Wide Grip Lat Pulldown: The Total Back Workout

The lats, or latissimus dorsi, are the broadest muscle in the body. The wide grip lat pulldown is one of the best exercises to work this muscle.

Your lats begin just below your armpits and run down to their lowest connection point just above the hip bone. Because of their size and prominence, the lats generate a huge amount of power and contribute to a well-built physique.

You might be wondering how to get wide lats. The key is an exercise that isolates and develops this muscle. We’re talking, of course, about the wide grip lat pulldown.

What Muscles do Wide Grip Pulldowns Work?

The wide grip lat pulldown may primarily be a back exercise, but there’s more to it than that. A thorough understanding of the muscles we work during lat pulldowns helps us optimize the workout for results.

Primary Muscles

It’s right there in the name—wide grip lat pulldown—the lats are the muscles most targeted during the exercise. The wide grip lat pulldown targets the largest back muscles. When done correctly there’s probably no exercise that works the lats better.

The wide grip lat pulldown machine really encourages good form, making sure you use your lats completely and don’t rely on secondary muscles. This sort of over-reliance on secondary muscles can sometimes happen when doing other back exercises, like pull-ups.

Secondary Muscles

There is a laundry list of secondary muscles worked during the lat pulldown. Below, they’re listed in order of how much work they get during the wide grip pulldown, from most to least.

  • Biceps brachii – Behind lats, the biceps are probably worked the most during wide grip cable pulldowns.
  • Teres major/teres minor – The muscles just below the armpit.
  • Posterior deltoid – Muscles at the rear of the shoulder.
  • Infraspinatus – Layer of muscle over the shoulder blade.
  • Trapezius – Muscle that runs from your neck to your shoulder. Also includes the muscle that runs between your shoulder blades.

As you can see, not only are the lats worked hard by the wide grip pulldown, but also several muscles in the arms, back, and shoulders are incorporated. The wide grip lat pulldown allows you to work several muscles in one exercise, providing a lot of benefits in one motion. Having these sorts of multi-muscle exercises in your routine is key to building total fitness.

How To Do Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns

Now that we know what muscles are targeted during the wide grip pulldown, let’s dive into how to do them correctly. Maintaining good form will ensure you get the most gains out of your workout with the least risk of injury.

How Wide is the Grip?

Since we’re talking wide grip pulldowns, the first thing we need to tackle is the grip, right? First, when you sit down at the lat pulldown machine you’ll want to grip the pulldown bar with your palms facing away from you.

Second, your hands should be more than shoulder-width apart. Do a classic double bicep flex in the mirror. See where your elbows are? Your hands should be at about that width on the pulldown bar.

In fact, most pulldown bars have a downward bend toward each end. A grip just above or just below this bend is usually optimal. You can go with whichever feels most comfortable for you, but we recommend gripping just above the bend. This will give you a bit more stability and provide a perfect grip that activates the lats completely.

Set Your Shoulder Blades

It’s important to focus on bringing your shoulder blades down and back while gripping the lat pulldown bar. A good way to think about this is to imagine putting your shoulder blades “in your back pockets.”

This causes your back muscles to come into play more fully and also allows you to generate a lot more power during the lat pulldown. If you’ve been doing lat pulldowns without retracting your shoulder blades you’ll be amazed at the difference you’ll feel in your back muscles. You’ll also see the amount of weight you lift rise almost instantly.

Keep Your Back Straight

There’s a tendency to lean back while performing the wide grip lat pulldown. This can cause you to cheat by levering with your lower back, which is a dangerous use of those muscles.

Leaning back also focuses more on the muscles of the upper back and robs your lats of a great workout. To work on your upper back muscles you should be doing another foundational back exercise: the bent over row.

Concentrate on keeping your back straight throughout the motion of the pulldown, as if you’re sitting with perfect posture. This will ensure your lat muscles are worked from top to bottom.

No Half Reps

When You perform your lat pulldowns, make sure to get the most out of each rep. Pull the bar all the way down until it touches your chest, just below the collarbone.

At the bottom of the rep try to really pull your elbows down as far as they’ll go. At the same time squeeze your shoulder blades together. This muscle contraction will work the trapezius muscle between the shoulder blades and ensure you’re doing the exercise correctly.

Control the Weight

When you’ve completed the downward portion of the rep, slowly straighten your arms and guide the bar up. Don’t simply let the bar pull your arms up or you’ll lose out on the essential eccentric contraction phase of the exercise.

By maintaining form and keeping your shoulder blades down and back throughout the exercise you’ll naturally control the weight more confidently. With this focus, at the top of your rep, your arms will remain slightly bent and your body won’t feel completely stretched and “starfished.” This is good. If your arms are extended and your shoulder blades are no longer pulled back, you’re out of position for your next rep.

By keeping your back muscles contracted, you’re able to really control the weight during the wide grip pulldown.

Why Do Lat Pulldowns?

Lat pulldowns are an excellent exercise for targeting the lats and maximizing their development. There’s a reason “lat” is right there in the name. But what makes them so important?

Build a ‘V’ Physique

For many, the dream is the V-shaped body that’s trim at the waist and widest at the shoulders. This is the classic lifter’s body. Someone who is fit but hasn’t built their body may feel like their hard work in the gym disappears when they put on a t-shirt. This is usually because they’ve started to develop some muscles but haven’t built their physique yet.

In order to build out that shape and size that shows off your fitness in day clothes, you have to build the back muscles. Because the lats are such broad muscles, they add the width and shape to your body. The wide grip lat pulldown is the exact workout you should be doing to attain this.

Balance Out the “Mirror Muscles”

There’s a tendency to get in the gym and focus on what we call “mirror muscles.” These are the ones you can see when you’re checking yourself out: biceps, chest, front delts, and abs. The thing is, all of these muscles are on the front of your body.

Think of your muscles like rubber bands. As you work them out, you make them thicker and stronger, even when you’re resting. If you focus on muscles on the front of your body—those mirror muscles—then they’ll become much stronger than the other muscles. Eventually, this puts an unnatural strain on your body.

Strong abs without a strong lower back pulls your posture down. Strong chest muscles without strong upper back and lat muscles turn your shoulders inward, causing poor posture and eventually leading to injury.

Lat Pulldowns for Total Health and Fitness

To combat muscle imbalances and remain healthy, as well as looking your best, it’s important to work the muscles you can’t always see in the mirror. Because the lats are such a large muscle, make sure to exercise them regularly. The wide grip lat pulldown a great way to maintain muscular balance, build the body you want, and turn heads in and out of the gym.

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