Lat Pulldown Variations

Lat Machines are one of the most versatile pieces of gym equipment on the market, they allow you to perform hundreds of different exercises, which can target any muscle group in your body based on the accessories you have available.

The best bit is that they allow you to gradually increase the resistance and focus on the perfect execution of the exercise. This is ideal for people who do not have the strength to do bodyweight training like chin-ups.

Lat Pulldowns are a simplified version of pull-ups. No matter what your experience level you can perform a lat pulldown with correct form. Even experienced trainers that are carrying some extra pounds can struggle with doing a chin up.

Here are some of the Lat Pulldown Exercise Ideas:

To the chest

The goal of accessory exercises is to isolate a specific muscle group. Strictly speaking, lat pulldowns are a compound exercise in that they activate multiple muscle groups. However, that does not mean that you should recruit every muscle in your body using poor form to complete a rep.

The focus of this exercise is to work the lats.

Lat pulldowns to the chest are very similar to your shoulder barbell press. If you would look at the movement pattern, you would find a lot of similarities. In fact, by building strength on your lat pulldowns you will more than likely be able to lift more weight when you perform a shoulder press.

How to:

– Arch your back a little bit and keep your chest up.

– Drive your elbows down so you could really focus on your lats.

– Bring the bar to your chest, remember that it is not necessary for you to touch your chest.

– Squeeze the lat at the bottom of the movement.

– Extend your arms fully at the top of the movement, like you would be getting under the barbell in the shoulder press.

I would recommend trying to perform this exercise slowly in a controlled fashion, a lot of people try to do the old rock and throw just so they could complete the repetition. Your focus should be on the quality of the repetitions not the quantity of weight lifted, or reps performed.

Behind the neck

This exercise has received a lot of criticism throughout the years because it can be damaging to your shoulder joint. The truth is that it does require quite a bit of shoulder joint and muscle mobility. If your joints and muscles are not mobile, chances are that you are going to struggle in a lot of other different exercises too. You will probably struggle to hold the barbell when doing some squats.

My advice is to start with virtually no weight to see if you have the necessary mobility. If you experience pain, then work on your mobility. If you don’t, then don’t jump to maximum weight straight away. Gradually work up in weight, closely monitoring any mobility issues.

How to:

– Ideally, you would use a wide grip lat pulldown bar for this exercise.

– Try to engage your lats first, almost like you would be doing a lat shrug.

– Once your lats are engaged pull the bar down behind your neck.

– You don’t have to touch your shoulder with the bar, bringing the bar to the mid-ear level is more than enough.

– Drive your elbows down and squeeze your lats at the bottom of the movement.

Too many people try to use their arms for this exercise, try to focus on the lat shrug part. Once you learn how to do the exercise in one motion you can then use heavier weights.

Leaning Back

It is a great pulldown variation for your upper back, assuming you have the necessary core strength to stay in this position.

– Lean back until your body is around 45-degree angle and lock yourself into this position.

– You can pull the bar down to your chest for this exercise.

– Keep your elbows flared out.

– Don’t forget to tense your core throughout the whole movement.

This is one of those exercises where it is easy to let your ego take over, first you choose a weight which is way too heavy and then you start rocking back and forth, using the momentum to complete the rep.

Always remember – quality vs quantity!

Like the lat pulldown and shoulder press variation, lat pulls while in this incline position is the opposing exercise to incline bench press. Building strength and muscle in the upper back will give you the added stability to press heavier weight.

One-Arm Pulldowns

This is an exercise that you do not see many people doing in the gyms. Despite the benefits that I will discuss, most people go for the two-handed version as they can pull more weight. Do not get me wrong, I train to lift heavier weight, but sometimes if you want to lift a heavier weight you have to do some lighter work to build your foundations.

There are a few benefits from doing the single one-arm pulldowns. The freely moving stirrup handle or utility strap will not lock you into a specific position like a lat pulldown bar would. You can find the perfect angle that gives you the best squeeze on the lat.

When you are in the optimal position you can extend your range of motion. This will work parts of the muscle that have remained untouched when doing traditional lat pulldowns.

How to:

– You can do this exercise either by sitting on the seat or kneeling on the ground – whichever variation can give you the full range of motion and the most comfort.

– You will be pulling straight down, so make sure that your arm is directly underneath the pulley.

– Flare your elbow out and drive it down in a controlled fashion.

– Squeeze the muscle at the bottom of the movement.

– Stretch the muscle out at the top of the movement.

It is even more important to focus on form rather than weight. When you are doing one arm at a time, if you are lifting a weight that is too heavy you twist and lean your body. Instead of working your lats it is turned into a core workout.

For bodybuilders, they do exercises like this to get that v-taper. By using your core you are achieving the exact opposite by adding girth to the midsection.

Underhand Pulldowns

Performing chin-ups with an underhand grip will work your back, but your biceps get a good old-fashioned torching in the process and sometimes give out first. You will have to recruit all available muscles in the chain when lifting your bodyweight. Being a small muscle, the biceps do not take much to get overworked.

Performing this exercise on the lat machine with less weight will enable you to better isolate the back muscles.

How to:

– Grip the lat pulldown attachment a bit closer than your shoulder width.

– Extend your arms fully.

– Pull the bar down and try to really squeeze your back and pull through.

– Choose a lighter weight – don’t make it an arm exercise.

Nearly all back exercises can end up in an arm workout if you are not focusing on form. Underhand pulldowns are definitely top on the list as your focus shifts from form to the girl or guy in spandex. They will never remember those extra few plates on the stack that you swung with momentum to your chest. But they may be impressed overtime by your steady strength and muscle gains – or just think you are a creep because you are always staring. Best to focus on the exercise at hand. 

Straight Arm Pulldowns

This exercise can be either done at the beginning of the workout, to get the blood flowing or at the end of training to really exhaust the lats.

How to:

– Make sure that you have enough range of motion to complete the rep without the carriage topping out. You can use an extension chain if you have a range of motion issue.

– Grab the bar at shoulder width.

– You can slightly bend your arms.

– Really focus on squeezing your lats – you do not need a heavyweight for this exercise.

If you will go too heavy on this one you will be using your arms too much and start getting a triceps pump.

Close Grip Pulldowns

Switching from a traditional grip to a neutral grip will shift the focus from the lats to the middle of your back. You can use the same cable attachment as seated rows. Just like seated rows, you will be able to pull more weight with this grip.

This is not an invitation to try moving the whole stack by rocking back and forth. We want to work the upper back, not the lower back!

How to:

– Keep your chest up throughout the whole exercise.

– Do not rock back at forth.

– Keep your elbows tucked in.

– Bring the handle down to your chest and squeeze the muscle.

– Extend your arms fully at the top of the movement.

Triceps Rope Pulldowns

Also known as a bodybuilder towel strap pulldowns, originally this exercise was performed as a pullup variation, with a towel flung over the chin-up bar. This not only required the strength to perform a bodyweight chin up but holding on was a grip workout in itself.

Personally, I would not attempt the old school version. The lat machine version makes it so much easier to work the back muscles.

By using a nylon strap instead of a lat pulldown bar, you are giving your joints the freedom to move around and find the groove that best hits the lats. As such you will be using a much lighter weight. This is a great exercise to warm up with or finish your workout.

To reap the most benefits of this exercise you would need a longer triceps rope or strap.

How to:

– Flare your elbows out, try to keep them in the same line as your body.

– Pull the rope down in a circular motion.

– Squeeze the muscle at the bottom of the movement.

– Extend your arms fully at the top of the movement.