Proper Lat Pulldowns: Maximizing Lat Activation for Width and Size

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Proper Lat Pulldowns: Maximizing Lat Activation for Width and Size

Everybody wants big lats, after all, they are the back’s most prominent muscle. Big lats are instrumental in the creation of a V-taper, that look that along with big shoulders and a thin waist creates quite the aesthetically pleasing physique. However, many people fail to develop solid mass in their lats because they go about exercising the muscle in the wrong way. Although there are several fantastic exercises that can help you develop great lats (starting with pull ups!), this article focuses specifically on the lat pulldown. Narrowing it down even further, on proper form and the various ways you can use the lat pulldown exercise to get the most lat activation you can.

The lat pulldown is a popular exercise, it’s a simple movement that allows an individual to push some decent weight in a reverse pull up situation. Instead of pulling yourself to the top, you’re pulling the weight towards you. However, most people do not take advantage of the benefits of the lat pulldown exercise even though it may be a staple in their routine. Common problems involve improper form, less than optimal grip, and very weak mind muscle connection. These problems, of course, can be attributed to any exercise. Nonetheless, the lat pulldown is often the exercise where people wind up combining all of these problems together while pumping out their reps, and then wonder why their lats are having problems growing.

1) Proper Form – the swinging has to go. More often than not, I see people lean back to the point they look like they’re about to start doing some crunches. With this severe lean, they begin trying to throw the weight towards them using all of their body’s momentum in the process. Instead, people need to focus on leaving their ego at the door, lowering the weight, and bringing the weight down in a calm and controlled manner. There is nothing wrong with a little lean, but keep your back steady at all times, and really bring the weight down to your upper chest. You don’t have to be perfectly straight, but the more you lean the more you’re taking away from your ability to use the lat as the primary weight mover.

2) Mind Muscle Connection – this is discussed constantly, however, it’s even more important with the lat pulldown. You cannot let your biceps do the work for you, you have to let your lats move the weight. Focus on keep your forearms tight, and push down with your elbows. Tense your lats, and imagine having to bring the weight down to your upper chest as if your arms weren’t there. Sounds comical, but there’s no point in wasting your time if you’re going to bring the weight down by using your arms as the primary mover. Remember, this is a lat exercise.

3) Calm and Steadynegatives are very important in every exercise, it is no different here. With that said, you don’t have to go overboard, but bringing the weight down and not releasing it immediately back to the top will go a long way. Take a few seconds to bring the weight down, and take a few seconds to bring it back up.

4) Alternate Grips – this is mostly relevant for when you’re using the bar. If you’re using the V-bar, naturally you can only use a neutral grip. However, with the bar, switch off between palms facing away (pronated) and palms facing you (supinated) grip. You can do a few sets with each grip, or switch off every time you do back. The same can be said for using a wide or narrow grip. In regards to grips, as you can see you have 4 different ways to target your lats. (1. pronated, 2. supinated, 3. narrow, 4. wide – not including v-bar neutral grip) Take advantage of this!

5) Thumbless Grip – perhaps the most important component, and goes very much in line with the mind muscle connection tip. Make sure you place your thumb with the rest of your fingers over the bar, don’t keep it under the bar. A thumbless grip allows you to limit the use of your forearms, making it easier to focus on using your lats to move the weight.

As with any other exercise, when doing lat pulldowns make sure you consistently improve. This is known as progressive overload, and is essential to muscle growth. There is also nothing wrong with loosening your form here and there, stacking the weight up, and doing some cheat lat pulldowns. That’s simply another method of attempting to encourage progressive overload. However, it should be used only here and there, and when you do it, there should still be a level of control over your movement for each rep. Good luck!

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