July 27, 2022 9 min read
Many athletes and recreational lifters often make the mistake of only training 'mirror muscles'. These are the muscles that you can easily see while looking in the mirror and most often on the front of the body.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with exercising the muscles that you can see, this can cause an imbalance between these muscles and the muscles on your back.
Not only can this ruin your aesthetics, but it can also increase your risk of injury, limit your mobility, and hinder your progress in the gym.
One of the biggest muscles that can be affected by this imbalance is the latissimus dorsi, aka your lats. And that’s just one reason why the lat pulldown can be such a beneficial exercise.
The lat pulldown is an exercise that closely resembles the pull-up as it uses similar muscle groups and involves a pulling motion. It can be a beneficial exercise for building the muscles in your upper body, specifically in your back, and can help increase your overall pulling strength.
The basic goal of the lat pulldown is to build the latissimus dorsi muscle, but it can also be used as an option or progression for the pull-up.
This exercise is done seated at a cable machine, which can provide unique benefits that you may not get from dumbbells and barbells. Using a cable machine for the lat pulldown helps ensure constant tension throughout the exercise that you may lose when using free weights.
Traditionally, the lat pulldown is down with a wide grip on the handles, but you can change your hand positioning to achieve different benefits.
There are different types of grips you can use for weightlifting, such as overhand grip, underhand grip, mixed grip, and neutral grip. One of the more popular variations of the lat pulldown is done with an overhand grip, but using a neutral grip can be helpful to your wrists and muscle building goals.
The neutral grip is when your palms are facing each other, keeping your wrists in their most natural position.
Since this is natural for your wrists, the neutral grip can cause less stress than other grip variations.
The more stress on your wrists, the less grip strength you have, so optimizing the strength in your hands, wrists, and forearms can help you maximize the amount of weight you can use for the lat pulldown.
Although the primary muscle worked by the lat pulldown is in the name — the lats — other muscles are recruited to assist in the pulling motion and stabilize the upper body.
The latissimus dorsi is one of the largest muscles on the body as it takes up a large portion of the mid to lower back. With the help of other muscle groups in the upper body, the lats extend, adduct, and rotate the arm at the shoulder joint.
This muscle is also used during pull-ups and other pulling motions like opening a door, so in order to stay mobile and functional, it’s important to strengthen the lats.
A much smaller muscle is the teres major, and even though it’s not as prominent as the lats, it can still be just as important. It’s located along the side of the scapula, and as the synergist to many movements that involve the lats, it can also be referred to as the lat’s little helper.
The teres major assists in shoulder movement, and if this muscle is weak, it could limit your movement and performance.
The trapezius muscle is responsible for helping to move and stabilize the shoulders, as well as extending the neck.
While exercises like shrugs and pull-ups can be a great way to hit the upper traps, the neutral grip lat pulldown can be a better choice for the middle and lower trap muscles.
The lat pulldown can help strengthen the traps, but the traps can also help to stabilize your shoulders during the exercise. Without shoulder stability, you can put yourself at a higher risk of poor form or injury.
Located in the upper back under the traps are the rhomboids. This muscle helps with posture, arm movement, and shoulder stability. Whenever your shoulder blades retract in the lat pulldown, your rhomboids are working.
The posterior deltoid is located at the back of the shoulders and helps move your arms backward. It’s an often neglected muscle that can cause imbalances if not strengthened. Exercises like the rear delt fly can help elicit more activation in the posterior deltoids, but this muscle is still recruited during the lat pulldown.
Whenever you perform a pulling motion, your biceps are involved. Stronger biceps can help improve your deadlifts, pull-ups, and lat pulldowns, but they can also contribute to shoulder stabilization and movement of the forearms. Although there are bigger muscles that get more love during the lat pulldown, the biceps play an important role when pulling.
The neutral grip lat pulldown might seem like a simple exercise, but it is often done incorrectly. This exercise goes past simply pulling a handle towards your chest.
It requires proper posture and range of motion to get the most out of it.
How to perform the neutral grip lat pulldown:
The major benefit of the neutral grip lat pulldown is its ability to target major muscle groups of the upper body. All these muscle groups contribute to the overall health and strength of the upper body, helping you to maneuver daily easily and in sporting activities.
Some benefits of the neutral grip lat pulldown are:
Holding your form during the lat pulldown can be a lot of work. Luckily, simple cues ensure that your form remains perfect throughout your exercise.
Some of these tips include:
Versatility is a great feature that the neutral grip lat pulldown possesses. A little tweak in your grip type, hand position, and body angle is enough to birth a different variation that will activate your muscles from a new perspective.
If you get bored of the neutral grip lat pulldown, simply alter one or more training variables and achieve a different level of muscle stimulation.
You can choose to:
While these changes might not seem major at first, they help you to target your lats differently. One modification can tune-up or decrease the intensity of your exercise, depending on your preference. In the end, it is important to find what works for you and execute it in the best way possible.
While there are many lat pulldown variations you can incorporate into your training for the best muscle response, the neutral grip lat pulldown remains one of the best.
That's because it not only strengthens your upper body, increasing your athletic performance in and outside the gym, but also because it targets the back for a more jacked and aesthetic v-taper fitness model look.