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January 27, 2020 9 min read

If you’re looking for the right move to strengthen your latissimus dorsi and get your back looking broad and strong, then the standing pulldown is something you can’t miss. This is a popular workout to add to a back workout routine, but you should be sure to put extra focus on this one. 

Why does the move come so highly recommended for a strong back? It doesn’t just help the back. It strengthens the shoulders and biceps at the same time. 

Benefits of Strong Shoulders

Athletes need strong shoulders. Even if you’re not a professional athlete, you still need body-amping proteins and strong shoulders and back for various sporting competitions that you’re a part of. If you’re training for the Iron Man, you can use those extra strong shoulders for the swimming portion of your race. If you’re training for any type of strength competition, strong shoulders are a must. Lifting heavy weights doesn’t just happen with one small group of muscles. It comes with the effort of hundreds of muscles in the body working together to summon the strength for that one move. 

The great thing about weight lifting is we realize our body is part of a team. Strong shoulders and back make that team stronger and more effective, so the benefits of strong shoulders when it comes to any type of workout routine are priceless.

Benefits of Big Biceps

Let’s be honest. We all want bulging biceps that draw attention and point out our strength level to anyone who cares to look. But there are other benefits besides the look of your biceps. Biceps enable the rotation of your shoulder and the ability to flex your arm. When you have well-developed biceps, you are allowing your shoulders to have full mobility and range of motion. This prevents you from shoulder injuries, which plague many an athlete. 

Common Shoulder Injuries to Avoid

In case you didn’t take the warning about shoulder injuries seriously, you should know about some of the most common injuries that happen on a daily basis at the gym. These come when lifters don’t do compound exercises, but isolate muscle groups and fail to condition theirs in an even and healthy way. They also come from those who don’t know how to perform workout moves correctly and end up twisting or dislocating tendons or joints. We’re here to make sure you know how to properly perform these moves to get the results you want and to keep your body healthy and happy in the process. 

  • Rotator Cuff Tears: The supraspinatus tendon is located on top of the shoulder, by the shoulder blade. It attaches the shoulder to the main torso of your body. It often undergoes the most stress during weight lifting or intense exercises, because it is responsible for your shoulder’s ability to stretch itself and rotate around. When the supraspinatus tendon gets torn or strained, that person will experience unusual weakness of the arm and difficulty pulling their arm to reach backward or over their head. Depending on the severity of the injury, that person could have trouble sleeping from the pain, especially if they turnover and lie on it in the night. Since there are several other tendons that comprise the rotator cuff, this injury goes deep into the shoulder and can cause real damage if it goes untreated. There are both surgical and non-surgical options for treating this kind of injury. 
  • Tendinitis: Many athletes suffer from tendinitis, both in the ankle and the shoulder, depending on the sport. Runners often get tendinitis, while weightlifters experience it in the arm and shoulder. What is the cause? Sometimes the cause is as simple as overuse. Many beginners who are just starting out at the gym get excited to start seeing changes in their body and they overexert their bodies. This can happen by repeating the same exercises every day, or by tiring to lift weights that exceed their body’s strength capacity.

To avoid this, start out at the gym by pacing yourself. Even if you are a seasoned gym-goer, sometimes you need to approach a new addition to your routine in a moderate way. Always focus on perfecting your format before adding in heavy weights. When you’re just starting out, start with a light weight or resistance, then add more if you’re sure the current weight feels comfortable. 

  • SLAP Tear: This acronym stands for the Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior. This is where the biceps tendon attaches to the upper arm area. This injury is common among baseball and tennis players and overhead exercises like the standing pulldown. If you have a SLAP tear, your symptoms will most likely extreme soreness in that area. You might also hear a lot of popping or grinding when doing exercises. If you catch it right away, the cure might be something as simple as resting for a few days with an icepack. If you ignore it, you may face sometimes with the physical therapist and be required to take a much longer break from your fitness goals. 

A gym.

How to Do the Right Technique for Standing Pulldowns For Prime Results

You’ll need to start out by choosing your weight size. A good rule of thumb is to choose a weight that allows you to do eight to ten reps, using maximum strength. When you’re standing at the cable machine or the pulldown machine, don’t forget to put the pin back in when you select the weight! This happens more often than you may think and end up in disasters you probably don’t care to think about. 

Attach the straight bar to the high pulley cable and stand about 2 feet away from the machine. You’ll want to leave enough room that your arms are not cramped, but not too much that you have stretch uncomfortably to reach the machine. 

Do an overhand grip and pull it down until your arms become lateral with the floor. Keep your eyes facing forward throughout the move. You may be tempted to look downward to follow the direction of the move, but that could interfere with your balance and cause you to place stress on unwanted parts of the body. Bend your waist and chest slightly forward during the move as well. Don’t hunch them, as in don’t let them curl up. Just bend them forward, with a motion at the hip. 

For the best breathing patterns, be sure to inhale at the top, and to exhale slowly as you bring the bar down. Experiment with different positions to hold your grip on the bar. You can move your hands close together, even touching, to give your triceps a workout as well. However, the most classic way to complete the move is by keeping your hands directly in front of your shoulders. You should be feeling the most effort in your upper back and biceps. If you’re having trouble figuring out where to put your grip, try moving it around a bit until you feel the focus in the right muscles. 

What To Avoid When Doing a Lat Pulldown 

  • Not pulling the bar in the right direction: Some people just pull the bar down until it’s front of their chest and then stop. But you’re only halfway there! Pull it all the way down until your elbows are extended and your arms are parallel with the floor. Others will try to pull the bar behind their head instead of in front of it. That’s also a mistake. You will end up with injuries and won't build muscle. There is the option to strengthen your triceps with the pulldown, but you need to be facing the other direction for that. In short, don’t mix up two moves, or you can end up with serious problems! 
  • Pulling the bar too far: Once the bar finds its final position, it’s time to stop and raise it up again for the next rep. Don’t go any farther than lateral position. If your back starts to hunch in order to pull the weight down, you know you’ve gone too far. You should be able to complete the move by just hip flexion and a straight lower back. If that’s the case, you’re good to go. 
  • Using momentum to complete the move: If you’re having trouble pulling the weight all the way down to the final position, that means your weight is too heavy and you should select a different one for the next rep. You need to strengthen your back and biceps with this move. Using momentum to get the weight where it needs to be will be a waste of energy. You will end up frustrated that you’re not reaching your goals in a reasonable amount of time if you are using momentum only and not actually developing those targeted muscles. 

Alternative Moves to the Straight-Arm Pulldown

If you don’t have access to a pulldown machine, there are some other exercises you can do to work your lats and rhomboids in its place. Even if you do have access, you may want to add some other moves to the workout to get some variety and more well-rounded results. 

The Single-Arm Row

You’ll use dumbbells and a bench for this move. Kneel on the bench with your left leg and your left elbow. The point is to support your body with the bench. Grab the dumbbell with your right hand and start with your arm fully extended. Pull the weight upward toward your ribs and then back down. The move is simple, but it targets the right muscles and can be done in just about any gym. It can even be done at home, with the support of a couch or any other bench. It’s a great alternative to the standing pulldown since the variations are versatile and it can be done anywhere at any time. 

People working out in a gym.

Dumbbell Bent-Over Row

Your starting position will be legs shoulder-width apart and a 45-degree angle. Grab the dumbbells, one in each hand, with your palms facing downward. Your arms should be held directly below your shoulders. Don’t curve them in toward your body but keep them straight. You will start the move with your arms fully extended. Bring the weights up toward your armpits and stop at your rib cage. When you get to the final position, don’t stop and hold the move, but keep it moving directly into the next rep. That will keep the tension on your lats going instead of making it stop. During the motion, make sure your core is engaged, and your back is straight, not hunched. 

If you don’t have dumbbells, you can vary this move with a barbell. All you have to do is make sure you use a wide grip, placed directly below your shoulders. Don’t bring your hands too close together or the format will be compromised.

The dumbbells are ideas for this move, however. They allow for optimal building on your lats and you will get the best results with these. 

For a more intense version of the bent-over row, you can try the incline dumbbell row. In terms of muscles worked and format, this motion is quite similar to the bent-over row. The only difference is it isolates the back in a more concentrated way. Instead of engaging your core and back muscles, you will just use your latissimus dorsi. Lie down on an inclined or elevated bench with your face toward the ground. Hold the weights at a fully extended position and raise them up toward your rib cage. 

Barbell Pullovers 

Barbell Pullovers are done from a bench, sitting straight on the bench. Position your legs so they stabilize your position on the bench. They can be shoulder-width, or even a little wider, depending on your comfort level. The point is that they stabilize your body so you don’t slide while doing the exercise. Hold the dumbbell over your head with arm straight in front of your body. Now, move your body back so you are lying down, keeping the barbell above your head the whole time. The final position will hold the barbell directly over your head, which is resting on the flat bench. Avoid forcing the motion. You don’t want to twist your back in an unnatural way. Just let the weight go along with the move and feel the burn in your lats and biceps. 

Best Warm-Up for the Shoulder and Back

Think about loosening your shoulders for a back and rhomboids workout.

A lot of pressure goes to your shoulder when doing overhead exercises, as we have already seen earlier in this article. The more mobility you can give your shoulder, the better your morning at the gym will go.

A classic shoulder warm-up is to make giant circles with your arms. Better yet, think of shrugging your shoulders. Beware, this is no ordinary shrug we’re talking about. Make a huge shoulder shrug and then move it into an arm circle. Try to put as much of your body into the move as you can. It should be big and exaggerated. Do just one arm at a time. This will give each shoulder the focus it needs. 

When to Do the Standing Lat Pulldown

This move is best accompanied by back exercises and biceps workouts.

It can be done on its own as an addition to your weekly back routine or it can be done as a totally separate workout, with some of the alternatives given in this article. In the long run, it will prep your body for more serious back workouts and will lay a foundation for the broad, strong back of your goals.

Some people crave variety in their workouts, while others have to have a fool-proof routine. If you are the type who loves trying something new, make two separate back workouts. If you just need to add something to your predefined, weekly schedule, the standing pulldown is a perfect addition. 

The beauty of targeting muscle groups and watching them get stronger is the ability to get to know your own body in the process. You will soon get the hang of new routines and will be able to sense what feels right in your own body. Once you’re able to do that, you’ll know which of these bodybuilding workouts suits you best and when to do them. The biggest challenge is turning a fad into a lifestyle.

Make sure your body really feels the workouts so that you know this will not be a passing fling, but a relationship with yourself that lasts.