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How To Use The Lat Pulldown Machine | Proper Form & Exercise Technique

How To Use The Lat Pulldown Machine | Proper Form & Exercise Technique
Chris Appleton
Author & Editor3 years ago
View Chris Appleton's profile

First off, we’ll establish what a lat-pull down is and why you should consider incorporating it into your training routine. ‘Pulldown’ refers to one of the popular movements used to target the lats.

‘Lat’ is short for Latissimus Dorsi which is the name of the muscle being worked. The lats are located dorsolaterally on the upper half of the body at the back, posterior to the arms. By engaging the lats in hypertrophy we’re able to increase their size which can be beneficial for a number of reasons.


Lat Pulldown Technique

Performing lat pulldowns have a similar range of motion to pull-ups, however, you’re able to use a stricter form because of your seated posture and adjust the weight depending on your level of strength.

  1. Sit on the lat pulldown machine and adjust the knee pad so that there is no free space and you’re tightly seated.
  2. Place your feet flat on the floor, push your chest upwards and out.
  3. Retract your scapula, which should create an arch leaning away from the machine.
  4. Take hold of the bar, with your hands in a wide grip.
  5. When you’re in your starting position inhale and make sure your keep posture without letting your scapula loosen or your shoulders raise.
  6. Exhale when you begin the movement (concentric contraction); Pull through your elbows until you’re able to squeeze your lats at the bottom of the movement and your shoulder blades are together.
  7. Slowly raise the bar back up until your arms are extended and back in the starting position.

Common mistakes and how to fix them

The lat pulldown is one of the most badly performed moves you'll see in the gym — so it's important you get the technique right. You'll regularly see people leaning back and yanking the bar towards their chest, using their full bodyweight to start the movement. Not only does this mean you're not activating the lats (your whole reason for using this machine), but you'll also be putting extra stress on the pelvis and lower back.

To make the most of the lat pulldown, your reps should be slow and controlled. Here are some other mistakes and how you can fix them...

Pulling the bar down past your chest 

Pulling the bar way past your chest and almost in line with your stomach takes almost all the tension away from the lats and back. You can avoid this by keeping your chest high and stopping when you reach your upper chest.

Using momentum

Swinging the weight backwards in an attempt to build momentum also takes all of the tension away from your back muscles — so you’re essentially not using them! Keep your chest upright and maintain a good posture. Keep as stationary as possible throughout.

Shrugging the shoulders 

This is a clear sign the weight is too heavy for you. As you pull the weight down your shoulders will lurch forward like a shrug. During the movement, your shoulder blades should actually stay down, with your elbows by your side.


Lat Pulldown Plan

Try incorporating 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions of this exercise into your routine; you could also add drop-sets into your plan when using the lat pulldown resistance machine to increase the intensity!

Remember to use progressive overload; once you feel capable of performing more than 12 repetitions you should increase the weight of the exercise.

As well as this, each set should go up in weight (and more often than not, down in repetitions).

Lat Pulldown Sets  Reps & Weight
Set #1 12 reps at 40kg
Set #2 10-12 reps at 42.5kg
Set #3 8-10 reps at 45kg
Set #4 8-10 reps at 47.5kg

The Benefits of Lat Pulldowns

The lat pulldown is a great way to strengthen the latissimus dorsi muscle, the large, flat muscles across your mid-back. As the broadest muscle in your back, it helps to promote good posture and spinal stability.

Whether you’re pulling something down from a high shelf, swinging your arms as you walk, run, or row, or even push something, you'll be using your lat muscles. So it's a great exercise to really develop your back muscles and achieve that v-taper look.


Why perform this exercise?

The lat pulldown is one accessory movement that many people overlook when trying to train back. Pull-ups are one of the best for building muscle and upper-body strength —  but they can be hard to do!

The lat pulldown uses a similar movement to the pull-up, targeting your mid- and upper-back muscles, arms and grip, but you'll have much more control. Developing stronger lats will help with your squats, deadlifts and most effectively in your bench press technique.

Targeting The Lateral Muscles

As the lats are such large muscles, they're involved in a number of compound exercises. Deadlifts are one of the exercises that the lats play a part in; a number of muscles in the back are activated when performing this movement and it's important that each one is able to handle a share of the load because the deadlift is one of the most taxing exercises. 

As for squats; by activating your lats when prepping for squats you'll have more muscle thickness and width in your back and therefore will be able to maintain a tighter form throughout the movement, making squats easier to perform. 

Take Home Message

Remember: by engaging the lats in hypertrophy we’re able to increase their size.

Enjoy back training!

Chris Appleton
Author & Editor
View Chris Appleton's profile