Weightlifting Tip: Proper Lat Pulldown Form

Perhaps the most popular machine for the latissimus dorsi muscles is the lat pull down machine. Much like the bench press it is a staple in most if not all gyms, both home and public.

Also, one would likewise think that with such wide usage, that correct form would be a give-in. However, this machine is often one of the most, if not the most, misused machine in the gym.

Think you’re doing it right? Let’s find out.

Step one: adjust your seat.

You should adjust your seat so that the bar overhead is just out of reach in order to ensure the largest range of motion. Also, you should adjust the leg padding so that your feet can rest flat on the floor while still having a snug but not tight fitting on the top of your legs once you are in position.

Step two: pick your grip.

There is no right and wrong when it comes to the grip that you use while performing a lat pull down. The fact is that it is actually good to vary your grip (close grip, wide grip, overhand, underhand, and different attachments) so that you can work more areas of your back. You lats are very large muscles and can be worked from a lot of angles, take advantage of that fact.

Step three: lean back.

Don’t lean back to far, just a slight lean is good enough to ensure a deep pull as well as keeping your back in line. Do not lean forward! This is a very common mistake that causes you to put stress on your neck and take your spine out of alignment and is much more likely to cause shoulder and neck pain.

Step four: pull down to the top of your chest.

This is also a very common mistake. A lot of people seem to be under the impression that when pulling down you should continue until the bar is to their stomach or waist. I’m not sure why this has caught on so widely, but it is very important that you don’t do this for a couple of reasons. First of all, this causes you to use a great deal of momentum when in the process, taking the pressure off your muscles and putting them on your joints. Second of all it is putting emphasis on different muscles that shouldn’t even be involved in the process. Remember, this is a lat exercise.

Step five: Squeeze!

Do you feel this exercise in your back? You should, that’s what it is meant to work. Many people don’t and it’s because of the simple fact is that if you don’t feel your back contracting, then it isn’t really doing much of the work. The primary muscles used in this exercise are your lats and your biceps (most back exercises involve pulling with directly impact the biceps as well) so don’t feel strange if your biceps get tired, too. Regardless, you should be feeling the greatest amount of work in your back. To do this, the easiest way is to imagine that you have a pencil begin held on your spine. As you pull down the bar, squeeze your shoulder blades together as if you were trying to hold the pencil in place. This is true back contraction and is the basis for all lat exercises, without this squeeze, you are wasting your time.

Step six: raise bar to full arm extension and repeat.

Since you are simple extending your arms, you should feel safe in the knowledge that your joints aren’t locking out, so letting the bar raise all the way until you feel like you are hanging is appropriate. As your arms extend, however, make sure that your butt doesn’t raise up off the seat. Doing so will cause you to create momentum to get the bar going again. Pulling down as hard as possible and bouncing goes against everything that you should be trying to accomplish.

This is not a difficult motion, it is just misunderstood. Don’t use too much weight so that you can control the weight and make sure that you contract the right muscles and you will get a leg up on your fitness goals.

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