Big back and wings, that’s what we’re after! Sod the cans of red bull, if you want big ol’ wings that help you to fly, lat pull downs are the way forward. I was a little surprised and baffled to read that people were bad mouthing lat pulldowns. I mean, I fully understand that pull ups and chin ups should be the ‘go to’ exercise. Why would you not strive for greatness and pull your own weight? What an accomplishment. But pull ups and chin ups aren’t easy or simple, they’re tough and gruelling. So, why would you not use exercises to enhance that development?
What do we need to know about the latissimus dorsi and lat pull down? The latissimus dorsi is the only muscle that connects the arms to the lower body and are not only vital for keeping your body attached (excuse the dramatics), but also helps to maintain the perfect posture and movement that has you gliding around like Miss Congeniality (“HEY, I’M GLIDING HERE”, girlie reference, I’m ever so sorry). The latissimus dorsi also supports the growth of that ever so beautiful wide spread back, as well as incorporating the development of the rhomboids, middle and lower trapezius and (for those of you who don’t know, this muscle originates from the upper rib cage and attaches at the medial border of your shoulder blade).
The question is, if lat pull downs (that’s latissimus pull downs, not lateral) are so fantastic, how and why do most people fuck it up? Because we are either:
- stupendously lazy and overuse our spectacular trapz and biceps
- we’re not 100% sure what we’re doing, and again, overuse our trapz and biceps
- we rock backwards and forwards, up and down out of the seat, which incorporates the wrong muscles
- or we just really don’t have any idea what we’re doing
A lack of strength in your upper arms and your grip can also prevent lat development as these muscles will fail long before your lats do. So, how do we successfully execute a lat pull down? I have two versions for you; the long version and the short version. However, for ‘teaching points’ I would much rather you read the long version.
*** THE LONG VERSION ***
STEP 1: Drop your ego AND the weight – start by lightening the load. The real focus should be on performing the exercise with the right form, instead of ego-boosting a poorly executed 87kg, why not try doing 30kg right to start with?
STEP 2: Get your right position. Sit your butt comfortably on the seat, feet flat on the floor, quads neatly tucked under the cushion and sitting upright, no slouching!
STEP 3: After grabbing the bar, comfortably on your perch, your lats should be tight. Your torso should remain tight and upright, with your head slightly back (I don’t want anyone smashing the bar off their head).
STEP 4: Now focus on bringing your elbows towards the floor, keeping your trapz tight and chest puffed up. It’s important to think about this movement while executing it, it really makes a difference to the contraction of the muscle. The bar should be hitting (not literally) your chest, rather than pulling it below your nipples.
STEP 5: As you release and work the eccentric phase, resist from letting the trapz join in. Focus on your elbows coming back up and keep that butt on the seat and remain upright but with a slight lean to keep your lats/back engaged and your chest spread open.
*** THE SHORT VERSION ***
Shrug, pull and squeeze!
What to beware of! Lat pull downs can place a lot of stress on the shoulders, especially if you’re sitting in the same position, pulling on the same angle. That repetition of the same single movement with a fixed bar will increase rubbing of the rotator cuff tendons under the acromial arch on exactly the same patch. So a variation will ensure that rubbing is not on the same portion of your rotator cuff. Single arm cable movements will help minimise these injuries and allow you to move more freely under your natural movements as opposed to the movements that the machines are forcing you to make.
Dumbbell pull overs can also be used as a variation of pull downs. If you’re looking to build your lats, don’t substitute lat pull downs with dumbbell pull overs, use them as a complimentary exercise and/or a super set. Using dumbbell pull overs alone will not incorporate the weaker muscles (like your biceps) so will put a road block in the way of your lat development and ability to perform body weight exercises such as pull ups and chin ups. By using the super set system, it helps to work a variety of angles and help prevent overuse injuries.
And lastly, “WHAT GRIP DO I USE?” I hear you screaming in the far distance. A pronated grip (overhand ) with a wide grip will provided a greater lat activation method, however, remember that wide grip is shortens the movement for the muscles than a close grip pull down. So, MIX IT UP to work a fuller range of movement.
YOUR CHALLENGE OF THE WEEK: I’m not silly, I know GVT (German volume training) is best used on compound movements (barbell rows, squats, chest bench, etcetera, etcetera, etceteraaaaaaa) but why not try giving 10 reps for 10 sets a go on wide grip pull downs. And it’s a challenge on the week, being this week, not every week! Yes, consistency is key, but not in form of keeping your workouts the same, your body adapts quickly, so keep it fresh.
Boyle, M. (2012). A Comeback for Lat Pulldowns? Retrieved from: https://www.t-nation.com/training/comeback-for-lat-pulldowns
Megna, M. (2016). Marc Megna’s Lifting Lessons: Lat Pull-Down. Retrieved from: https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/marc-megna-lifting-lessons-lat-pull-down.html
Poliquin Group. (2017). The Fall and Rise of the Lat Pulldown. Retrieved from: http://main.poliquingroup.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/2597/The_Fall_and_Rise_of_the_Lat_Pulldown.aspx
Schultz, C. (2005). Exercise Of The Week: Pulldowns To The Front. Retrieved from: https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/schultz54.htm