sexy back, but these are a fun exercise that makes me feel strong and accomplished. Think of the lat pull as a pull up, except you’re bringing the bar to you, not lifting your body to the bar.
The latissimus dorsi muscles are two broad, flat, large muscles that make a “V” shape in your back, each one starting from your spine in your lower back and wrapping up and out to under your armpits. Latissimus dorsi is commonly abbreviated to “lats”. Your lats are some of the largest muscles in your body, with the most actual surface area of any of your muscles. They’re that broad! A strong, healthy back is essential to pretty much everything we do, even just sitting, and as such it’s important to train these large back muscles. Training your lats can also help improve your overall upper body strength for activities using your arms and torso, as well as make your back look spectacular for days at the beach or backless dresses. The lat pull is the most effective exercise for isolating and strengthening your latissimus dorsi.
Ideally, to do lat pulldowns you’ll want to use a lat pulldown machine at your gym, or any cable weight machine that will allow you to attach a wide-grip bar and to pull down from above your head. If you’re working out at home, draping a strength training band over something very sturdy (think a pullup bar, or a tree branch big enough to support your full body weight, will do in a pinch.
To start, pick a light weight to get a feel for the lift and how much weight you’ll actually need to just be able to complete 6-10 repetitions. If you’re using bands, chances are you’ll want your strongest band with the most resistance, and you may have to complete additional repetitions to really challenge your muscles. If you are using a lat pull machine, adjust the knee pad at the seat to the height of your knees. With your palms facing forward, take up a grip on the bar or hold the ends/handles of your bands a little more than your shoulder-width apart. If you’re at a seated machine, go ahead and take a seat with your knees under the knee pad. With your back arched, lean back slightly, about 30 degrees. Keeping your wide grip, starting with your arms fully extended, and holding your torso in this position, pull the bar down to your chest. Really focus on your back as you pull down, think about squeezing your shoulder blades together to pull the weight down. Your biceps should assist, but your back should really be doing the hard work. Breathe out as you pull the bar down in a smooth, controlled motion. Pause briefly at your chest, and breathe in as you let the bar return to the top of the motion slowly and with control, so that your arms are again fully extended. Repeat this lift 6-10 times for three sets. If you can easily complete three sets of ten complete reps, you should add more resistance.
You may have seen others doing lat pulldowns, but pulling the bar down behind their neck. This is a more “old school” way of completing the lift, which I don’t recommend because of the unnecessary stress this puts on your neck and back. Personally, I feel that pulling the bar down to your chest is more effective. A variation on lat pulldowns that I do recommend, however, are close-grip lat pulldowns. By gripping the bar with your hands closer together (a little less than shoulder width) you put more of the burden on the lower part of your latissimus dorsi, and also on the biceps, chest, shoulders and forearms. Give these a try when you want to switch things up and try a new challenge. Happy lifting!