The lat pull-down is one of the most ubiquitous exercises on the planet. Whether you train in a dungeon-like hardcore gym or in a purple-clad Planet Fitness, you probably have access to a lat pull-down machine.
This back-day staple isn't difficult to do correctly, but I see a lot of people using poor technique. Although it's possible to hurt yourself doing this exercise incorrectly, the real problem is that bad technique can alter which muscles are being used. So if your purpose for doing the lat pull-down is to build your lats—not your traps, rhomboids, biceps, or lower back—then you'd better know how to do the exercise right!
Use these simple guidelines to get a lot more out of your lat pull-down!
Megna's Lifting Lessons Lat Pull-Down
Use Less Weight for Better Results
I often see people sit down at the lat pull-down machine and try to pull weight that's way, way too heavy. I know it's too heavy because, in order to get that weight down past their chin, they have to rock their torso backward due to the fact that the load is too heavy to pull straight down.
The purpose of doing a lat pull-down is to widen your lats and strengthen your serratus. Rocking backward is a problem because it engages the wrong muscles and weakens the stress put on the muscles you're supposed to be working. Doing this exercise incorrectly is not going to help you build a wider, stronger back.
That's why the first rule for a better lat pull-down is to lighten the load.
Nail the Position
If you're a rocker, then after you've lightened the load by a couple pins, it's time to get into the proper position. Before you even grab the bar, adjust the seat so you actually fit into the machine. You should be able to sit up straight. Your butt should be completely on the seat and the pads on your quads. Your feet should be on the ground. Everything should be tight.
After grabbing the bar, engage your lats before you even start pulling, and keep your traps and upper back pulled down. Your head should be slightly tilted back, but your torso should remain bolt-upright, much like you're doing a seated pull-up. Pull your elbows toward the ground with your back, not your biceps.
As you pull, keep your upper back shifted down; when you fatigue, your traps will want to jump in and help your lats. Remember, the purpose of this movement is to train the lats, so try to avoid recruiting other muscle groups.
Pull the weight down slowly, squeeze, and release it just as slowly. The only parts of your body you should be consciously moving are your elbows. If you start to lean back, you'll start recruiting your rhomboids, so stay upright.
Once you know you can handle the weight with perfect form, you can start to put the pin lower. However, if you begin to move your torso or you start to feel your traps rise up, you know you've gone a little too heavy.
Master All of Your Lifts
Just like performing lat pull-downs correctly can help you build a killer back, performing other core lifts properly, like the back squat and biceps curl, will ensure you get the most bang for your muscle-building buck. Check out those lifting lessons and drop your questions in the comments below. Next time you sit down at the lat station, make sure you pull like a pro!