When it comes to gymming and fitness, do you tend to avoid weight lifting and weighted machines? Maybe because they might cause injury or are generally hard to do? Well, guess what; you’re not alone!
Many people, especially beginners and amateurs in the fitness, choose to avoid using machines and focus more on the traditional exercises, i.e., pull ups, push ups, dumbbell rowing exercises and so on. This is probably because they’re easier to perform and look less intimidating when compared to a big, professional machine. While it is true that beginners need to go easy on heavy weight exercise and should concentrate on losing fat and conditioning their muscles first, it’s also important to build the muscles and get them used to wear and tear.
One such misunderstood machine is the Cable or Lat pulldown machine.
What is a Lat Pulldown Machine?
The lat pulldown machine essentially works on strengthening during training exercises and helps with the depression of the scapula, downward rotation, and extension and adduction of the shoulder joint. Exercising on this machine is great for building muscle in the upper body, arms, shoulders and a major part of the back muscles as well. It makes these muscles stronger and tougher and helps with building necessary mass.
This machine primarily works on the ‘lats’ or the latissimus dorsi muscles. Additionally, it also works on the rhomboids, the lower and middle trapezius, and the serratus anterior. Most of the upper body is ceremoniously worked on during this workout, which is why heavy lifters prefer to use this machine to increase their upper body stability and strength.
What is a lat pulldown exercise?
The pull down machine has a brace for the thighs and a cushioned seat. The exercise starts with sitting down on the seat with your feet flat on the ground and the thigh brace placed securely. Then, by fully extending your arms, you need to grasp the bar overhead which is connected to the stack of weights. The bar then needs to be pulled downwards and towards the neck, with the elbows going downwards and then backward. This is one rep of the exercise and to repeat, you need to go back to your initial position.
Lat pull down exercise – proper form and technique
The lat pull down, if done correctly, has a lot of advantages and develops the upper body. However, before moving onto that, it’s important to know and understand the proper form of this exercise.
Here are a few tips:
- Keeping your back completely rigid and straight should be avoided. Instead, try having a small arch in your lower back and keep your chest puffed out. This helps with focusing the activation of muscles to the lats and not so much on the other muscles. Also, your posture needs to be correct for this exercise to work optimally.
- Hunching your body at any point during this workout is a big no. Instead, try bending backward to about 70-degrees. Remember, your entire back needs to be bent back in a straight line with a very small arch in your lower back.The purpose of this angle is to make sure that not too much pressure is put on your upper back and shoulders and more on your lats.
- One part of the proper form of this exercise that people tend to ignore is slightly pinching the blades of the shoulder together while doing the entire pull down motion. This actually makes quite a difference and helps with focusing the pressure more on the lats.
- The source of energy while doing the actual pulldown needs to be only from your elbows and not anywhere else. The forearms, biceps, and wrists act only as hooks, and the main focus of energy must come from the elbows. This particular technique takes time to register with beginners, but it is the correct and proper way to do it and mainly to avoid any unforeseen injuries.
Mistakes to avoid while using a Lat pulldown machine
Making mistakes on any piece of working out equipment can cause serious problems, especially if you’re new to the machine.
Here are some mistakes one must definitely avoid on this machine:
- Behind the neck
This particular pull down mistake is a very common one. Pulling the bar behind the neck is a very wrong form to practice, simply because your range of exercise gets shortened and it also puts unnecessary pressure on your upper back and shoulders.
- Below the chest
Another mistake that should be avoided is pulling the bar below the chest and all the way down to the waist. Although it may seem like a more beneficial way of doing the pull-down, it really isn’t so. In reality, this causes your lats to disengage and brings your shoulders forward, causing a minute to severe pain in the shoulders, depending on what level of fitness you are on. So, avoid doing this and save yourself the pain.
- The right energy
Instead of using the energy from their elbows, some people make the mistake of using the momentum of their entire body to do the pulldown. This then turns the exercise into more of a back workout and less of a lats workout. So, you need to make sure you’re only engaging the upper portion of your body, the elbows especially, and not the whole body.
- Going too wide
While a wide-grip pull down has its benefits, the widening has a limit that shouldn’t be crossed for all the right reasons. The right width is right above the shoulders or maybe slightly wider than the shoulders, depending on the person’s comfort. Going any wider than that would put immense stress on the shoulders and could also bend the bar.
What are the benefits of a lat pulldown?
The lat pulldown is one of those underrated exercises that does have its own set of benefits and advantages to the body. What are these?
Let’s have a look:
This exercise is actually quite simple to perform, and it has a positive effect on more than one muscle. While the latissimus dorsi is the primary focus, the shoulder, back muscles, biceps and traps are always worked and conditioned at the same time. Hence, although it is a fairly easy exercise to do, it has a multi-muscle effect.
- The better pull-up
It is a fact that the pulldown does resemble the usual pull-up exercise which is quite popular in its own right. What some people don’t know is that the lat pulldown gives the same or even better results than a pull-up, with half the effort as the latter. There is no need to lift the entire body weight with a pull down, and this makes it a favorite for athletes and beginners.
- Different variations
If you’re someone who gets easily bored with the same workout every day, then it might come to you as a relief that the lat pulldown has quite a few variations and workouts that can be tried out. Each of these variations is just as effective and shows good results.
- Stronger biceps
Not just the shoulders and the back, even the biceps get a lot of strengthening with this exercise. Being a weighted machine, it is fairly easy to change the weights on it and is a great way to make the biceps stronger and build more solid muscle in the arms. If the weights are added periodically, and according to the person’s capacity, muscle building will definitely happen with ease.
- Back posture
Good back posture is essential and makes a lot of difference to one’s physique and fitness. While doing the lat pulldown, you learn how to balance your body with your back at a 70-degree angle.
Using a dumbbell as an alternative to a lat pulldown
Some of us prefer not to go to a gym, or sometimes skip machines and try out other exercises instead. In such a case, is there any exercise that has the same effect as a lat pulldown but can be done without the machine? Yes, there is!
Bent over rows with dumbbells:
- Works the same muscle, the latissimus dorsi, and also the biceps and shoulder muscles.
- Can be done at home and doesn’t require any equipment, apart from a pair of weighted dumbbells.
- Technique: Stand with your legs apart, as wide as your shoulders, and bend forward at an approximately 70-degree angle. Slightly bend your knees. Hold two weighted dumbbells and perform a rowing motion, i.e., first move them forward, with your elbows close to your body, and row straight and backward.
- Again, just like the pull-down, getting the technique right is extremely important and takes a little practice to perfect.
Close grip pull down vs. wide grip pulldown
The major difference between these two variations is the muscles they work on. While a wide grip pull down works on the lats, the close grip pull down works on the Infraspinatus and the biceps. These are two equally effective variations of the pulldown. When a variation is introduced into a workout, which is a combination of these two grips, it works better on the muscles and allows enhanced muscle strengthening.
4 different variations to try with a lat pulldown machine
There are different variations that can be tried out with a lat pulldown, each one having its own benefits:
- The single-arm pull-down
With lesser weights, the single-arm pull down is great for isolating the benefits of a pull down from one side to another. This particular variation works really well on singular lat muscle groups and on the traps as well
The back needs to be slightly arched and has to take a lower angle to be able to fully accommodate the exercise movement. By pinching the shoulder muscles together, it works great for the lats and really helps with building muscle and burning fat around it.
- V-bar pulldown
You can switch up your workout by taking out the traditional bar and replacing it with a V-bar. The shoulders for this variation need to be fully extended, and the back’s bending angle needs to be a little more than usual. It works great for developing the center of the back, along with the lats.
- Close grip reverse pull down
In this variation, you’re basically imitating the action of a chin-up. The direction of the hands’ grip is reversed, and the pulldown is performed keeping the arms closer together. It is also very similar to a pull-up and is great for strengthening the center back muscles and lower lats.
The best lat pull down machines in 2017
When it comes to purchasing exercise equipment, especially if it is for a home or personalized gym, it is important to know your facts and pick the one that best matches your checklist.
Here are the top 4 lat pull down machines for 2017:
Powerline PLM180X Lat Machine
This lat machine is a pretty popular one amongst fitness enthusiasts. The design can accommodate a number of variations of the exercise and has a nice, sleek finish as well. The range of extension and contraction in this machine can be done seamlessly. It is sturdy and robust because of its heavy gauge steel construction. The foam rollers are 8 inches in size, and the bar has a wide grip. The bushing in the pulleys is made from patented nylon and allows comfortable and smooth operation.
- Weighs only 76 lbs and is easy to move around and transport
- The nylon bushing is strong and holds the cables in place while exercising
- Can be assembled at home with the help of the manual
- In correlation with the quality it provides, the price is quite affordable
- It comes in a good size and can easily be used even by people who are taller than 6 feet.
- The narrow and tall structure could become unstable when used continuously for a longer period of time
- For exercises such as cable curls, there is no counter balance provided by the machine
BodySolid Pro Lat Machine
This machine is loaded with plates, and the pulleys can be adjusted by changing the pins. It features both a high and a low pulley. With a no-cable technology, shifting from the high to low pulley or vice-versa is quite easy and effortless. The exercises with the high pulley are primarily good for shoulder and back isolation. It also features 8 multi-position rollers, bushings with nylon and a comfortable but thick seat. This machine is quite sturdy and has good balance as well.
- The parameter of this machine is small, making it easy to fit in anywhere
- Sans any cables, it is easy to move from one spot to another
- It has both a lat bar and a straight bar
- People who are taller than 6 feet can also use it with ease
- It’s tall enough but not comfortably tall for people above 6 feet who want to use the high pulley
- Extra weight plates are not provided
- There is no space given to the machine to store weights, so an external weight storage would have to be purchased by the user
- This machine is particularly hard to assemble because it does not come with an instruction manual
Valor Fitness CB-12 Plate Loading Lat Machine
This machine features high tension pulleys and also a well-balanced steel tubing frame. It also has 4 base caps to ensure that the machine stays in place and seat pads which can be adjusted. It is a slightly smaller sized machine, perfect for a home gym. However, despite the size, the usual exercises such as seated and upright rows, arm curls and leg extensions and so on can be easily done.
- Very affordable when compared to other machines in the market
- Can carry plates up to 250 lbs
- The machine itself weighs only 67 pounds and is easy to shift or move around
- It is designed smartly to save space
- The high tension pulleys make the exercising experience very smooth
- The cables have a tendency of coming out while working out and hence, need to be shortened
- It is quite hard to assemble and would require some assistance
- Taller and/or heavier people would not be able to use it well
XMark Commercial Lat and Low Row Cable Machine
This is the number one professionally used machine in the current market. This machine has been constructed using aircraft quality cable, 11 gauge steel and a flip-up foot plate. It is known for being one of the most reliable, durable and sturdy lat machines in the market and is preferred by many professionals. It also features a 3-inch dura-cushion, skid resistance feet pads and looks sleek and neat with a powder-coated, scratch-resistant finish. There are both high and low pulleys to accommodate a variety of exercises.
- Its 14-inch Olympic plate adapters allow it to be used with both Olympic and standard weight plates
- The parts are all of exceptionally high quality
- The body frame comes with a lifetime warranty, and the parts come with a one year warranty
- It is fairly easy to assemble this machine
- The low pulley is quite low, making it difficult for taller people to us.
There are a number of factors that need to be considered when you decide to incorporate an exercise and weighted machine into your fitness regime. With proper form and technique and good knowledge about the machine being used, you can utilize the benefits of the exercise to the maximum. A good quality machine will always last longer and be more reliable. The lat pulldown machine, in particular, can have many different uses, and this is why it’s important to analyze the different variations and get used to practicing on a lat machine first. Like the lat machine, there are several other machines which can be used for various workouts and require some getting used to before being able to perfect the technique. If building your lat muscles and upper body posture is important to you, do not give this machine a miss!