Pulldowns are a great exercise for working your back muscles, but are you getting the most out of them? It can be
confusing when you hit the gym because there is such a variety of handles available to use when doing the exercise along with methods for doing the exercise. What is right and what is wrong? Let’s look into it and figure out what you should be doing along with what you shouldn’t be doing.
Here are a couple important points to recognize and not do if you want to train in a safe manner and preserve your body.
- Rear Lat Pulldowns – These should not be done as an exercise. People do them still even though it has been proven to lead to neck and shoulder problems. The main issue is that the motion is unnatural. People say this exercise works the upper back and traps, which is sort of true, but there are better and much safer ways to do it.
- Improper Form – Usually this is a product of using too much weight and involves a lot of jerking and swinging of the body. The motion is smooth and uses the back. People that end up leaning back at a 45 degree angle, bouncing the weight stack, or those that yank the handle with their arms are just doing it wrong. Improper form just means you aren’t actively targeting the muscle.
- Wrong Handles – For pulldowns you should really only be using a wide-grip bar or a shoulder-width neutral grip bar. Ideally you want to keep your forearms as close to vertical as possible during the entire movement. This ensures that your form is close to optimum for engaging the lats and back muscles.
- Wrong Grip – When using the wide-grip bar you want to grab it with an underhanded grip at about shoulder-width apart. This will vary a little for some people, but it takes a little trial and error to find the sweet spot. You can use an overhand grip with a hand spacing that is two to three inches wider than your shoulders as well, if the underhand grip is not comfortable.
Ideally a pulldown should be just like a pull-up. The beauty of the pull-up is that it is an exercise you can’t really cheat at. The pulldown should be done in a similar manner. The focus should always be on the back and never the arms. If you find you are pulling with your arms too much then more than likely the weight is too heavy.
As you pull the focus should be on bringing the elbows down to press into the ribs. There is a slight arch in your back and your head should face forward with your eyes looking straight ahead. Some people look up and follow the path of the bar with their eyes. This can cause unnecessary strain on the neck and should be avoided.
The motion should be smooth enough that you can squeeze the back muscles at the contraction point. Then on the reverse motion it should be nice and slow to obtain a great stretch.
The bottom line is that when done properly the pulldown can build a heck of a lot of muscle on your back. When done incorrectly it can easily lead to neck strain or shoulder problems. Learning what to do and not to do means that you will get the most out of your workouts each time which equals more size and strength gains which is what we are all here for.