Lat Pulldown

Start Position
End Position

Starting position:

  1. Adjust seat height and thigh pad accordingly.
  2. Sit straight up with feet flat on the floor.
  3. Position your thighs under the padding.
  4. Grasp the handles with a closed grip.
  5. Sit straight up with chest up and out. If a designated chest pad is present, press chest against the pad.
  6. Face forward.

Upward movement/concentric phase:

  1. Pull the handles downward until your upper arms are by your sides.
  2. Keep looking straight ahead and maintain good posture.

Downward movement/eccentric phase:

    1. In a controlled fashion, extend arms upward, returning to starting position.
Do not jerk the torso throughout the movement. Do not hold your breath. Exhale during the concentric/phase phase and inhale during the eccentric/lowering phase.


Exercise Data

  • Primary Muscles: Latissimus dorsi, middle trapezius, rhomboids, teres major
  • Synergists: Biceps brachii, brachialis, pectoralis major
  • Stabilizers: Wrist flexors, rotator cuff muscles
  • Type: Strength, hypertrophy, muscular endurance
  • Mechanics: Shoulder adduction, elbow flexion, and scapular retraction and downward rotation
  • Equipment: Lat pulldown machine (diverging or non-diverging)
  • Lever: 1st class lever
  • Level: Beginner to advanced
  • FAQ'S & FACTS ABOUT Lat Pulldown

    What Is A Machine Lat Pulldown?

    Lat pulldowns on a machine simulate the lat pulldown performed at a cable station. They are a compound resistance exercise, which targets the upper and middle back including the latissimus dorsi, middle trapezius, rhomboids and teres major. This exercise is performed seated at a designated lat pulldown machine.

    The concentric portion of the lift is shoulder adduction, scapular retraction, scapular downward rotation, and elbow flexion. The eccentric portion is shoulder abduction, scapular protraction, scapular upward rotation, and elbow extension as the handles are pulled down.

    The “lat” in “lat pulldown: refers to the latissimus dorsi as it is one of the primary muscles involved in the exercise. The purpose of the lat pulldown machine is to strengthen the latissimus dorsi, middle trapezius, rhomboids and teres major while also promoting the hypertrophy (increases in size) of these muscles.

    Why Do A Machine Lat Pulldown?

    Machine lat pulldowns strengthen and develop muscles of the upper and middle back. This exercise allows the lifter to perform scapular retraction with simultaneous shoulder adduction from a vertical and seated position. This allows the lifter to emphasize the latissimus dorsi, a powerful shoulder adductor, while the middle trapezius and rhomboids retract and rotate the scapula downward.

    Performing lat pulldowns on a machine allows novice lifters to learn and develop activation and strength of the upper back muscles. It is also appropriate for experienced lifters adding variation to their back training regimen.

    Performing lat pulldowns on a machine provides constant resistance throughout the entire range of motion if the resistance is provided by a cable/pulley system.

    In addition to serving as an exercise that enhances the aesthetics of the upper and middle back, machine lat pulldowns also complement weightlifting and sport performance.

    Anatomy Of A Machine Lat Pulldown

    The latissimus dorsi is a broad, flat, and triangular-shaped muscle of the lower back. When defined, the “lats” form a “v” shape of the torso as they angle toward the waist. The latissimus dorsi is a primary shoulder adductor and extensor. In this exercise, the latissimus dorsi is responsible for adducting the shoulders as the handles are pulled downward. Its origin is located along the spines of the lower six thoracic vertebrae, lower 3 to 4 ribs, and iliac crest of the pelvis. Its insertion spirals around the teres major as it inserts into the intertubercular groove of the humerus.

    A flat and triangular muscle, the trapezius is the most superficial muscle of the posterior thorax. The middle fibers run horizontally to the scapula. Its origin is located at the occipital bone, ligamentum nuchae, and spines of C7 and all thoracic vertebrae. Its insertion is located along the acromion and spine of the scapula and lateral region of the clavicle. The middle trapezius retracts the scapula. As a superficial muscle, developing the middle trapezius contributes to the overall aesthetics of the upper back.

    The rhomboids are two rectangular muscles that lie underneath the trapezius just below the levator scapulae. The rhomboids consist of the rhomboid minor and rhomboid major. The rhomboid minor is located above the rhomboid major and is more superficial. The origin of the rhomboid minor is located at the spinous processes of C7 and T1. The origin of the rhomboid major is located at the spinous processes of T2-T5. The insertion of both rhomboids major and minor is located at the medial border of the scapula. The rhomboids are synergists with the middle trapezius when retracting the scapula. In this exercise, they are also responsible for downward rotation of the scapula.

    The teres major is a thick muscle located underneath the teres minor. It helps to form the posterior wall of the axilla. A synergist of the latissimus dorsi, the teres major adducts the shoulder in this exercise. Its origin is located at the posterior surface of the scapula at the inferior angle. Its insertion is located at the crest of the lesser tubercle on the anterior humerus (its tendon fused with that of the latissimus dorsi).

    The biceps brachii consists of two heads, the long head and the short head. The long head tendon helps stabilize the shoulder joint and its origin is located at the tubercle and lip of the glenoid cavity of the scapula (shoulder blade). The short head origin is located at the coracoid process of the scapula (shoulder blade). The long and short head unite as the muscle bellies run down the front of the arm. Both heads merge, sharing insertion into the radial tuberosity of the elbow joint. The biceps brachii flexes the elbow joint as the handles are pulled downward.

    The brachialis lies underneath the biceps brachii, originating at the front of the lower end of the humerus bone. Its insertion is located at the coronoid process of the ulna at the elbow joint. The brachialis is a primary elbow flexor.

    The pectoralis major is a large, fan-shaped muscle that spans across the chest, forming the front portion of the axillary fold (arm pit). It is divided into two parts: clavicular and sternal. Its origin is located at the sternal end of the clavicle, the sternum, rib cartilage (ribs 1-6 [or 7]), and the aponeurosis of the external oblique. The fibers of the pectoralis major converge at the point of insertion located at the greater tubercle of the humerus. The pectoralis major aids shoulder adduction in this exercise.1

    The rotator cuff muscles help stabilize the shoulder joint as the scapular retract and rotate downward. The wrist flexors maintain the wrists rigid and stabilized throughout the exercise.

    1. Sperandei S, Barros MA, Silveira-Júnior PC, Oliveira CG. (2009). Electromyographic analysis of three different types of lat pull-down. JSCR. 23(7):2033-8.

    Variations Of A Machine Lat Pulldown

    Lat pulldown, underhand grip lat pulldown, one-arm lat pulldown.

    How To Improve Your Machine Lat Pulldowns

    Focus more on the adduction of the shoulder to fully engage the latissimus dorsi as the primary mover of this exercise. This will minimize the hands dominating the effort of the lift. An open grip, with thumbs not hooked around the handle but over the handle with the other fingers, will also minimize the hands dominating the movement. This will not only optimize muscle activation of the latissimus dorsi, but also prevent strain on the biceps brachii that could increase the risk of injury.

    Switching to an underhand grip on the lat pulldown machine allows the lifter to execute scapular retraction from different angles. This simulates the reverse grip lat pulldown performed at a cable station with a lat bar. In the long run, and with strategic implementation into your back training regimen, this optimizes muscle fiber activation of the involved muscles.

    For beginners utilizing the lat pulldown machine to acquire technique: progressing to cable variations (e.g. lat pulldown, one-arm lat pulldown) will optimize the strength and development of the upper back muscles.

    If the machine is a diverging lat pulldown machine, you may perform this exercise unilaterally to fully isolate the contraction of each side.

    Focus on the concentric portion of the contraction, concentrating on “squeezing” your shoulder blades (scapula) together as the handles are pulled down.

    Emphasis on eccentric contractions, prolonging the eccentric portion of the contraction, may also be incorporated in a training program focused on increasing strength. This should be implemented accordingly and with adequate muscle recovery as eccentric contractions cause substantial damage to muscle tissue.

    It’s important to note that your repetition and set volume will depend on your goals (e.g. strength, hypertrophy, muscular endurance). It is also important to allow adequate recovery days in between back, shoulder, and biceps training days to allow muscles to repair.

    Common Mistakes When Doing Machine Lat Pulldowns

    Using momentum to lift the weight (e.g. jerking the body back and forth) minimizes the potential of force production of the involved muscles and can increase the risk for back injury. It is important that both the eccentric and concentric phases of the exercise are controlled.

    Fully extending the elbows, allowing the weight to pull the arms up, between repetitions can increase the risk for shoulder injury. It is important to be in full control of the weight throughout the exercise or else the load has to be decreased.

    Solely using the arms to pull the weight minimizes the activation of the latissimus dorsi and scapula retractors. Using an open grip with your thumb on top of the handles will promote greater activation of the latissimus dorsi

    Injuries Or Ailments & Their Effects Regarding Machine Lat Pulldowns

    If the lifter has a compromised range of motion with the back or shoulder joint and/or performs this exercise incorrectly, this exercise can increase the risk of injury and/or exacerbate a previous injury.

    If proper technique and recovery are not adhered to, biceps injury, rotator cuff injuries, and/or lower back injuries may occur.