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September 06, 2022 8 min read

The Lat Pulldown Machine is the go-to piece of exercise equipment for weightlifters, bodybuilders, and fitness enthusiasts to increase their back muscles as they work on achieving the desired V-shaped back.

Lat pulldowns and pull-ups are similar because both involve an identical range of motion, training the same muscles.

The primary difference is that pulldowns allow you to bring the bar toward your body, whereas pull-ups force you to lift your own weight to the bar.

Pull-ups are one of the best exercises for building muscle and upper-body strength, but they can be very hard to do.

Pulldowns are easier because you can adjust the load to suit your strength level.

The lat pulldown and the pull-up both target your upper-back and mid-back muscles, your arms, and your grip. However, pulldowns allow you to have much more control.

Furthermore, a lat pulldown machine offers several variations to perform without having to change more than the handle you use. Developing stronger lats will improve your bench press technique significantly, and help with your deadlifts and squats.

HOW TO USE THE LAT PULLDOWN MACHINE

Steel Supplements Lat Pulldown Machine – Image from Shutterstock

The first step is to ensure you use a weight that you can control for 2–3 sets of 8–10 repetitions. It must allow you to maintain good technique throughout the entire range of motion, and through all sets and repetitions.

  • Your starting position is seated and facing the bar of the lat pulldown machine.
  • Set the knee pad with your knees firmly under the pad, your knees bent at 90 degrees, and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Reach up with your arms extending as high as you can without lifting off the seat or shrugging your shoulders. Grasp the bar slightly wider than shoulder width.
  • While keeping your body tall, lean back slightly—just past vertical at about 70–80 degrees.
  • While pulling your shoulder blades and elbows down and back, pull the bar down toward your upper chest, aiming for the area just below your collarbone.
  • Continue squeezing your shoulder blades back and down while you hold the bar to your upper chest for one to two seconds.
  • Return to the starting position slowly, taking care not to shrug your shoulders at the top of the movement.
  • Complete 2–3 sets of 8–10 reps, based on your strength and experience.

TIPS:

Maintain good control throughout and try not to lean back too far as you pull the bar down.

Maintain a straight back as you pull down because a round or arched back increases the injury risk.

If you can’t maintain a neutral spine, you should lower the weight you are pulling down.

Pair your routine with ADALOAD  to help your muscles optimize your carb and macronutrients and accelerate your recovery time. As a bonus, you'll enjoy increased muscle pump, better muscle endurance, and increased energy without the sugar crash provided by caffeinated energy drinks.



WHICH MUSCLES ARE ACTIVATED BY USING THE LAT PULLDOWN MACHINE?

As the name indicates, the lats, or latissimus dorsi, are the focus of the Lat Pulldown Machine. Your lats cover a significant percentage of your back, and they form the largest upper body muscle. Along with producing a lot of force, the lats contribute to multiple activities. They are the primary muscles activated by lat pulldowns.

It’s crucial to use multiple exercises to optimize the lats as a whole, with the lat pulldown regarded as one of the most effective methods of developing the lats.  Mixing in some of the lat pulldown variations may give you a balanced approach to building the lats.

PLANES OF MOTION

All three planes of motion are used during lat pulldown exercises

With your arms extended above, the lats pull the body in a climbing motion toward the arms.

The range of motion includes extension movements in the sagittal plane, adduction and abduction movements in the frontal plane, and internal rotation movements of the arm in the transverse plane.

Furthermore, the range of motion contributes to lateral flexion and extension of the lumbar spine, and lats pulldowns even benefit respiration.

Upper Lats: Wide grip lats pulldowns are great for targeting the upper lats by using shoulder adduction movements.

Middle Lats: Rows are an excellent exercise to hit the middle lats, using horizontal abduction movements of the shoulder.

Lower Lats: Lat push-downs involve movements that involve shoulder extension.

MUSCLES USED IN LAT PULLDOWNS

Steel Supplements Latissimus Dorsi - Image from Shutterstock

Latissimus dorsi: As the name indicates, the lats, or latissimus dorsi, are the focus of the Lat Pulldown Machine. Your lat muscles cover a significant percentage of your back and form the largest upper body muscle. Along with producing a lot of force, the lats contribute to multiple activities. They are the primary muscles activated by lat pulldowns.

Trapezius: Often called the traps, this triangular-shaped muscle stretches from the base of the skull down to the lower thoracic vertebrae and across to the scapula. Traps are often mistaken for shoulder muscles, but they are indeed back muscles that play an important role in lat pulldowns. Moving the scapula (shoulder blade) and supporting the arms are the primary functions of the traps.

Teres Major:  As the largest of the teres muscles, the teres major muscle group assists with the medial rotation and extension of the humerus. This muscle is located above the lats and attached to the humerus.

Posterior Deltoid: Also referred to as the rear delt, this is one of the three deltoids comprising the shoulder muscles. The posterior delt plays a significant role in multiple pulling exercises, with the primary function of moving the shoulder in a horizontal abduction motion, similar to reverse flys.

Rhomboids: The rhomboid major and rhomboid minor muscles make up the rhomboids. The rhomboids are located beneath the traps and stretch between the spine and the medial scapula region. Their primary function is to assist in the scapula movement.

Rotator Cuff Muscles:  Three muscles, the Subscapularis, Teres Minor, and Infraspinatus serve to stabilize the humeral head in the scapula’s glenoid cavity.

Levator Scapulae:  As the name suggests, this muscle serves to lift the scapula, from where it is located at the back of your neck.

Biceps Brachii: One of the most worked and well-known upper body muscles, the biceps comprise two heads; the short head and long head, located on the front of the upper arm. The main functions of the biceps are flexion at the elbow and flexion and supination of the forearm.

Brachioradialis:  This is the most superficial muscle on the forearm’s radial side, located on the anterior of the forearm. The Brachioradialis flexes the forearm at the elbow and helps you grip the bar when you do lat pulldowns.

Brachialis: Found in the upper arm, the brachialis muscle is an elbow flexor. It is located deeper than the biceps and doesn’t play any role in the supination or pronation of the forearm. However, it provides 50% more power than the biceps in the elbow’s flexion function.

THE BENEFITS OF USING THE LAT PULLDOWN MACHINE

Frequent use of the lat pulldown machine can benefit the following:

  1. Upper-body strength: This is the most significant benefit, brought about by activating your latissimus dorsi muscles and rear delts. Lat pulldowns can increase muscle growth throughout your shoulders and back.
  2. Posture:  By working your back muscles, lat pulldowns can improve your posture for everyday activities.
  3. Performance: Lat pulldowns can improve your performance during many of the other compound exercises in your workout routine that use your back muscles, like chin-ups and pull-ups.
  4. Aesthetics:  The standing lat pulldown is an excellent exercise for developing your physique. Lat pulldowns help you to burn more fat to control body weight and develop rock-hard arms, a bulkier chest, and broad shoulders, everything you need to enhance your aesthetics.

COMMON MISTAKES WHEN USING THE LAT PULLDOWN MACHINE

Avoid these errors, so you can get the most from these back exercises and prevent strain or injury.

Arching Your Back

Lower back injury risks are significantly higher if you don’t maintain the proper form of an upright position with a lifted chest and a neutral spine.

Using Your Forearms

If you let your forearms do the work instead of pulling down from your armpits, the muscles in your forearm will benefit and not your lat muscles.

Holding the Bar Too Wide

You get the best results if your grip on the bar is close to shoulder width. Your elbows should point down and not sideways. Many exercisers, especially beginners on the lat pulldown machine, grab the bar too wide.

Pulling the Bar Down Too Far

You can put excessive stress on your shoulder joints if you pull the bar down too far. You should stop pulling down before your elbows need to go backward.

Using Momentum

Performing the pulldown too fast will lead to you using momentum instead of muscle power to perform the exercise. Weighted exercises should always be performed slowly. As soon as momentum comes into play, the targeted muscles no longer benefit.

SAFETY PRECAUTIONS

It is best to avoid the neck lat pulldown variation whereby you pull the bar down behind your neck.

This motion is unsafe and could cause harm to your spine and your shoulder joint.

Discuss the safety of exercising on the lat pulldown machine with your physician or therapist if you have existing shoulder, elbow, or wrist problems. It is best to stop using the machine as soon as you experience stress or pain in your shoulder joints.

Ensure you use the appropriate weight for your strength, and base your rep range upon your strength, experience, and the weight you use.

LAT PULLDOWN VARIETY

One of the reasons for the popularity of the lat pulldown machine is the variety it offers.

Alternative Body Positions that Provide Alternative Options

Mixing up your grip and body positions can help you change the specifics of the muscle activation,

Pronated Grip (overhand) or Supinated Grip (Underhand) Lat Pulldowns:  Using the overhand grip when using the lat pulldown machine works the upper lats more than using the underhand grip.

 

Wide-Shoulder Width vs. Close-Grip: When using a grip wide shoulder width to do lat pulldowns your upper lats will work harder. Using the close-grip fitting will activate your lower lats.

Neutral Grip Lat Pulldown:  Using a neutral grip,  which is when your palms face each other, puts your lats in an improved biomechanical position, allowing you to lift more weight.

Seated, Standing, or Kneeling: These variations of body positions allow you to target the lats in different ways. The benefit is that you can then focus on specific lats areas to rectify any muscle imbalances.

Single-arm Pulldowns: Most lat pulldown machines give you the option to pull a pair of individual bars, allowing you to work one side at a time. This is another way to target muscle imbalances and your mind-muscle connection.

Straight Arm Pulldown:  This version is usually done in a standing position. It requires you to keep your elbows nearly fully extended the entire time. It activates the muscles on the back of your upper arm, known as the triceps. This movement mimics a dumbbell pullover which will give you a complete range of motion.

Angle:  Some available variations on the lat pulldown machine allow you to work at different angles. The V-bar pulldown is one such option that requires you to lean your upper body back slightly, allowing you to lift more weight and get a fuller range of motion during the exercise.

IN A NUTSHELL

The lat pulldown machine is a valuable piece of gym equipment that allows you to deploy a variety of lat pulldowns to keep your workout routines fresh. Lat pulldowns are undoubtedly one of the most efficient and effective exercises.

Althoughlat pulldowns are significantly easier than pull-ups,  they are a great option even for those who are good with pull-ups to mix some compound exercises into their training routines.