One of the most-used machines at the gym is the lat pulldown. That’s a good thing, because we all need strong backs.
But the lat pulldown is also one of the machines that scares me the most.
Why? Because so many people don’t use it properly. And I’m not intending to be judgy here — I’m worried for their safety. There’s a lot that can go wrong with this exercise.
True story: When I started researching this post I found out that pulldowns aren’t necessarily “cool.” Apparently all the really “cool” people do only pullups and chinups. Well, in my world, most of us can’t bang out sets of pullups and chinups. But even though we can’t do that, we still need to work the muscles of our latissimus dorsi (the big muscles of your upper back).
Pulldowns rock at that. And because pulldowns are actually doable for most people, you’re able to focus your mind into the muscle action, boosting the exercise’s effectiveness.
But there a few key things to keep in mind, for most of us.
When you pull the bar down, it should go in front of your head, not behind it. (You might see some bodybuilders doing a weird behind-the-head variation. Ignore them. Eyes on your own paper, right?)
Don’t lean back too far. Instead, sit tall, and gently roll your shoulders back, making a slight curve in your lower back. I tell my clients to aim their chest at the point where the wall and ceiling meet. Lift your eye gaze slightly, with chin gently tucked.
Pull the bar down so that it comes to your sternum. Visualize drawing your elbows to your side, which can help you focus the movement into your back instead of your arms.
Control the bar as you raise it back up, full extending your arms but keeping your shoulders retracted. It should feel like a nice stretch.
Try not to use excessive momentum by leaning back and swinging your bodyweight to pull the bar down.
(BTW: it’s not a “lateral” pulldown, it’s a “latissimus” pulldown, named for the muscle being worked.)
There’s a video below that shows proper lat pulldown form.