Build your back with the Machine Lat Pulldown
The machine lat pulldown is an effective accessory exercise that strengthens your lats, rear deltoids, biceps, forearms, and other upper body muscles. Lat pulldowns are similar to pull-ups because both exercises train the same muscles through an identical range of motion. The primary difference is, pulldowns allow you to bring the bar to your body, whereas pull-ups force you to lift yourself. Because of that, pulldowns allow you to adjust the load depending on your strength level.
As the movement’s name suggests, lat pulldowns are excellent for the latissimus dorsi, the largest muscle in the upper body. Doing the exercise helps you develop back width and a V-taper look. Strengthening your lats also improves your athleticism and strength because the muscle plays an essential role in numerous arm motions.
Lat pulldowns are an accessory exercise, so we recommend including them near the middle of your back training.
How to do the Machine Lat Pulldown
- Sit down and adjust the pad for your thighs. It should be right on top of your thighs, but it shouldn’t press too hard against them.
- Adjust the weight to be light enough for you to do at least ten repetitions.
- Stand up, grab the handles and sit back down, securing your thighs under the pad.
- Bring your shoulders back and down, engage your core, and take a breath.
- Pull the handles down by rowing through your elbows. As you pull, your elbows should remain in line with your torso instead of going back behind your body.
- Row until you feel a strong contraction in your lats, hold for a second and simultaneously exhale.
- Bring the handles to the starting position in a controlled fashion until you feel a stretch in your back muscles.
- Take another breath and repeat.
What muscles does the machine lat pulldown activate?
The primary muscles that work during any lat pulldown are the latissimus dorsi (1). Our lats cover a significant percentage of the back and are the largest muscle in the upper body. The lats contribute to numerous activities and produce a lot of force, allowing us to pull the weight to ourselves (2).
Other upper back muscles, including the trapezius, rhomboids, rear deltoids, infraspinatus, and erector spinae, also play a role in lat pulldowns. The collection of muscles offers torso stability, keeps our shoulders retracted, and assists the lats in pulling the weight.
The second pair of prime movers in lat pulldowns are the biceps, which cover the front of our upper arms (1). Our biceps produce elbow flexion (bending), which means the muscle group assists the lats when pulling the weight and releasing it to the top (3).
Midsection muscles, including the transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, and obliques, also work during lat pulldowns to support us by offering torso stability.
Machine Lat Pulldown Vs. Cable Lat Pulldown
Machine and cable lat pulldowns work in similar ways. You have to sit down, adjust the pad to secure your thighs, and reach up to grab the bar. Changing the load is also similar, and you have a lot of flexibility on both types of machines.
The range of motion on both movements is identical, and either would be great for everyone who wants to emphasize their latissimus dorsi.
A significant difference between the two options is the movement pattern. Cable lat pulldowns offer more flexibility because you can pull the bar freely and position your torso as you wish. In contrast, a machine lat pulldown offers a fixed path, forcing you to adjust to the machine.
Some people enjoy the fixed movement pattern because it makes the exercise easier. Others prefer a cable machine to adjust the movement pattern and fit their needs, possibly leading to superior muscle activation.
The two options are not much different, and both can work great. Experiment with them to see what you enjoy most and stick with that.
Variations and Modifications of the Machine Lat Pulldown
1. Cable Lat Pulldowns
Cable lat pulldowns are the most common alternative to machine lat pulldowns. As discussed in the previous point, both variations work similarly, and either could be effective. Don’t stress too much about your choice but experiment to see which one you enjoy more.
2. Single-Arm Machine Lat Pulldown
Most lat pulldown machines allow you to pull a pair of individual bars, allowing you to work one side at a time. Doing a single-arm machine lat pulldown is beneficial for improving your mind-muscle connection and reducing the risk of muscle imbalances.
3. Tempo Lat Pulldown
Tempo lat pulldowns are a fantastic option for people who struggle with the mind-muscle connection. The goal is to pull the weight over two to four seconds, hold the bottom position for a moment, and extend your arms with the same tempo.
Mistakes to Avoid
A significant mistake with machine lat pulldowns is shrugging your shoulders instead of keeping them down and back. Doing so shifts the emphasis away from your lats and instead puts more tension on your deltoids, making the lat pulldown less effective. Bring your shoulders back (imagine that you’re trying to pinch something between your shoulder blades) and keep them in that position during each set.
Another significant mistake with machine lat pulldowns is moving your torso too much. A bit of leaning back and forth during the exercise is inevitable because of the fixed resistance path, but excessive movement can take the tension away from your back. Avoid the mistake by keeping repetitions slow and controlled, moving your torso as little as possible.
The third mistake to avoid with machine lat pulldowns is using too much weight. Doing so forces you to shorten the range of motion and often leads to momentum to complete each repetition. As a result, you get to move more weight, but you fail to train the correct muscles effectively. Always pick the resistance that allows you to do at least ten complete repetitions.
Similar Exercises to the Machine Lat Pulldown
T Bar Row
T bar rows are a classic exercise you can do on a gym machine or by using a landmine attachment for a barbell. The goal is to bend forward, brace your midsection, and pull the bar to yourself. Doing so works your upper back, develops your biceps, and strengthens your entire midsection musculature.
Inverted rows are an excellent bodyweight exercise that develops your upper back, biceps, and midsection (4). The objective is to grab a bar, lean back, straighten your body, and pull yourself while having your feet on the floor. A more vertical body position makes the exercise easier, whereas being more horizontal makes the movement more challenging.