Back Exercise: Wide Grip Lat Pulldown

What is it for?

The Wide Grip Lat Pulldown exercise is gym based and uses the piece of equipment unsurprisingly called the Lat Pulldown machine (not just a clever name – .). Due to its name you can probably guess that the main muscles it works are the Latissimus Dorsi (“Lats” highlighted in yellow) which, as you can see in the diagram, are situated on your back and are very large muscles. They travel all the way from the tops of your arms down to the base of your spine. The secondary muscles this exercise uses are the biceps (highlighted in red) these are used in close combination with the “Lats” to complete the movement. Other muscles are used as well but these two are the main ones.

What are the benefits?

The Wide Grip Lat Pulldown exercise mimics the Wide Grip Chin Up. However, because you are using a machine it allows you to do a lot smaller increments of weights than your own body weight. This means that it is a good piece of training equipment that will eventually allow you to complete a chin up. It will also allow you to do more weight than your body weight in a controlled manner and therefore reducing the risk of injury. Having strong Latissimus Dorsi and Bicep muscles is very good for all pulling actions and as it is one of the major muscles in our body it is essential that we train it. Surprisingly it is also a good muscle to train if you are wanting to lose weight as you can really increase your metabolic rate by increasing the size of this muscle.

Picture of Lat Pulldown machineTechnique

For this exercise you will need a Lat Pulldown machine that should look similar to the one in the diagram. Most machines will have a bar to pull down on, however there are better ones that have two separate handles. If you can’t find the machine then please ask a member of staff at your gym and they will point you in the right direction.

Setting yourself up in the machine

There should be a seat height adjuster, a leg restraint adjustment and of course the resistance or weight selector.

Seat height: This should be set so that when you are seated your upper legs are horizontal, knees are at 90 degrees and feet are flat on the floor.

Leg Restraint: This should prevent your legs from moving up. Have no more than a 2 centimetre gap between your legs and the leg pad. It is designed to keep you in the seat during the exercise.

Weight/Resistance: Pick a light weight to start with you can always move it up to a heavier weight as you get use to the exercise. Never go so heavy that your technique is compromised.

Getting started

Once you have set the machine up to your specification you now need to get into the starting position. To do this you need to stand up facing towards the machine and take hold of the bar with your palms facing away from you and your hands wider than shoulder width at about 45 degrees. Keeping hold of the bar, sit down – your arms should be straight at the elbow joint and lean back a little (about 10 degrees – .). You are now in the start position.

Getting it right

The movement is very important: there is a right way and a wrong way to do this. When pulling the bar down it must come down in front of your head and not behind the head. I will explain why further down in the “and a Warning…” section. But for now just concentrate that the bar must come down in front of your face. So from the start position pull the bar downwards towards the top of your chest so that ideally it touches or gets close (making sure you don’t hit your nose on the way – .). On the way down concentrate on making your elbows come in to the side of your body so that when you get to the finishing position, with the bar on or near your chest, you squeeze your elbows in towards your body. This helps get a full contraction from the lat muscles and you are now half way through one repetition. Make sure that your upper body, whilst slightly leaning back, stays straight and does not move during the exercise. If the weight is too heavy it is tempting to use your stomach muscles or lower back muscles to aid the movement by swinging. This will take the emphasis off the lat muscles and could cause an injury.

From the finishing position allow the bar to return up in a slow controlled manner. Do not just relax and allow the weights to fall back with a bang; you can really injure yourself doing this. You must slowly make your way back to the start position taking around 1 to 2 seconds following the same lines as you did on the way down. Once your arms are straight at the elbow you have completed one repetition. Well done!


Fig.1 shows the starting position. The arms are straight and are wider than shoulder width and I am leaning slightly back. The diagram only shows the upper body because this is the only bit that moves.

Fig.2 shows the finish position. The elbows are now bent and are being squeezed into my sides, the bar is at upper chest level and the bar has come down in front of my face (just missing his big nose – .).

Personal Trainer Malta the Lat Pulldown Exercise

The Do’s

Set the machine up correctly
Breathe throughout the movement
Hands slightly wider than shoulder width
Back of your hands should be facing you
Hold onto the bar whilst standing then sit down with the bar
Bring the bar down in front of your face
Squeeze your elbows into your body
Keep you back straight and stationary at all times
Slow controlled movements in both directions
The Don’ts

Don’t use a weight that is too heavy
Don’t hold your breath
Don’t just relax to get back to the starting position
Don’t bring the bar down behind your head
Don’t slouch or use your stomach to help the bar down
Don’t just drop the weight down at the end
In Your Program

The Lat Pulldown is another great exercise to add to your program. Make sure you warm the muscles up first by doing very light back exercises with either a machine or dumb-bells. For a warm-up I would stretch and complete at least 2 sets of 20 at a light weight.

Now you’re ready for the Lat Pulldown. As this muscle is particularly big I would recommend that it should be near the start of your workout, after legs and combined with chest and other back exercises. Definitely before any arm, shoulder or stomach exercises. As for sets and repetitions it, as always, depends on your goals. As a rule, lighter weights and higher repetitions for toning and weight loss e.g. 15 to 20 repetitions. For muscle gain or strength training you will need heavier weights and less repetitions e.g. 6 to 12 repetitions. Remember though that whatever weight you choose you must use good technique throughout.

And a Warning…

As I have mentioned previously there is definitely a wrong way to do this exercise and that is to pull the bar down behind your head. People have been led to believe that by pulling the bar down behind the head they get a fuller contraction and therefore it is better for the lats. This is not true and by taking the bar behind the head you will run the risk of serious shoulder damage.

The reason for this will become apparent if you watch someone doing the exercise. Make sure they are using the lightest weight possible. As the bar comes towards the head the arms have to rotate backwards at the shoulder joint to get the bar past the head. The muscles that do this movement are known as the rotator cuff muscles. These muscles are comparatively weak compared to the lat muscles. That means that when the machine is set up for the lat muscles the weight will be far too heavy for the rotator cuff muscles to move. This could result in serious muscle damage for this small group of muscles which will not only keep you away from training for possibly months but the damage could end up causing a permanent problem.

Also make sure that the weight you choose is not too heavy and allows you to complete the exercise with a perfect technique. Anything less than a perfect technique will result in either injury or at the very least your muscles not developing as they should be.

Be safe and sensible when exercising you will find that you get much better results this way. Good luck and always write in if you have a question.