Variety is important, even doing slight variations of the same movement can help attack a muscle from a different angle to spur new gains in size and strength. We take a look at the lat pulldown—an utterly basic back-building exercise, but one with numerous deviations worth incorporating in your program.
The back muscles contract when the shoulders are retracted (pulled back). Keeping the chest out during the movement (on both the down and up phases) is a great cue to ensure this occurs. At the bottom of each rep, squeeze your shoulder blades together while also pulling them down.
This is how you reach full contraction in the back muscles. Hold this squeeze for at least a one-count on every rep. The back is a difficult collection of muscles to fully stimulate; the biceps so often take over in pulling movements, whether you realize it or not. The common result: a back workout that barely trains the back.
That’s why it’s critical to achieve a strong mind-muscle connection with the lats whenever you train them. You do this with extreme concentration and focus on these target muscles during every set.
Standing Lat Pulldown:
When pulling down from a standing position, you change the exercise from a strict, locked-in-your-seat pulldown that isolates the lats to a variation that requires more core involvement. Also, leaning your torso back as you row gives the benefits of a vertical and horizontal pull.
You won’t be able to go as heavy with these as you would with seated lat pulldowns, but the standing version is great to mix in on occasion for a unique pulling angle.
- Stand in front of a lat pulldown machine, grab the bar with a wide overhand grip, place one foot up on the edge of the seat, and lean back 30 degrees or so with your other foot planted firmly on the floor.
- Keeping your torso in a fixed position, contract your back muscles to pull the bar to your middle to lower chest.
- Squeeze at the contraction, then slowly reverse the motion to return to the arms-extended position.
Hammer Strength Reverse-Grip Lat Pulldown:
The lower lats (a common weak area) are the primary target when you flip your grip from overhand to underhand and go narrower. This can be done with a standard cable lat pulldown, but the plate-loaded Hammer Strength version provides a smooth, fixed-path motion with a free-weight feel to it.
- Sit on the seat and secure the pads firmly against the tops of your lower quads.
- Reach up, grasp the inner handles of the machine with an underhand grip, and lean back slightly.
- Contracting your back muscles and squeezing your shoulder blades together, pull both handles down simultaneously until they just about touch your middle to lower chest.
- Slowly return back up to arms extended.
Suspension Trainer Lat Pullup:
The pulldown motion is essentially the same, but this is a true body-weight exercise. If the movement feels too challenging, you always have the ability to make it easier, even midset, with a simple shift of the feet.
- Adjust the suspension straps so that from a hanging position, arms fully extended overhead, your butt is just off the floor with your legs extended out in front of you, heels on the floor with toes pointed up.
- From this position—maintaining an overhand grip with your hands directly above your hips—contract your lats to pull your body straight up toward the ceiling.
- As you do so, spread your hands so your head travels between them.
- When your hands are just above your shoulders, squeeze your lats hard, then lower back to the start position.
- To make the exercise easier, bend your legs and place your feet flat on the floor in front of you.
Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown:
The classic pulldown with a wide overhand grip will emphasize your upper lats. As a result, this move will aid in building that elusive V-taper.
- Grasp a pulldown bar outside of shoulder width with an overhand grip.
- Sit on the seat with your knees secured beneath the pads and begin with your arms extended overhead and your torso erect.
- Leading with your elbows, pull the bar down by contracting your back muscles until it touches your upper chest.
- Slowly return the bar to the start position.
One-Arm Lat Pulldown:
What separates this move from the others is that it’s unilateral, which promotes balanced development from side to side; if one lat lags behind the other, doing one-arm pulldowns regularly will allow the weaker side to grow and catch up.
- Attach a D-handle to the cable at a lat pulldown station.
- While seated on the machine, grab the handle in one hand and start with your torso upright and palm facing the midline of your body (neutral).
- Rest the nonworking hand on top of the knee pads.
- With the elbow in tight, pull the handle straight down until your hand is just outside your chest.
- Slowly return to the arm-extended position.
- Repeat for reps, then switch arms.
One of the few viable single-joint back exercises, straight-arm pulldowns isolate the lats by removing virtually all biceps involvement. Like reverse-grip pulldowns, the straight-arm version targets the lower lats.
- Stand facing a cable stack with a straight bar attached to the high pulley.
- Grasp the bar with a shoulder-width grip and step back a foot or two so the weight doesn’t rest on the stack.
- Begin with your arms extended with a slight bend in the elbows, the bar at around head level, and a slight bend in your waist.
- Keeping your arms extended, contract your back muscles to pull the bar down and toward you until it touches your thighs.
- Hold the contraction for a one-count, then slowly return the bar to the start position.