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How to Perform the Lat Pulldown Exercise for Optimal Back Strength

Updated: Feb 4

You might be in the gym, wanting to try a new weight machine, but yet not very confident about if you can do the exercise correctly. Oh, I've been there, done that. Quite a few times actually.

I would spend hours trying to research new exercises and watching videos to make sure I knew how to do these exercises before I arrived in the gym.

My experience with this really inspired me to write most of these how-to-guides for exercises. I've been the one who didn't want to try a weight machine because I thought I would look foolish because I didn't know what I was doing! I hated that feeling.

But, seriously, no one at the gym is even noticing. They are way too busy doing their own thing to notice how other's aren't 'doing the exercise correctly'.

Which brings me back to one of the best exercises for your back muscles, the front lat pulldown. The pulldown exercise works the back muscles and is completed at a weight machine with adjustable resistance, usually plates.

This exercise is really simple and easy to do. You can start by sitting on the bench. Then, reach for the hanging bar, and slowly pull the bar towards your chin. You can stop when the bar meets your chin level. Then, release it back up. Make sure the movement is controlled when you pull and release. This exercise can be done as part of an upper-body strength workout.

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How to Do a Lat Pulldown

Performing a front lat pulldown is pretty easy. First, make sure you sit comfortably on the pulldown seat, with your feet flat on the floor. Next, you need to make sure to check the height of the bar. You may need to adjust the bar height by shortening or lengthening the chain or cable that supports the bar or your seat height.

This is easy once you can figure it out. (Boy did I have a hard time adjusting the seats at the machines for a while!) You can always get a gym trainer to help with this if necessary, or you can ask a fellow gym goer.

Check that the bar is at a height that your outstretched arms can comfortably grasp the bar without having to stand up entirely, but you should also be able to still extend your arms to achieve a full range of motion.

Some stations have a thigh pad, if it does, you may need to adjust it so that the upper thighs are tucked firmly under the pad. This needs to fits properly because it will help you when you apply effort to the bar.

  1. Grasp the bar with a wide grip with an overhand, knuckles-up grip.

  2. Pull the bar down until it's about level with your chin. Remember to exhale when you pull down. You can move slightly backward, but keep your spine and back stationary. Your feet need to be planted flat on the floor while engaging your abs as you pull. The bottom of the motion should be where your elbows can't move downward anymore without moving backward. Be sure to stop at that point and do not go lower.

  3. Squeeze the shoulder blades together while maintaining square shoulders.

  4. From the bottom position, with the bar close to your chin, slowly return the bar to the starting position while controlling the bar. Don't let it crash into the weight plates.

  5. Continue until you complete eight to 12 repetitions in a set. Rest for 10 seconds, then continue to complete your program of sets.

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Tip #1 - Benefits of Lat Pulldowns

This exercise targets the latissimus dorsi, more commonly referred to as the "lats," which is the muscle just under the armpits and spreading across and down the back. When you isolate your back muscles, you can focus on them without tiring out other muscles such as the biceps and triceps.

When you lift weights, it's essential to target your back muscles to help with proper posture and to ease pulling movements, like opening a door, starting a lawnmower, swimming, or even performing a pull-up. Having strong lats may even help relieve some kinds of back pain (Sharma, Saiyad & Bid,2013)

Other Variations of Lat Pulldowns

The Front Lat Pulldown is easily customizable. Which makes this exercise perfect to meet your skill level and goals while still giving those lats a good workout.

Light Weights or Bands for Beginners

Beginners may want to start with light weights or a band to make sure you are competing the exercise with correct form. You can also try performing the exercise standing, with one leg forward like you are walking.

Alternative Grips

Yes, you can use alternative grips with the front lat pulldown. You could try wider, narrow, under- or overhand grips to target specific muscle groups. You can even use a middle-distance grip You can do this by placing your forearms upright and hands about shoulder-width apart, work the biceps and middle back. When you use a wider grip it uses more back muscles, and a close grip pulldown emphasizes the forearm muscles.

Tip #2 - Common Mistakes

It's so important to be aware of your form when doing any type of weight lifting. Here are some common mistakes to avoid so you can help prevent injury or strain to your muscles. .

Muscle injuries are the most frequent cause of physical incapacity in sports practice. It has been estimated that 30 to 50% of all sports-related injuries are caused by soft-tissue lesions

Arching Your Back

As with any weight lifting exercise, it's so important to maintain an upright position and keep your chest lifted. When you maintain a neutral spine, you can help protect your back and spine from injury.

Using Your Forearms

I've seen a lot of newbies at the gym who are actually using their forearms to pull the bar down. This should not be done this way. Make sure you are activating your lats by pulling down.

Holding the Bar Too Wide

This is such an easy mistake. When you do grab the bar for the front lat pulldown, make sure you aren't grabbing the bar too wide. This is an easy mistake, especially for newbies...but hey, we all make mistakes, even as seasoned gym goers. Just make sure to double check your form and keep your elbows down as you lower the bar.

Pulling Down Too Far

Sometimes, we might get carried away and pull the bar down too far. Make sure you are stopping at the point where your elbows would need to go backward to continue pulling. If your elbows do happen to go backward, you might end up putting excess stress on your shoulder joints. Only lower the bar to your chin.

Using Momentum

As with most weighted exercises, perform the pulldown slowly and with control. Doing it fast uses momentum, which will hinder your progress. Movements need to be controlled so you can get the most out of your workout.

Tip #3 - Safety and Precautions

The front lat pulldown is an easy exercise that can be done to work those back muscles. You should always start out with lighter weights so you can get the form of your exercise down. Once you have the proper form, by all means, add a little bit more weight - just make sure it's not too heavy.

The front lat pulldown exercise should be avoided if you have any wrist, elbow, or shoulder problems. It's also important to talk to your doctor or physical therapist to see if this exercise is appropriate for you. As always, stop this exercise if you feel any pain or too much stress on your shoulder joints. It's so important to be able to listen to your body when it comes to exercise and pain.

Also, don't focus too much on the number of reps and sets at first. If you are a newbie, I'd recommend starting with 1 set of 8 - 10, then work your way up to 2 - 3 sets. Although, these numbers might fluctuate depending on what your goals are.

Learning how to complete exercises with proper form is so essential to building the body you want. Weather you are a seasoned gym goer, or a newbie, we have tips and trick for everyone on their fitness journey.

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  1. Sharma, S., Saiyad, S., & Bid, D. (2013). Role of Latissimus Dorsi and Lower Trapezius in Chronic Mechanical Low Back Pain due to Thoraco-lumbar Dysfunction. Indian Journal Of Physiotherapy & Occupational Therapy-An International Journal, 7(2), 219-224. Retrieved from

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