How to Do a Lat Pulldown: Tips, Correct Form, Variations and Common Mistakes

Lat pulldowns are an effective exercise to tone your back and shoulders. (Image by zafirova_kristina/Instagram)
Lat pulldowns are an effective exercise to tone your back and shoulders. (Image by zafirova_kristina/Instagram)

The lat pulldown is one such exercise that should be included in your primary fitness program if you want to make your back stronger and bigger, and your lats wider.

It is a compound exercise that mainly targets your lats and is considered very effective for developing back muscles and enhancing your overall pulling strength.

The lats or the latissiums dorsi muscles are large V-shaped muscles that originate from your lumbar spine and thoracic and go all the way to your back and humerus.

They help stabilize and protect your spine and also give strength to your back and shoulders. They also play a significant role in arm and shoulder movement and support your overall body posture during different exercises, including deadlifts and squats.

How to do the lat pulldown? Correct form:

Major targets: back and shoulders

Equipment required: cable pulley machine, weights or resistance band


  • Sit down straight on the pulldown seat, with both your feet flat on the ground.
  • Make sure to check the height of the bar as you may need to adjust it by lengthening or shortening the cable. You may also adjust your seat height.
  • Hold the bar with a wide and firm grip with your knuckles up.
  • Slowly pull down the bar to your chin level, and exhale as you do this.
  • Keep your upper torso straight, your feet flat on the ground, and engage your core as you pull the bar down.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  • Now from the bottom position, slowly take the bar back to its starting position while controlling your speed and grip. Do not let the bar crash against the weight plates.
  • Complete at least 10 repetitions in a set, rest, and then continue 3 sets.

Here’s a video of the lat pulldown for your reference.


Top tips:

Here are some of the important tips you should follow when performing a lat pulldown exercise:

  • For maximum contraction, make sure you squeeze your back muscles as hard as you can.
  • Hold the bar slightly wider than your shoulder width.
  • When holding the bar, your elbows should be pointed down to the floor.
  • Your upper body should be straight throughout the exercise.
  • Hold the bar with a thumbless grip for quick bicep work.


Once you’ve gained confidence and strength, you can try other variations of the lat pulldown exercise to improve the overall impact.

Here are some of the variations to try.

Single-arm lat pulldown:

In a basic lat pulldown exercise, you can use both hands together to maximize power, however, when it comes to maximizing the squeeze, a single-arm lat pulldown is preferred. To start, make sure you use light weights and slow down your speed to get better results. With each repetition of this exercise, hold the bar at the bottom position for a few seconds, and then slowly release it back to the top for effective muscle-building effects.

Check out this video:


Wide-grip lat pulldown:

If you are looking to enhance the width of your back, then a wide-grip lat pulldown exercise can be the best choice. When performing this exercise, retract and squeeze your shoulder blades as hard as you can to get proper muscle activation. Do not bend or lean backwards throughout the exercise.

Check out this video:


Behind the neck lat pulldown:

To start this exercise, make sure you use lighter weights and multiple repetitions. Keep your body straight so that the pulldown bar and the cable are directly above your spine. Keep your shoulder blades back so as to put tension on your lats. Though many people think that behind the neck lat pulldown can strain your neck, if done properly and safely, the chances of pain and injury can be completely ruled out.

Check out this video:


Reverse close-grip lat pulldown:

This variation of the lat pulldown exercise mainly targets your lower lats and also helps in activating your biceps. The key to doing this exercise correctly is to position your hands on the bar as closely as you can. The closer your hands are, the more activation you’ll feel in your center back. You can include this variation in your strength training workout program.

Check out this video:


Common mistakes to avoid:

To get the most out of the lat pulldown exercise, avoid these common mistakes to prevent injury and strain.

1.) Do not arch or bend your back:

When doing this exercise, sit straight and keep your chest lifted. Maintain a neutral spine as this will protect you from lower back pain.

2.) Do not use your forearms:

Make sure you do not use your forearms when pulling the bar down. Work up your lats and pull down the bar from your armpits.

3.) Do not hold the bar too wide:

Hold the bar outside of your shoulders but do not make it too wide. Ensure your elbows are pointed down and not to your sides.

4.) Using momentum:

When doing the lat pulldown exercise, perform every movement in a slow and controlled manner. Exercising at speed decreases the use of your targeted muscles and also leads to strain and injuries.

Hence, like any other weight training workout, perform this exercise slowly and make sure to use the right movements. Be sure of your form and begin with light weights. If you have any type of shoulder, elbow or wrist problems, consult your doctor to see if this exercise is safe for you. Stop immediately if you feel too much stress or pain in your shoulder joints and back muscles.

Edited by Diptanil
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