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Don’t Ignore Your Lats! Using the Lat Pulldown Machine Correctly

Red bull doesn’t give you wings, lat pulldowns do.

The lats (lattimus dorsi) are the main “pulling muscle” on your back, originating on the lower vertebrae and ribs and inserting into the bicipital groove on top of the humerus (upper arm).

Incorporating the lat pulldown machine into your workout routine can provide several benefits, including better muscular balance, better posture, better aesthetics and an increase in overall strength. We will dive into lat pulldown benefits as well as some proper techniques and variations using the lat pulldown machine.

Benefits of Lat Pulldown Machine

As opposed to pull-ups, which are even difficult for serious lifters, lat pulldowns allow you to adjust the weight per your strength level. The seated position, immobilizing your quads underneath the knee-pad, allows for a tighter form and more isolation of the lats, as compared to pull-ups.

Lats are also integral muscles in deadlifts, squats and even bench.  For deadlifts, lats are one of the main muscles used to achieve lockout after the initial lift-off. When it comes to bench, the thickness of your lats can shorten the ROM for your arms, allowing you to press more.

Franco Colombu was famous for his wide, marvelous back

We all know the guys that bench too much and don’t hit their back. I like to call them “knuckle-draggers” because their weak back can’t support their front side. Using the proper form on the lat pulldown machine will allow you to potentially improve your posture by balancing out weak muscle groups and strengthening your spine.

Lastly, what woman doesn’t love a glorious, “V-Shaped” back? All women feel safe behind a man that has strong, wide lats.

Proper Lat Pull-down Technique

Even if you normally use the lat pulldown machine every week, improper use may lead to serious back problems. Check out this step-by-step process with to properly execute a lat pulldown.

  • Adjust knee-pad so that your body is immobile
  • Set your feet flat
  • Bring your chest towards the machine
  • Retract your shoulder blades. The rule of thumb here is to pretend like you are putting your shoulder blades in your back pocket
  • Grab the angled portion of the long bar with a normal grip (we will dive into grip variations later)
  • Breathe in and stabilize shoulders
  • Breathe out and begin to pull the bar towards the top of your chest until you can feel your lats pressed together
  • Slowly go back to your starting position and repeat. Emphasize the eccentric movement, as this is just as important as the pull, for lat strength and growth
Proper Lat Pulldown Technique

A common mistake that people make while performing back exercises is they emphasize their biceps over their lats. Any back movement starts with retracting and depressing your scapulas. In other words, bring your shoulder blades together and down, and only after that, you use your biceps. A lot of the time, you will burn out while doing lat pulldowns due to overuse of your arms.

Elbow position also plays a major role in which part of the back you are stressing. To emphasize the side of your lats, keep your elbows within your vision (in front of you) and bring the bar to your chest. Keeping your elbows behind you will emphasize more of the upper lats. Make sure your head and neck remain in a natural position to reduce strain.

Lat Pull-down Variations

Normally, lat pulldowns are performed with a bar that has a slight angle on each end. But don’t neglect to use different attachments! For those who have a difficult time “feeling” their back during lat pulldowns, try using a soft attachment, like a rope. It allows you to use a more natural grip and doesn’t exhaust your arms. Trust me, you will see the difference.

Proper Hook Grip

If you feel that your forearms are starting to burn earlier than your back, you probably should change your grip. Having an open grip (hook grip) allows you to use your forearms less. In this case, you may have to decrease weight to maintain proper technique.

Lastly, if you still feel your forearms and biceps are tiring out to quick, try and use wrist wraps with an open grip.  At first, this technique seems awkward, but you can adjust to it.  By completely disengaging the forearms, you can focus on the lats.

Lat Pulldown Set

3-4 sets of 12. That’s it. I’m not going to bore you since you probably already know how to do this exercise. I will, however, throw in some new ideas to switch up your routine.

  • Superset pull-ups (until failure) with lat pulldowns (about half your body weight) until failure
  • Dropset lat pulldowns
  • Immediately after bench press, go to lat pulldowns. It will establish muscular balance (Arnold was famous for this)
  • Superset rows and lat pulldowns. This will make sure you work every part of your lats.

In conclusion, you don’t want to be the guy that ignores their back. In 40 years, you will be hunched over, with horrible posture, talking about your “glory days.”  Make sure to follow this guide to the lat pulldown machine and grow some wings.

Check out more tips for training back:

One Back Workout That Involves All Muscles of The Back

Follow This 10-Minute Stretching Routine to Get Rid of Back Pain

5 Back Exercises You Should Be Doing 

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