Do you want better posture and increased back strength? Target your latissimus dorsi, or lat muscles in your back. These muscles are the largest muscles in your back and are located in the center of your back just beneath your shoulder blades. Commonly referred to as “lats,” these muscles can be targeted by doing strength exercises that involve a rowing motion. Rowing exercises can be done sitting or standing, using a rowing machine, or more often using a cable ‘lat’ pull down machine.
Lat pull down exercises don’t only increase the strength of your lat muscles. They also work your shoulders, your biceps, and your core. Pull-ups and chin-ups are often looked to as lat muscle builders, but they are very difficult for a lot of people who don’t have a lot of upper body strength, and being unable to perform a movement such as this can be discouraging to people who are new to strength training. This is where the lat pull down machine comes into play. Instead of trying to lift your whole body weight with your lats, biceps, and core, the lat pull down machine allows you to control the amount of weight to work your muscles, meaning you can start with 5 lbs instead of 205 lbs.
Start by getting into a stand position with your feet on either side of the bench. Grasp the bar firmly on the ends just past the angled V grip with your palms facing away from you. Sit down on the bench and fit your thighs underneath the cushioned guard – this helps your lower body stay in place while your upper body is in motion. Lean your body back at a slight angle to obtain the proper posture. Pull the bard down until it aligns with your chest and your arms are bent at the elbow. Slowly release the bar until your arms are in a straight position above your shoulders. Repeat the movement eight to fifteen times a set. Do three to four sets.
While you are completing your movements, keep the following tips in mind for perfecting your technique:
- Keep your chest upright and bring the bar down to meet your chest – don’t let your chest rise to meet the bar as this causes your shoulders to rise and could cause shoulder injury
- Make sure your elbows don’t go out at an angle, keep them straight against your torso facing forwards
- Before you pull down, squeeze your lats – pretend that you’re trying to make your shoulder blades come together at the center of your back
- Don’t look up at the bar, keep your head facing forwards and your chin down – raising your head could result in neck pain or injuries
- Your grip on the bar should be wider than your shoulders, but not too wide that your arms are outstretched
Here are some of the most common technique mistakes of lat pull downs and how to fix them:
- Don’t pull the bar behind your neck – this is not only a dangerous movement that can very easily cause neck injury, but you are limiting the range of motion that you are trying to achieve with the pull down
- Don’t pull down past your chest and cause your elbows to point back – by extending the movement past your chest you are no longer using your lats and putting unnecessary strain on your shoulders, biceps, and triceps, which can cause unwanted arm injuries and shoulder pain
- Use only as much weight as you can pull down without using momentum – if you have to propel your arms to pull down the bar, you are trying to pull too much weight and not working your lats, but your mid-back
- Be careful not too spread your hands too far wide on the bar – you want your grip to be comfortably wide (just slightly wider than your shoulders), as anything wider will limit your range of motion and cause joint irritation in your shoulders