Lat pulldowns are among the best upper body strengthening exercises for your lats and back muscles. Here’s how to do lat pulldowns with proper form, as well as some technique tips and common mistakes.
How to Do a Lat Pulldown with Proper Form
- Sit on the lat pulldown machine bench and adjust the thigh pad to fit snugly against the upper thighs.
- Stand up and grab the bar with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Sit down and position and secure the thighs under the pads.
- Take a deep breath to brace your abdomen and retain the breath as you pull the weight down.
- Lean back slightly while keeping the back straight and the core engaged.
- Keep the chin tucked and pull the elbows down until the hands align with the shoulders.
- Pause at the bottom of the movement and squeeze the shoulder blades together.
- Exhale while releasing the bar to the starting position, maintaining tension in the lats and back muscles.
- Perform the exercise for the desired number of reps and sets.
Here’s a visual guide from Jeff Nippard!
Lat Pulldown Form Tips
- Keep the thumbs on top of the bar
- Find ideal grip width
- Slow down the eccentric
- Keep the elbows aligned with the hips
- Secure the thighs in place
- Keep the chest lifted
- Pull from the armpits
Thumbs on top
Visualize your hands as hooks to pull the weight down with your lats and back muscles, not your biceps. Gripping the lat pulldown bar with your thumbs wrapped around the bar can emphasize the upper arm muscles and forearm flexors, making the exercise less effective for the lats and back muscles. Imagine pulling your elbows toward your hips for a noticeable improvement in mind-to-muscle connection for your lats and back.
Find ideal grip width
The ideal grip for a lat pulldown depends on your goals and biomechanics. Most lifters get the best lat engagement from a medium to wide grip lat pulldown. You may benefit from a wider grip if your arms are longer. Conversely, those with shorter arms may prefer a close grip lat pulldown. Experiment with neutral grip lat pulldown if an overhand grip feels uncomfortable or causes wrist pain.
Slow down the eccentric
Keep the eccentric phase of the lat pulldown as slow and controlled as possible when the bar is ascending. The back and lat muscles are significantly stronger during this phase than in the concentric phase. Maximize each rep and add extra time under tension to boost muscle growth and strength.
Keep the elbows aligned with the hips
Keep your elbows fixed in position without letting them travel too far behind the torso. Ensuring the elbows stay aligned with the torso and hips protects the shoulders from injury and targets the lats more effectively. Film yourself from the side or get a spotter to check your form to get the most out of lat pulldowns.
Secure the thighs in place
Always use the thigh pad of the lat pulldown machine so that your legs are firmly locked in place. The lower body should remain fixed throughout the set to isolate the upper posterior chain. If you’re doing lat pulldowns on a cable pulley machine, kneel or sit on the ground and consider using a heavy-weight plate or dumbbell to keep you locked in place.
Keep the chest lifted
Imagine pulling the chest up to meet the lat pulldown bar to keep the spine straight. Avoid arching the back as you pull the weight downward, and don’t exaggerate the backward lean. Keeping the torso upright ensures proper alignment and engagement of the lat muscles.
Pull from the armpits
Rather than using your biceps, contract your lats by visualizing pulling the bar downward with your armpits. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and lift the chest to engage more muscle fibers in the lat muscles.
Lat Pulldown Common Mistakes
- Pulling the bar behind the head
- Using momentum
- Arching the back
- Pulling too low
- Gripping the bar too tightly
- Not varying the grip style
- Internally rotating the shoulders
Pulling the bar behind the head
Pulling the weight behind the head is unnecessary and doesn’t improve the effectiveness of the lat pulldown exercise. Pulling the bar behind the head puts your shoulder joint, rotator cuff, and cervical spine at risk of compression and injury.
Neck pulldowns limit the range of motion and inhibit how much weight you can lift, reducing the potential for growing the latissimus dorsi muscle.
Check out this video from Scott Herman Fitness for a demonstration of the proper elbow alignment for a lat pulldown. Skip to 1:30 for an explanation of why you should always do a lat pulldown in front of your head.
For bodybuilding purposes, swinging the body to generate momentum might occur only for the last rep or two of a set. Unless training for power athletics, the movement should be controlled and the torso upright and steady with a slight backward lean. Reduce the weight If excessive spinal movement occurs.
Arching the back
Keep the spine straight and the core engaged when performing lat pulldowns to avoid lower back injury. Keep the torso upright and the chest lifted to target the correct muscle groups.
Pulling too low
Moving through a full range of motion is essential, but going past the upper chest for a lat pulldown is unnecessary. Pulling the bar to the chin is usually more than adequate, depending on mobility. Pulling the bar too low toward the stomach or hips can force the elbows to travel behind the torso, creating an anterior shoulder glide of the shoulder and risking injury. Pulling the bar toward the navel usually involves leaning back too far and generating too much momentum.
Gripping the bar too tightly
Wrapping thumbs under the bar engages the biceps slightly more than keeping the thumbs on top. For optimal muscle growth, relax the grip and squeeze the shoulder blades together to isolate the target muscle groups better.
Not varying the grip style
Many lifters performing lat pulldowns with a grip around shoulder width. However, adding different lat pulldown grips adds variation and interest to workout plans. Doing so also forces the muscles to adapt to new stimuli. Experiment using a wider, neutral, or reverse grip to target different areas of the back and arms.
Internally rotating the shoulders
Rounding shoulders during a lat pulldown usually means the weight is too heavy. Keep a slight outward rotation of the scapula to set the shoulder blades in place, increase lat engagement and prevent injuries.
Lat Pulldown FAQs
Lat pull variations all have unique functions and pros and cons. Experiment with differentvariations to find what works best. A medium to wide grip lat pulldown is usually best for maximizing lat strength and hypertrophy gains.
Narrow or underhand grip lat pulldowns increase biceps brachii engagement. The underhand grip pulldown shifts weight into the biceps, which supinate the forearm.
The straight-arm lat pulldown is an excellent choice for lifters who struggle to feel a traditional lat pulldown in their lats and back. The straight arm lat pulldown prevents the mid-back and biceps from taking over, putting more tension into the lats and upper back muscles.
The lat pulldown uses the same movement pattern and muscle groups as a pull-up. Doing lat pulldowns should help build the upper body strength required for pull-ups. However, pull ups use a more extended range of motion and are more technically challenging than a lat pulldown.
You need to specifically practice full pull-ups to get your first full range of motion pull-ups or improve your pull-up technique. If you can’t perform more than a few reps, do as many strict form pull-ups as possible, then switch to the lat pulldown to get in more volume and perfect your form. The wide-grip lat pulldown is usually more effective than a close-grip lat pulldown for improving strength and pull-up form.