From Dork to Diva: Lat pulldown

July 17th, 2008  |  Published in From dork to diva  |  11 Comments

The lat pulldown is a good beginner back exercise. It’s also a stepping stone to being able to do pullups, which should be your eventual goal (How to work towards doing a pullup). The “lat” part in the name refers to the latissimus dorsi, which are the big triangular muscles of your back that sweep along both sides of your ribcage.

This demo shows the seated version of the lat pulldown with a wide grip. For more on different pulldown grips and the standing lat pulldown variation, see here.


This exercise, like the bench press or biceps curl, is where the big wannabes in the gym often show their idiocy. Screaming like banshees, they throw all their body weight backwards as they haul the bar down behind their neck.

If they were really so tough they’d be doing weighted chinups, but I digress.

One of the most common mistakes in this exercise is pulling the bar behind the neck, and this is a mistake even though you may see the exercise illustrated as “correct” this way. As in the shoulder press, this alignment of the bar can cause shoulder problems.

In addition, many people lean forward and strain, putting stress on the neck.


This is a much more effective way to perform this exercise.

Begin seated with arms straightened above you. Don’t lock your elbows. If you’re a shorty like me, you may have to stand on the seat first to grab the bar and bring it down low enough.

Grasp the bar firmly and slowly bring the bar down towards your upper chest. As you do this, arch your back and push your chest up and out, and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Stick the buzzums right out. Once the bar hits your chest (or as close as you can get), hold it there for a second or two as you really try to pull shoulder blades together and downward. Then slowly release and raise the bar under control to starting position. Again, don’t lock your elbows at the top.


  1. Kat says:

    March 1st, 2009at 11:11 am(#)

    I love this series of articles. However, I feel that you should amend the “Dork” section of this particular article to include a full rep of the wannabe’s lat pulldown:

    1) “Screaming like banshees, they throw all their body weight backwards as they haul the bar down behind their neck.”

    2) At the bottom of the movement, they release the weight in heedless abandon, dragging their shoulders out of their sockets like something from the Spanish Inquisition. Following this self-administered strappado, the inertial force of their bodies falling back to earth gives them a head start on Step 1.

  2. Ramona says:

    March 5th, 2009at 7:03 pm(#)

    Okay, I’m peeing my pants after reading what Kat wrote.

  3. Casey says:

    March 25th, 2009at 11:58 am(#)

    whoa! this is a revelation. i had no idea i was doing these wrong (just pulling the weight to in front of my face with a fairly neutral, no arched, spine) no wonder i never really felt any muscle activation!

  4. Jessica says:

    December 8th, 2009at 11:21 am(#)

    Is there a way this exercise (or something like it) can be performed with free weights at home? I’m trying to work my way up to being able to do pullups, but I’m a long, looong way off.
    Thanks for your site — I often wished for it before I knew it existed.

  5. Mistress Krista says:

    March 12th, 2010at 8:27 am(#)

    Jessica: You can use a band for resistance:

  6. Brenda says:

    May 7th, 2010at 8:59 am(#)

    Thanks for the link and for all the great things you do here. Your site is just AWESOME!!!

  7. Martha McCullough says:

    July 14th, 2011at 10:13 pm(#)

    I did a pull up today-actually two in a row! I haven’t done that since the 8th grade-so about 34 years!
    Thank You for all yer inspiration.

  8. Mistress Krista says:

    July 15th, 2011at 3:42 am(#)

    Martha: YAY!

  9. Lucy says:

    August 27th, 2011at 3:03 am(#)

    Should I be trying to stay sitting straight up as I bring the bar down? I have seen people throwing themselves backwards as they grunt loudly and try to haul the bar down. What is good form? I am guessing this is not it.

  10. Mistress Krista says:

    August 27th, 2011at 4:22 am(#)

    @Lucy: Yes, sit up straight and tall, with a “proud” chest.

  11. Liz says:

    October 8th, 2011at 1:47 pm(#)

    Another way to do the lat pulldown is to go into a low wide squat, horse stance for martial artists, then do the lat pulldown. This engages more of the back muscles, plus it looks cool and works out the legs at the same time.

    Thanks for this website. I am trying to convince my friend to stop wasting her time on low machine weights and use free weights. She wants to rock climb with us and a guy told her she doesn’t need big weights, that women don’t need them and she doesn’t need upper body strength. Where do these idiots come from? She was doing 50 reps on a machine, that it ridiculous. She is slowly coming around.

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