How to Do the Lat Pulldown

An Exercise for the Back and Arms

The pulldown exercise is performed at a workstation with adjustable resistance, usually plates. While sitting with your upper thighs restrained under a thigh pad, you pull a hanging bar down toward chin level and then release for one repetition.

The lat pulldown exercise works the back muscles, especially the latissimus dorsi or the "lats," the muscle just under the armpits and spreading across and down the back. By isolating the back muscles with this exercise, other muscles like the biceps get a break so they don't tire out before the lats get a good workout.

Alternative grips can be used: wide, narrow, under- or over-hand in order to target specific muscle groups. Avoid performing a variation where the bar is pulled behind the head. This strains and can injure the shoulders.

If you need more guidance on weight training please refer to the beginner's guide.

Lat Pulldown Starting Position

woman doing lat pulldown
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  1. Sit comfortably on the pulldown seat, feet flat on the floor, and check the height of the bar.
  2. You may need to adjust the bar height by shortening or lengthening the chain or cable that supports the bar, or your seat height. Get a gym trainer to help with this if necessary. The bar should be at a height that your outstretched arms can comfortably grasp without you having to rise off the seat too far.
  3. Adjust the knee pad so that the upper thighs are tucked firmly under the pad. This will assist you when you apply effort to the bar.
  4. For a start, grasp the bar with a wide grip (as shown) with overhand, knuckles up grip. Other positions and grips are possible.

The Exercise Movement

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  1. From the starting position, pull the bar downward until it's approximately level with the chin. Keep your upper torso stationary although some movement backward to accommodate the bar is okay. Be sure your forearms are not doing the work of pulling the bar down. Keep the feet flat on the floor and try not to sway backward. 
  2. Squeeze the shoulder blades together while maintaining square shoulders.
  3. From the bottom position, allow the bar to return to the starting position while controlling its gradual ascent. Don't just let it go to crash into the weight plates.
  4. Continue until you complete 8 to 12 repetitions in a set. Rest, then continue to complete your program of sets.

Points to Note

  1. The middle grip with forearms upright works the biceps and middle back, while the wide grip recruits more back muscles and a close-grip pulldown emphasizes the forearm muscles.
  2. The straight-arm pulldown with elbows close to extended, usually done standing, hits the triceps at the back of the upper arms.
  3. Reversing the grip to underhand with knuckles facing away, puts more work into the biceps at the front of the upper arm with any position on the bar - wide, middle or close.
  4. The pulldown behind the neck is not recommended for safety reasons involving rotation of the shoulder joint and possible spine contact with the bar.

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