October 26, 2022 8 min read
As part of the evolving gym culture, more and more bodybuilders, and those in other forms of strength training who are working on upper body development recognize the value of straight-arm lats pushdowns.
Like lats pulldowns, pushdowns are designed to target the latissimus dorsi muscle, they work a greater range of motion.
The lat pushdown exercise is not complicated, but it is only effective if you understand the details of how they work and the proper form of executing lat pushdowns.
That could ensure you reach your hypertrophy and strength goals sooner. Here we’ll help you understand the benefits of lat pushdowns, muscle activation, and the proper form of execution.
The obvious difference between the two lats exercises is the motion involved. Both involve a bar on a cable pulley, but one is a wide-grip lat pull-down exercise and the other is a push-down exercise.
Performing the typical lat pulldown, you would sit in front of a lat pulldown machine, grabbing the lat pulldown bar above your head, using a supinated or underhand grip. You’ll then go ahead and pull the bar towards your upper chest.
In contrast, performing lat pushdowns requires you to perform it while standing, and gripping the bar with an overhand grip (pronated) and straight arms. Instead of pulling the bar to your upper chest, you must push the bar down toward your thighs.
The secret of successful strength training is to know and understand the muscles each exercise targets, and the functions of the activated muscles — in short, working out with intention. Below is a list of the primary and secondary muscles worked when you do lat pushdowns.
The latissimus dorsi, lats for short, is the largest muscle group located in your mid- and upper-back, serving many purposes in upper-body strength. The lats are responsible for the abduction, flexion, internal rotation, and extension of the shoulder joint. The latissimus dorsi is connected to the lateral head of the humerus, and when you do the pushdowns, the lats pull the humeri back toward the body in a shoulder flexion movement.
Your infraspinatus muscle is a thick triangular muscle located at the back of your shoulder; part of the rotator cuff muscles. It's attached to the top of your humerus (upper arm bone) and your scapula (shoulder blade). The other rotator cuff muscles are the supraspinatus, subscapularis, and the teres major.
The teres major is sometimes called “lat's little helper” because of its synergistic action with the latissimus dorsi.
During the lat pushdown the infraspinatus helps to stabilize the humeral head in the Socket of the shoulder joint (glenoid fossa), allowing for shoulder flexion. Though considerably smaller than the lats, strengthening this muscle and those that make up the rotator cuff is detrimental to building a powerful and functional body.
Deltoid muscles help you move your arms in different directions. The deltoids, often called the delts, are a large muscle group surrounding and covering the shoulder, forming what is typically called the shoulder cap. They also protect and stabilize your shoulder joint.
The rear delt is a muscle that also finds its origins on the scapula and connects to the upper region of the humerus.
When you perform lat pushdowns, the rear delts extend the humeri as the arms reach to and from the starting position. The rear delts even rotate the humeri laterally, especially when using the wider grip attachments during the lat pushdown.
Strengthening the rear delts is not only essential for developing a powerful back, but also for stabilizing the shoulder girdle, the most mobile joint in the body.
The rhomboid muscles are a large group of muscles in your upper back. They're made up of the rhomboid major and the rhomboid minor. These and other muscles form the shoulder girdle that holds your shoulder blade and shoulder stable.
The rhomboids (both major and minor) originate from the spine and help to anchor the scapula to the back. The rhomboid muscles are responsible for abducting and depressing the shoulder blades.
These actions are necessary for pulling movements like the cable lat pushdown. When the arms reach for the bar in the starting position, the first movement is pulling the bar, followed by pushing the bar toward the thighs.
During the initial pull of the cable bar toward the body, the rhomboids squeeze the shoulder blades together and down, allowing the arms to perform their task.
Though not as flashy as other muscles of the back, the rhomboids are a group of deep intrinsic shoulder muscles that play an integral role in controlling the shoulder girdle and scapula, essential for any upper body exercise.
It might be fair for you to ask what straight-arm cable pushdowns can do for your muscle building that the usual dumbbell pullovers and lat pulldowns can’t do. The following benefits of lat pushdowns might answer your question.
Focus on the Lats: Straight-arm cable pushdowns’ focus is directly on the lats, benefiting your quest to get that coveted V-shaped back. Although regular lat pulldowns are good for building upper-body mass, they target the mid-back muscles, biceps, triceps, and other muscles, with little emphasis on the lats.
Range of Motion: Straight-arm lats pushdowns’ range of motion is about double that of lat pulldowns. While pulldowns reach no further than your collarbone, you push the bar about twice as far down to reach your thighs in lats pushdowns. That doubles the distance you push your lats and the amount of tension you put on your upper back muscles. This is a significantly larger range of motion than many other cable exercises.
Resistance: Cable machine exercises like pushdowns provide great muscle-building results because they allow you to maintain consistent resistance throughout the range of motion. However, when you perform dumbbell pullovers, your lats are only under tension while you lift the dumbbells. The moment you start lowering them toward your torso, the tension ceases.
Upper-Body Focus: Although the straight-arm lats pushdowns target primarily the latissimus dorsi, they let you hit almost every muscle group in the upper body. That includes your lats (upper back), pectorals (chest), forearms, biceps, and triceps.
Better Mind-Muscle Connection: In any exercise that you do with intention, you want to feel the stretch in the targeted muscle to ensure you’re using the proper form. If you don’t feel your lats stretching when you perform other exercises, then lat pushdowns are a fool-proof way to establish a better mind-muscle connection.
No bicep subsidization: Because your arms remain straight throughout the performance of lats pushdowns, the biceps can’t take over to subsidize the effort.
Enhanced Stability for Deadlifts: Lats pushdowns will bring about increased activation of the lats, which will have a positive impact on the way you cope with keeping the barbell tight to your body throughout the full range of motion when you do deadlifts.
Improve Posture: Stronger lats can strengthen your back and improve your posture, which, in turn, will reduce injury risks.
Pre-workout stretches: A few straight-arm lat pushdowns can be performed as warm-up stretches before rows and other compound exercises.
Post-workout stretches: Straight-arm lat pushdowns can also serve as cool-down stretches after workouts. However, you want a static exercise to aid muscle recovery, so each pushdown must be held for 30 to 60 seconds before you slowly release pressure to allow the pulley to retract the bar to the starting position.
The straight-arm pushdown on a cable machine is not complicated, but using the perfect form to perform the pushdowns is crucial. Follow the steps below to master the technique and gain maximum benefits.
Preparation: Attach a long straight bar or a standard lat pulldown bar to the cable.
Starting position: Stand facing the cable machine with slightly bent knees and your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes planted securely to ensure a stable base. Inhale deeply, and with your hands shoulder-width apart, use an overhand, or pronated grip to grab the bar and pull it to your shoulder level with straight arms.
Hold your back straight, lean forward slightly, and brace your core, lats, glutes, and your grip. Exhale as you push the bar downward in a wide arc with straight arms to your thighs.
Hold that position for a few seconds, inhale and squeeze your lats again while you allow the pulley to retract the bar to the starting position, maintaining straight arms, and exhale at the top.
Inhale and repeat for the predetermined number of reps.
Proper form is crucial for the desired results when you do lat pushdowns. Ensure you avoid the common mistakes listed below.
Bending your arms changes the entire nature of the exercise because your arms must serve as levers to create pure shoulder flexion from the starting position as you push the bar down to your thighs. Bending your arms will redirect the tension away from your lats, transferring it to your biceps and triceps. Keeping your arms straight will ensure the lats and upper back remain the primary beneficiaries throughout.
The typical error involves too much weight, which could cause a loss of control.
To compensate, you will automatically bend your elbows and have more control. Ensure the weight allows you to maintain control with your alms straight, while it remains a challenge throughout the range of motion.
A crucial part of executing the straight-arm lat pushdown is arranging your body correctly. Standing up too upright will transfer most of the tension from the lats to the front deltoids during the performance of the shoulder flexion. The best position is to lean slightly forward. maintaining a 60-degree angle in the hips.
The fact that lat pushdowns are so effective does not mean you should stick exclusively to them.
It is never a bad idea to vary your workouts to build muscle.
You can alternate the muscles you target, including the trapezius, and other muscle groups.
It is important not to be so focused on the ultimate goal that you forget about the fact that big muscles and a V-shaped back are worth nothing if you neglect nutrition and supplement intake to keep your organs as well looked after as your aesthetics.
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