If you are experiencing shoulder pain during lat pulldowns this is likely caused by performing the exercise with improper technique. To correct this form and eliminate shoulder pain, make sure to always pull the bar down in front of your head during lat pulldowns, not behind. Don’t lean backward during a lat pulldown. You should keep your back and forearms vertical, with chest up and shoulders retracted. Then, pull the bar straight down to your upper chest. This technique will focus the exercise on your lats and relieve stress from your shoulder joint.
Why Does Your Shoulder Hurt When You Do Lat Pulldowns?
Often, shoulder pain during lat pulldowns is caused by a technique that puts the focus of the exercise on the shoulders and the muscles of the upper back. If the lat pulldown is targeting your shoulders, you’re doing it wrong. The lat pulldown is intended to work the muscles of the mid-back—the latissimus dorsi—and proper form provides an excellent lat workout. Poor form places unhealthy strain on the shoulder joint and can cause serious injury.
- Most shoulder pain during lat pulldowns is caused by improper form.
- Poor form during lat pulldowns places painful stress on the shoulder joint and tendons.
- If you are experiencing severe or nagging shoulder pain, visit your doctor for injury evaluation.
Below, we will cover the techniques required to perform pain-free lat pulldowns. However, if you are still experiencing shoulder pain, it could be the result of a serious lifting injury. If this is the case, consult a doctor for treatment.
7 Tips to Eliminate Shoulder Pain During Lat Pulldowns
When performed correctly, the lat pulldown should not be accompanied by shoulder pain. By practicing the following techniques throughout the full range of motion of the lat pulldown, you will master the exercise. Then, you can use this incredible exercise to build a stronger, more defined back. Here’s how to relieve lat pulldown shoulder pain:
Pull Down In Front of Your Head
Never perform lat pulldowns that involve bringing the bar down behind your head. This movement places excessive stress on the shoulder joint and rotator cuff. Behind-the-head lat pulldowns result in pain and injury. Instead, always pull the bar down in front of your face, down to your collarbones.
- Do not bring the bar down behind your head during a lat pulldown.
- Behind-the-head pulldowns cause shoulder pain and injury.
- Always bring the bar down in front of your face during lat pulldowns.
In addition to causing shoulder pain, bringing the bar down behind your head also causes you to bend your neck and back in unnatural ways. This forces you into poor posture and can cause injury to your lumbar spine.
Don’t Lean Back
The lat pull-down should be performed in a nearly vertical position with a straight back. If you are leaning or pulling backward during lat pulldowns, you shift the target of the exercise from your lat muscles to the muscles of your back and shoulders. This is often responsible for shoulder pain.
- Leaning or rocking backwards during lat pulldowns can cause shoulder pain and injury.
- Maintain an upright, straight posture throughout the lat pulldown.
- Perform lat pulldowns with the same form as no-swing pull-ups.
The lat pulldown movement should approximate a pull-up movement. Because pull-ups are not performed by leaning or pulling backwards, lat pulldowns should not be performed that way either. Retaining straight posture can become easier if you imagine pulling yourself up toward the bar during lat pulldowns.
Retract Your Shoulder Blades
A great way to eliminate shoulder pain during lat pulldowns is to focus on keeping your shoulder blades back and down throughout the exercise. In the starting position, pull your shoulders back as if you are putting them “in your back pockets.” This ensures the lats are targeted, not the shoulder.
- Keep your shoulder blades back and down throughout the exercise to prevent shoulder injury.
- Straighten your arms slowly and do not allow your shoulders to move out of position.
- If your shoulders are pulled out of position, you are likely to experience shoulder pain.
When performing the eccentric motion of lat pulldowns (straightening your arms), keep your shoulder blades retracted. Straighten your arms slowly, in a controlled manner. Do not allow the weight to pull your shoulder blades up or forward. If your shoulders are pulled out of position, you risk pain and injury to the joint.
Narrow Your Grip
For some, using wide grips for lat pulldowns causes pain. If you are using an overhand grip, narrow it by 3–4 inches during lat pulldowns. This relieves some of the strain on the shoulder joint. Don’t worry, you will still get an excellent back workout.
- If you experience shoulder pain during wide grip lat pulldowns, narrow your grip by 3–4 inches (7–10 cm).
- Instead of an overhand grip, try an underhand grip (supinated grip) lat pulldown to relieve shoulder strain.
If the overhand grip still causes shoulder pain during lat pulldowns, consider switching to an underhand grip with hands shoulder-width apart. This grip does shift some of the focus toward the biceps but it will still work the latissimus dorsi muscle in your mid-back.
Reduce the Weight
Lifting too much weight during lat pulldowns is a source of major injuries to your shoulders. It also contributes to bad form. Lifting too much weight may cause you to lean backward, move quickly during arm extension, and pull your shoulders forward. As you work to retrain your mind-muscle connection with good form, reduce the weight by 25–50%.
- Lifting more weight than you are ready for often contributes to bad form and shoulder pain.
- Reduce your lat pulldown weight by 25–50% as you practice correct form.
- Over time, add more weight to your lat pulldown.
By switching your form and beginning at a lower weight, you will experience more overall advancement at lat pulldowns. The latissimus dorsi is the largest muscle in the upper body. Given time and correct training, you’ll be able to increase your lat pulldown weight beyond what you previously lifted.
Bring Your Elbows to Your Sides
One of the leading causes of shoulder injury from the lat pulldown is when lifters pull their elbows backward rather than downwards. Pulling your elbows behind yourself targets the shoulder joint in painful ways. Instead, focus on bringing your elbows down until your triceps touch your sides.
- Bring your elbows straight down during the downward movement of lat pulldowns.
- Your triceps should be pressed to the sides of your ribcage at the bottom of the lat pulldown.
- Do not pull your elbows backwards during lat pulldowns. This causes shoulder pain.
Pulling your elbows straight down takes stress off the shoulder. This downward motion instead ensures that the work of the lat pulldown will be accomplished by the lats. This leads to a better workout, a stronger back, and reduced shoulder pain.
Keep Your Forearms Vertical
Your forearms should form a straight line pointing toward the ceiling throughout the entire motion of the lat pulldown. This upright forearm positioning prevents painful shoulder rotation. Instead, it focuses the workout on the back muscles.
- Make sure your forearms are pointing straight toward the ceiling throughout the lat pulldown motion.
- Do not tilt your forearms forward or backward. This results in shoulder joint injury.
Allowing your forearms to tilt forward or backward while pulling the weight down places stress on your shoulder while the joint is being rotated. This can cause damage to the rotator cuff.
How to Prevent Shoulder Pain During Lat Pulldowns
If you’re experiencing shoulder pain during lat pulldowns, it’s time to rethink your form to eliminate this painful experience. The best ways to make sure you aren’t experiencing sharp pain during lat pulldowns are:
- Pull the bar down in front of your head, never behind your head.
- Retain a straight back—don’t lean backwards during the lat pulldown.
- Keep your shoulder blades retracted throughout the entire movement of the lat pulldown.
- Try a narrower grip—or underhand grip—to relieve shoulder stress.
- Decrease the weight of your lat pulldowns to maintain good form.
- Pull your elbows straight down to your sides.
- Keep your forearms vertical throughout the lat pulldown.
These tips are the antidote to poor technique that causes shoulder pain. By implementing all of these practices, you will prevent shoulder injury.