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Lat pulldowns effectively exercise a wide variety of upper-body muscle groups. If you are new to strength training, or if you have a history of back, shoulder or arm problems, discuss your exercise plans with your doctor before attempting lat pulldowns. After that, an expert fitness instructor can show you how to perform lat pulldowns safely and effectively.
Primary Muscle Group
Lat pulldowns primarily develop a muscle group in your back called the latissimus dorsi, or lats. Your lats pull your arms toward your torso. For example, rowers and swimmers typically have well-developed lats due to the types of arm movements they regularly perform. Other options for developing your lats include pullups and rowing movements with barbells, dumbbells or resistance machines.
Secondary Muscle Groups
Lat pulldowns are a compound exercise, which means they challenge many muscle groups across your body, although none to the same degree as your lats. Secondary muscle groups involved in a lat pulldown include your traps, which perform shrugging movements and run across the top of your shoulders to your neck; your rhomboids, which squeeze your shoulders together and run across your back between your spine and shoulder blades; and your delts, which move your arms back and away from your torso as you pull down on the handle. Your delts lie on the rear side of your shoulders. Other muscle groups challenged by lat pulldowns include your biceps, triceps, flexors and serratus anterior.
Lat pulldowns typically require a resistance machine with an overhead cable attachment. Choose a resistance setting that allows you to perform about 12 repetitions with good form. If you can perform more repetitions than that, the weight is too light to spur significant strength gains, according to the Mayo Clinic. Another equipment option is a resistance band attached securely overhead. Resistance bands come in different levels of tautness.
The basic form of a lat pulldown is as follows, but you also should ask for customized guidance from a certified fitness instructor. Grasp the handles overhead with your palms facing forward. Your hands should be farther than shoulder-width apart and your arms should be completely extended. Brace the core muscles in your torso and pull the handles downward, focusing on pulling your elbows to your ribs. Keep your spine stable and avoid arching your back or shrugging your shoulders. Allow the handles to return to the starting position by slowly extending your elbows until they are straight.