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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.

What Is The Lat Pulldown?

A neutral lat pulldown variation illustration.

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.

Why Use a Neutral Grip?

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.

Muscles Worked by the Neutral Grip 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. 

Latissimus Dorsi 

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. 

Teres Major 

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. 

Trapezius

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.

Rhomboids

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.  

Posterior Deltoids

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. 

Biceps

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.

How To Do The Neutral Grip Lat Pulldown 

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:

  • Attach a bar with handles to the lat machine. You can use a normal bar or a v-bar.
  • Sit on the bench and place your thighs under the thigh pads to secure your legs.
  • Hold the bar on either end so that your palms face each other.
  • Extend your arms until you feel your lats stretch.
  • Keep your back straight, and your chest tall.
  • Contract your lats by pulling your shoulders down and back and pull the handle towards your chest.
  • At the end of the movement, your shoulder blades should be pulled together, chest proud, and the bar should be against your chest.
  • Hold this position for a second.
  • Slowly let your arms extend to the starting position.
  • This is one repetition. Complete as many reps as possible.

Benefits Of 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:

  • Bigger back: A big and strong back is a great way to add depth and that desired v-taper shape to your body frame. The neutral grip lat pulldown can be a great way to help create a balanced, strong upper body.
  • Increase upper body strength: The neutral grip lat pulldown strengthens the single largest upper body muscle. This can make a major difference in your performance in sports, weightlifting, and your overall strength. 
  • Back pain: If you spend an unhealthy amount of time sitting hunched over your desk, your back is bound to suffer from tightness and soreness, which in turn can cause stiffness and reduced mobility.The neutral grip lat pulldown strengthens the muscles that might have been affected by these unhealthy habits by reducing or alleviating back pain and leading to a healthier back.
  • Better posture: Another problem caused by spending the whole day lounging over a desk or with your head buried in your phone is bad posture. These unhealthy positions offset your natural spine posture and can lead to problems with your mobility. The neutral grip lat pulldown helps correct this problem by strengthening your back and other muscles in charge of keeping your posture aligned.
  • Balance: Half the battle for your upper body balance is played by the muscles in front of you. The muscles you cannot see also play a major role in keeping you upright and maintaining great muscle coordination. Strong back muscles are the key to stability to your other workout routines and functional activities. 
  • Reduce risks of injuries: Training your lats strengthens your back. This not only increases your functionality and performance but also reduces the risks of injuries during your activities.

Tips To Help You Perfect The Neutral Grip Lat Pulldown

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:

  • Don’t lean back: Avoid leaning back as you pull the weight down. Leaning back adds your body weight into the equation, taking the tension away from your lats. 
  • Use wrist straps:  Lift straps can be a great accessories for exercises like the lat pulldown. One common problem when performing the lat pulldown is that gravity fights against the handles and sometimes causes you to lose your grip. If the grip is a problem you face whenever you perform the neutral grip lat pulldown, you should consider investing in quality wrist straps.
  • Set the handle to a comfortable height: The last thing you need is a sore or sprained shoulder joint. Set up the machine to a comfortable height so you can reach the handles without overextending your shoulders. This would keep your shoulder joint safe while also ensuring that you go through the full range of motion necessary for full muscle activation. 
  • Stay vertical: When doing the neutral grip lat pulldown or any pulldown variation at all, you want to ensure that you keep your body as vertical as possible. This is not possible without starting in the right sitting position. A very common mistake is sitting too far forward on the lat seat. This would reflexively cause you to lean forward as you pull the pulley down towards you to avoid it hitting your head. Instead, sit back, almost at the end of your seat. In this position, your knees will be closer to the thigh pad. This enables you to remain vertical as you bring the bar towards your chest.
  • Don't go too low: While many bodybuilders agree that the chest should be your final stop when doing the lat pulldown, it is not always so. Your upper lats are least activated when you bring the bar to your chest. Your lats and teres major are most activated during the beginning of the concentric part. To maintain the tension in these muscles, end the concentric phase at your chin.
  • Lighten your weight: If you find it challenging to complete the full range of motion during your lat pulldown without ruining your form, lighten the weight a little. While you might not want to look like a wimp, reducing the resistance is best to help you stay safe while performing the exercise. There’s no point trying to look brave if you end up with a sore back or sore shoulder joints.
  • Recovery is important: Recovery is as important as your exercises. You need time to help the torn-down muscle fibers to heal and get stronger. To help your muscles recover faster, ensure that you get enough sleep after your workout session and before hitting the gym. As much as sleep is important, your muscles also need to recuperate in between reps and sets.
  • Pair your routine with ADALOAD  to help your muscles optimize your carb and macronutrients and accelerate your recovery time. As a plus, you enjoy increased muscle pump, better muscle endurance, and increased energy without the sugar crash provided by caffeinated energy drinks.

Alternatives For The Neutral Grip Lat Pulldown 

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:

  • Change your body position. You can do this by leaning your upper body slightly backward than recommended for the neutral grip. 
  • Switch to a pronated or supinated grip. You can also choose to use mixed or alternative grip types.
  • Change your hand position. You can choose a shoulder-width grip, a wider than shoulder-width grip, and a narrow grip.
  • Modify your starting position. While the neutral grip lat pulldown is often performed while sitting, you can choose to modify your exercise by standing or kneeling. 

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. 

The Neutral Grip Lat Pulldown and All of Its Benefits

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.

But if you are craving for more ways to build your back, here are ten back exercises for size and strength.