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5 Best Lat Pulldown Variations for a Rock Solid Back

There's more than one way to do the lat pulldown. Here's a list of variations to pump up your back workouts.

The traditional lat pulldown has become a staple in gym-goers’ upper back workouts. It’s an effective alternative to doing pull-ups. Not only is it great for working up to the pull-up, but also for handling more than your own weight.

But the lat pulldown is more than just an alternative to pull-ups. There are many variations that have different primary focuses such as increasing back width, or thickness, or working on isolation. In this article, you’ll find out about 5 of the best variants of the lat pulldown, why they’re the best and how to best take advantage of them. 

Starting off, here’s the cheat sheet guide to the lat pulldown. Whatever the variant, this is how to get the most out of the lat pulldown.

Medical Disclaimer: Always make sure to consult a fitness professional to understand how to add new exercises to your training regimen safely. This information is not to be taken as medical advice

Cheat sheet

Activate your core

Have you ever seen a person using the lat pulldown machine and wondered, “Why are they leaning so far back?” You didn’t? Well, now you should. Leaning beyond 45 degrees from upright means one of two things. 

1. You’re yanking the bar towards you. 2. You think you’re doing it right without realizing your mistake. Both lead to reduced activation of your upper back. In short, it’s inefficient, and you may look like a flopping fish while doing it.

Activate your core/ tense your abs. This gives stability when keeping that slight upright position, therefore, making it less likely that you cheat the exercise.

Keep the chest up and out

Having the chest up and out during the movement allows for better contraction of the upper back. Retracted shoulders are what cause this Try this right now. Stand upright, take a deep breath, and push your chest up and out. You’ll notice your shoulders retract and your upper back tense up.

Squeeze your shoulder blades together

The natural movement of the lat pulldown brings the shoulder blades closer together as you come down but if you want the most activation of the upper back, you’ve got to squeeze the the shoulder blades together. Pause at the bottom for a second or two to really feel the burn.

Do enough repetitions and do them with intensity

If you want a thicker, wider back, you need to be doing enough repetitions each set. A moderate rep range would be 6 – 12 reps. It’s also important that those last few reps are difficult and make you really give it your all.

Why Lat Pulldown Variations Matter

Muscle activation

On this list, there are lat pulldown variations that focus on width or thickness, the primary goals when it comes to the upper back. Different variations have different focuses. By knowing this you can either choose to use the traditional lat pulldown for overall back gains or a variation of it to focus on width or thickness.

What if the equipment isn’t available?

It’s very common to have a situation where the attachment you want isn’t available. Using this list you can give yourself a plan B just in case (maybe even a plan C).

Personal preference

Everyone’s body works differently. some people may prefer one lat pulldown variation over another. you may find that you get a better mind-to-muscle connection to a certain variation or that you’ve seen the best results with it.

The 5 Best Lat Pulldown Variations

Wide Grip Lat Pulldown

The further your hands are apart, the more tension you put on the traps, rhomboids, and rear deltoids. The purpose of the wide-grip lat pulldown is to promote the thickness of the back by shifting the tension from the lats (traditional lat pulldown) to the upper back muscles.

You’ll find that some lat pulldown bars have grips on their ends (some don’t). The point is to perform the lat pulldown by grasping the bar close to the edge. Squeeze the shoulder blades at the bottom of each repetition and you’ll feel that tension on the upper back right away.

V bar Lat pulldown

Going in the opposite direction to the wide grip stance, we have the V bar lat pulldown. Using the V bar you put most of the tension on the lats. This is because your elbows are stuck to your side. As a result, this exercise focuses on back width.

Bro tip:

The further your elbows are from your side, the more tension shifts to the upper back muscles such as the traps and rear delts. The closer your elbows are to your side, the more tension is on your lats.

Multi-grip Lat Pulldown

The multi-grip bar is used not only for lat pulldown but also for seated rows. On the odd occasion, you may even have to use it as a straight bar alternative if someone else is using it (it’s not a pretty sight using this thing for straight bar cable curls).

For lat pulldown, We’ll grip the handles on the sides. The movement itself is similar to the traditional lat pulldown but you’ll get a more natural hand position. Most tension will be on the lats however expect your upper back to also be engaged similarly to a traditional lat pulldown.

Side note: Remember that fancy bar that I use for lat pulldown? Although it looks different, the movement is exactly the same as this.

Single Arm Lat Pulldown

Using a single-handle attachment, you can isolate the lats and focus on the contraction and stretch. contracting hard when you come down and stretch as you come back up. An isolation exercise like this is better for improving your mind-muscle connection to your lats. 

Also, depending on the angle your elbow is from your side, you can choose to put more tension on the upper back muscles such as the traps, rear delts and rhomboids. This will lead to a balance of activation of the upper back muscles and the lats.

Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown

If the traditional lat pulldown is a pull-up alternative, then the reverse grip lat pulldown is the chin-up alternative. You’ll find greater tension in the lats, the lower lats, as well as the biceps and forearms. The lower lats are muscles which are hard to hit, making this exercise specifically good for improving the V shape of the back.  With good form, a controlled range of motion and a strong mind-muscle connection, this exercise produces a serious pump.

Advice from a Gym Bro

Train your Forearms regularly

If your forearms give out before you even exhaust your back, you’re missing out on muscle gains. It’s a very common issue among beginners, especially in their first few years. It was certainly an issue for me during my first 2 years. 

Your solution is to train forearms at least once a week. Depending on how weak your forearms are, you may do 1-5 sets a week. I currently train forearms 2 sets a week. Training your back and biceps will also train your forearms.

Train back and biceps, add in a couple of sets of forearm training and get enough recovery. This way you can maximize your upper back training.

The bigger forearms are a bonus.

Wrap up

So now you have 5 different lat pulldown variations at your disposal. Give all of them a try and see what clicks. Right now I use the lat pulldown machine with the intention of increasing my back width. Think about your current routine. Ask yourself, “Where can I place lat pulldown in my workout and with what goal?”

With that, it’s time to head “back” to the gym.

P.s. I wrote this on back day.

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