Gym Equipment 101: How to Do a Lat Pulldown

Woman performing a lateral pulldown
The lateral pulldown machine might seem intimidating, but it's actually fairly simple to use.

by Catherine Santino

The first time I walked into my gym, the only machine not being used was the one I was most intimidated by: the lateral pulldown. My options were to: a) Look foolish just standing there or, b) Look foolish trying to use the machine. So I forged ahead.

I planted myself on the seat and reached up to grab the bar above me — only to discover that I had no idea how to do a lat pulldown properly. After hanging there for a minute, I realized the weight setting was far too high and the seat was positioned too low. As I stood up to adjust the settings, I sheepishly looked around and wondered if anyone else had noticed my awkward first encounter with the machine.

If you're afraid of having this same experience, don't worry. You can avoid it with just a little information!

Why Do a Lat Pulldown Anyway?

The lateral pulldown machine might seem intimidating, but it's actually fairly simple to use. Not only that, it provides targeted back and shoulder conditioning, which is key if you're trying to improve your upper body strength.

Strengthening the lat muscles (or latissimus dorsi, if you want to get technical) also helps stabilize the spine, which enhances posture during a range of other exercises. Basically, it's a very beneficial exercise for anyone looking to improve their overall fitness.

How to Do a Lat Pulldown Properly

There's no reason to be intimidated by the machine or the movement. Here's exactly how to do the lat pulldown exercise safely and effectively:

  1. Set the seat height at a position that allows your thighs to rest comfortably underneath the support pads.
  2. Sit on the seat with your thighs underneath the pads to stabilize yourself and prevent your knees from rising up throughout the exercise.
  3. Make sure you can reach the bar by raising up your arms in a seated position. If you can't touch the bar, that's OK. Simply stand to grasp the bar and then pull down with your body weight until you can secure your thighs underneath the pads.
  4. Ensure you have the proper weight setting. Aim for a weight that will allow you to do 10-12 repetitions with good form.
  5. Grasp the bar with a wide, overhand grip at approximately shoulder-width or slightly wider. This is the starting position for the exercise.
  6. Pull the bar down to about chin level (or a little lower) while keeping your back at a slight angle.
  7. Without letting go, maintain the resistance as you slowly let the bar rise back up to the starting position.
  8. Repeat the movement!

Some additional tips:

  • Always pull the bar in front of your neck, not behind, as this could result in injury.
  • Remember that this isn't an exercise for your arms, it's for your back and shoulders. It's easy to use your biceps during this exercise, so think about engaging your back muscles first, and you'll end up doing just that.

We get it — the gym can sometimes resemble a playground in which every piece of equipment is designed to intimidate you. But the majority of the equipment is actually pretty simple to use and, when used correctly, can help you achieve your fitness goals.

Happy pulling!

 

As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.