It’s All About the Latissimus Dorsi
By Ryan Unverzagt
Welcome back all you faithful readers! October’s exercise is the “Lat Pulldown”. This exercise strengthens the largest muscle group of the back called the latissimus dorsi. A wide grip will help make this muscle work even harder which is why a longer bar is more beneficial. In this example, I used a Fitball to sit on. Most lat pull machines will have an adjustable seat and/or knee pads to anchor your legs during the pull down. Traditionally, this exercise was performed by pulling the bar behind the head and neck. I recommend pulling the bar to the front side of the body to protect the head, neck, and shoulders from potential injury.
Whether you use a Fitball or not, the start position should look like Figure 1. A wide, overhand grip (as opposed to underhand used for a chin-up) should be utilized with your upper body slightly leaned back. Keep good posture and don’t let your lower back “round out”. Pull the bar down toward the upper chest – Figure 2. A common mistake is to pull the bar down past the chest into the lap. If you can do this before the weight stack hits the top, you need to select a heavier resistance.
Try to touch the bar on your upper chest. It’s obvious that you need to use your arms to perform the pull down, however, you should also focus on using your back by squeezing the shoulder blades together, especially once the bar passes the chin. Maintain the same body position as you did when you started, meaning don’t lean back as you pull on the bar. If you find yourself doing this, choose a lighter resistance. Control the weight on the way back up. This part of the exercise is the most important. The majority of strength gains come from the eccentric portion of an exercise (when the muscles are lengthening while under tension). Again, if you are unable to control the weight, this means that it’s too heavy. Try at least two sets of 10-15 reps.
The Lat-Pulldown is an excellent exercise to strengthen and shape your back. If one of your goals is to do a pull-up with your own bodyweight, this exercise is the place to start because you can select a resistance that is lighter and progress toward your bodyweight. Enjoy the month of October, but try not to eat too much Halloween candy!
About the Author: Unverzagt holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Wellness Management from Black Hills State University. He is a certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength & Conditioning Association and a Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography.