Athletic strong man defined back lat pulldown machine guide

Use the lat pulldown machine to build a bigger, broader and stronger back

Do you want to be the proud owner of lean, strong and athletic physique? Then the lat pulldown machine needs to feature in your training plan to build the bigger, stronger and more defined body you want. Here’s how to use this key bit of kit properly to add serious muscle size, strength and definition fast, says New Body Plan creater and Men’s Fitness cover model Jon Lipsey

The lat pulldown machine is one of the most popular weight-lifting machines in the gym. And with good reason. It’s a fantastic tool for adding size and strength to your big back muscles. The problem is that it is so often executed poorly. And if your technique is substandard, you won’t fully exploit the machine’s considerable benefits. Here’s what you need to know about the machine and the common errors you should avoid.

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What is the lat pulldown machine?

The lat pulldown machine is a type of gym cable machine that specifically targets your lats – the biggest of the back muscles. The most common type of lat pulldown machine uses a weight stack and a cable. You will also see leveraged lat pulldown machines, which you load with weight plates.

What muscles does the lat pulldown machine work?

The primary target of the lat pulldown machine is the latissimus dorsi (better known as the lats). That’s the biggest muscle in your back so it’s a crucial one to target in your training plans. The pulling movement you make when using a lat pulldown machine will also work your biceps. And because you’re holding the handle for the duration of the set, you’ll work your forearms too.

What results can I expect from using the lat pulldown?

There are a few physical effects you can expect from using a lat pulldown machine. The vertical pulling movement will contribute to increased back width. You will, over time, also see increases in biceps and forearm size. If you are using a heavy-enough weight you could also see a positive carryover into other vertical pulling movements, such as the pull-up. Using the lat pulldown machine consistently over time would also lead to gains in overall back strength.

Why is the lat pulldown machine so good?

The reason the lat pulldown machine is so good is that it’s really effective at recruiting your big lat muscles. That’s significant because they can be deceptively difficult to target.

The other big lats move you can do in the gym is the barbell bent over row. That is a great exercise but lots of people struggle to do it effectively. They struggle to get into a good start position because they can’t hinge at the hips very effectively. They struggle to execute reps well because their movement patterns are poor.

They may also lack the core strength to take advantage of the weight they’re holding. The lat pulldown machine offers a more accessible route to recruiting and fatiguing your back muscles. But, only if you do it properly. Follow the form guides below to ensure that you nail the exercise.

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How to use the lat pulldown machine

There are a few lat pulldown machine exercise variations that you can do. And we’ll cover them below. The most common variation is the standard lat pulldown. Here’s how to do it:

• Sit at the lat pulldown machine according to the instructions.
• Position the seat height so that your feet are flat on the floor.
• Position the thigh pad so that it is snug against your legs.
• Attach a bar to the cable hook and start with your arms just wider than shoulder width apart with tension in the cable.
• Pull the bar down to just below chin height and squeeze your back muscles at the bottom of the rep.
• Your elbows should be directly below your wrists, rather than pointing backwards.
• Return to the start position slowly to complete the rep.

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Common lat pulldown mistakes and how to avoid them

Don’t lean back as you pull

This is one of the most common lat pulldown machine errors that you see. When you rock back as you pull the bar down, that makes it easier to move the load. But it also takes tension away from the target muscle. So if you’re interested in making progress as fast as possible, it pays to do the move properly.

Don’t rush your reps

It’s really important that you don’t rush your reps when using the lat pulldown machine. You can pull powerfully but you want to return the weight to the start slowly under control. Doing that will ensure that you apply tension to the target muscle, which is what makes it bigger and stronger. If you just let the weight stack drop, you’re letting gravity do the work. And gravity isn’t going to help you add muscle.

Don’t let the weight stack crash back down

The weights shouldn’t fully return to the weight stack between reps. If they do then you’re completely taking tension off the muscles. Instead, you should keep tension in the cable between reps.

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How to do the main lat pulldown variations

There are lots of different exercises you can do on the lat pulldown. Here’s our pick of the most effective moves.

Wide grip lat pulldown

In this variation you use a long bar and take a wide, double shoulder width grip. It moves the emphasis away from your biceps and concentrates it on the lats. You’ll also find that your forearms start to burn quicker too. That may feel tougher but it’s actually useful because it will increase your grip strength.

Close grip lat pulldown

This lat pulldown machine variation is really effective for recruiting your lats. You do it with your hands no wider than shoulder width apart. Your hand position means you work through a larger range of motion, and that’s what makes it so effective.

Underhand lat pulldown

In this exercise you start with your palms facing you, which emphasise the biceps. You may find that you can lift less weight. But it is a good option if adding size to your arms is a priority.

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V-bar lat pulldown

This lat pulldown machine variation is performed using a V-bar attachment. That attachment has two handles very close together with your palms facing each other. It’s a great all-round option because it works your back and you biceps and allows you to go heavy.

Behind the neck pulldown

This option should be approached with caution. In theory, pulling the bar down behind your neck allows you to retract the shoulder blades. That’s associated with a good quality contraction of the lat muscles. But in order to get into that position, a lot of people push their necks forwards. That puts stress on the neck and could cause injury. If you’re weighing up the pros and cons, there’s probably more to be lost than gained by doing it. That’s the case to an even greater extent if you’re a beginner.

Single-arm pulldown

This lat pulldown machine exercise is a useful tool if you want to iron out strength imbalances. A lot of people have a dominant side. By doing each arm independently, you know exactly how much work each arm is doing. If you do it and there’s a discrepancy, it’s worth spending some time bringing your weaker side up to speed.

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