The lat pulldown is a weight lifting exercise using a machine, where a weight is pulled down from above by grasping a bar in your hands and bending the arms to lift the weight.
This is a compound exercise, which means it works a number of upper body muscles at the same time. This lift is one of the most important compound lifts in the gym for strong upper body development.
What muscles does the lat pulldown use?
The lat pulldown is an excellent exercise for the back and upper back (latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids), the back of the shoulders (posterior deltoid), and front of the upper arms (bicep and brachialis).
This lift is only found in the machines area of the gym so free weights specialists will need to move into the machines room to take full advantage of this good shoulder and back exercise. Either that or head to the pull up/chin up bar.
There are no free weights for the lats that work in exactly the same way as this machine because this lift requires pulling a fixed weight down from above.
However, you can recreate the lat pulldown exercise by performing pull ups or chin ups, as these bodyweight exercises use the same muscles in the back.
The type of grip you choose for this exercise will determine the exact parts of the muscles targeted by the lift. A wide grip targets the outer upper back, while a narrower grip is more focused on the central area of the upper back.
Benefits of the lat pulldown
The lat pulldown is a great exercise to use alongside the shoulder press as it works in a similar, yet opposite, way. While the shoulder press uses the upper body muscles to press the weight straight up, the lat pulldown uses the upper body muscles to pull a weight down.
Used alongside the shoulder press, the lat pulldown can develop the opposite muscles to create a balanced physique and supportive fixator and synergist muscles.
Used regularly within a structured weight training routine, this lift will result in excellent all round development of the upper back, shoulders and arms.
Performing the lat pulldown
Good lat pulldown technique requires the correct grip, positioning and controlled movement. Before performing the lat pulldown, you need to first adjust the seat height.
The seat should be positioned so that your thighs are snugly held under the pad and your feet are flat on the floor, with knees bent at a 90 degree angle. The lower body should be still and held in position firmly by the pad.
Once you have adjusted the seat to the correct height, you need to free yourself and stand up again to take hold of the lat pulldown bar. Bring the bar down into position, so that you are ready to start the lift.
Lat pulldown grip
Your lat pulldown grip should be a wide overhand grip, with knuckles facing you and hands about a shoulder width and a half apart.
Take the handles firmly in both hands and draw the handles down as you seat yourself down. As you sit down, tuck your knees back under the bar again, which should now already be positioned at the correct height.
Lat pulldown technique
You are now sat with arms extended, grasping the bar above your head. To begin the lift with proper lat pulldown technique, lean back very slightly and draw the handles down towards the upper chest.
Exhale as you bring the bar down. Keep your neck straight with head facing forward and avoid the temptation to look up at the bar above you.
Bring the bar down slowly and steadily, Throughout the entire lift, your abdominals should be braced and spine neutral. As you reach the bottom of your pull, squeeze the shoulder blades together. The bar should finish at the in front of your lower neck / upper chest region.
You are now ready to extend your arms again to let the bar return upwards in a slow and controlled motion. Extend the arms fully during this upward phase of the lift, but do not lock out your elbows.
Using good lat pulldown technique, keep tension and at the top of the lift and begin to draw the bar back down again for your next rep.
Once you have performed your last set, release your thighs from under the pad stand up and gently allow the the bar to rise up, returning the weight to the stack.
Check out our guide to pull ups and chin ups for another great bodyweight exercise for the back and arms, which requires no specialist equipment and works the same muscles as the lat pulldown.