Best Exercises to Do On a Lat Pulldown Machine

Improve your strength training routine by including these lat pulldown machine exercises so you can grow a bigger and stronger back!

Best Exercises to Do On a Lat Pulldown Machine
Photo by FitNish Media / Unsplash
María Rubio María Rubio
7 min read

When you step into the gym, you’re instantly surrounded by a bunch of different workout machines, and they all serve different purposes. Some of the most popular ones are the cable machine and the assisted pull-up machine, but there are a few others that can also be incredibly effective in your strength training journey, such as the lat pulldown machine.

The name says it all. This machine gives your latissimus dorsi muscles (lats) a killer workout by pulling down a straight bar with your arms, mimicking the movement of a pull-up, while also giving your middle back and biceps some work on your upper-body days. It builds size, strength, and resistance all a once, and the best part about it is that you can use it in many different ways! Plus, for beginners, it’s the best way to work your way up to a pull-up and build upper body strength!

We’re going to show you the best exercises that you can do on a lat pulldown machine so that you can give your lats and the rest of your back a good workout.

Close grip lat pulldown

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This exercise is also known as the V-handle pulldown because it utilizes a V-handle instead of the bar. By grabbing the handle with a close grip, you’ll keep your arms closer to your body. This will help place more focus on your upper back muscles, such as your traps and rhomboids, as well as help isolate your lats slightly more.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a V-bar to the high pulley of the machine. You can also use a regular bar if you don’t have a V-bar available.
  2. Sit on the lat pulldown machine while facing the pulley, making sure the V-bar is at a comfortable height. With your knees tucked under the pad for support, firmly place your feet on the floor.
  3. Reach for the handles and grab them with a neutral grip, then begin by pulling them down until they almost reach your chest. Make sure to keep your back straight and your shoulders down and back.
  4. Squeeze your lats in this position, then slowly bring the V-bar back up and repeat.

Kneeling lat pulldown

This is a full-body variation of the traditional lat pulldown that activates your whole body. Besides targeting your lats and major back muscles throughout the movement, it also engages your biceps and core while improving your lower-body stability. Plus, it’s great for beginners!

How to do it:

  1. Place a mat on the floor and kneel in front of the lat pulldown machine while facing the pulley, making sure the bar is at a comfortable height.
  2. Reach for the bar and grab it with an overhand grip and your hands at a shoulder-width distance.
  3. Begin by pulling the bar down until it’s almost touching your chest while keeping your back straight. Drive your shoulders down and back, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the bottom of the movement.
  4. Squeeze the working muscles in this position, then slowly bring the bar back up and repeat.

Single-arm lat pulldown

Unilateral exercises are important to improve functional strength and fix muscle imbalances, so make sure you try the single-arm lat pulldown to give your lats, biceps, and middle back a good unilateral workout on your strength training days.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a D-handle to the high pulley of the machine instead of a straight bar. Sit on the lat pulldown machine while facing the pulley, making sure the bar is at a comfortable height. With your knees tucked under the pad for support, firmly place your feet on the floor.
  2. Grab the handle with your right hand in a neutral grip. Keep your left hand down on your thigh or the pads for stability.
  3. Keeping your back straight, begin by pulling the handle down until it’s at shoulder level. Make sure you don’t lean sideways while you pull the weight down.
  4. Squeeze your right lats in this position, then slowly bring the handle back up and repeat.
  5. Finish your reps and switch to the opposite side.

Reverse grip lat pulldown

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This movement is essentially the same as the traditional lat pulldown, except you’ll be using an underhand grip instead, mimicking a chin-up. This movement targets your biceps and middle back slightly more, and of course, gives your lats a killer workout!

How to do it:

  1. Sit on the lat pulldown machine while facing the pulley, making sure the bar is at a comfortable height. With your knees tucked under the pad for support, firmly place your feet on the floor.
  2. Reach for the bar and grab it with an underhand grip and your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Keeping your back straight, begin by pulling the bar down until it’s almost touching your chest. Drive your shoulders down and back, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the bottom of the movement.
  4. Squeeze your lats in this position, then slowly return the bar up and repeat.

Straight arm lat pulldown

This lat pulldown machine variation is performed standing instead of sitting down, and as the name suggests, your arms will remain straight throughout the full range of movement. Not only is it great for your lats, but your biceps and middle back muscles also get a great workout.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart in front of the lat pulldown machine. The bar should be attached to a high pulley so that it’s at face level.
  2. Reach for the bar and grab it with an overhand grip and your hands shoulder-width apart.
  3. Bending slightly at the hips and knees for stability, begin pulling the bar down while keeping your arms straight until it almost touches your thighs. Keep your back straight and your elbows unlocked throughout the movement.
  4. Squeeze your lats in this position, then slowly bring the bar back up and repeat.

Behind the neck lat pulldown

Instead of lowering the bar to your chest, you’ll be going over your head and behind your neck. This movement not only works your lats and upper back, but it also activates your shoulder muscles. If you want to add this to your routine, make sure to do a lot of shoulder and rotator cuffs flexibility exercises to avoid any discomfort.

How to do it:

  1. Sit on the lat pulldown machine while facing the pulley, making sure the bar is at a comfortable height. With your knees tucked under the pad for support, firmly place your feet on the floor.
  2. Reach for the bar and grab it with an overhand grip and your hands at a shoulder-width distance. Make sure you’re slightly leaning forward at the hips so that you don’t have to extend your neck down.
  3. Keeping your back straight, begin by pulling the bar down and over your head until it’s just behind your neck. Drive your shoulders down and back, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the bottom of the movement.
  4. Squeeze your lats in this position, then slowly bring the bar back up and repeat.

Alternating lat pulldown

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During this exercise, you’ll be alternating your arms and placing a bigger load on one of them during each rep. It’s a great unilateral exercise that will help you hit your lat muscles one side at a time while the other side assists in the movement.

How to do it:

  1. Sit on the lat pulldown machine while facing the pulley, making sure the bar is at a comfortable height. With your knees tucked under the pad for support, firmly place your feet on the floor.
  2. Reach for the bar and grab it with an overhand grip and your hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Keeping your back straight, begin by pulling the bar down with both hands but placing the majority of the load on the right arm. Your right hand should go down until it’s at shoulder level while the left elbow bends at a 90-degree angle. Make sure you don’t lean sideways while pulling on the bar.
  4. While holding the bar diagonally, squeeze your right lat muscles. Then slowly bring the bar back up and repeat on the opposite side, alternating on each rep.

Wide grip lat pulldown

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The opposite of the close grip lat pulldown is the wide grip variation, in which you’ll be grabbing the bar with your arms extended wider than shoulder-width apart. This position allows you to grow a bigger and stronger back, hitting almost every major muscle group in your back.

How to do it:

  1. Sit on the lat pulldown machine while facing the pulley, making sure the bar is at a comfortable height. With your knees tucked under the pad for support, firmly place your feet on the floor.
  2. Reach for the bar and grab it with an overhand grip and your hands wider than shoulder-width apart. They should be almost at each end of the bar.
  3. Keeping your back straight, begin by pulling the bar down until it’s almost touching your chest. Drive your shoulders down and back, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the bottom of the movement.
  4. Squeeze your lats in this position, then slowly bring the bar back up and repeat.

And there you have it! Your back is made up of huge muscle groups, and your lats are the biggest of them all, so they should be trained accordingly. These exercises will help you not only to get a bigger back, but also a stronger upper body that will help you smash your strength training workouts and perform more effectively.

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