3 Lat Pulldown Variations For a Wider Back

3 Lat Pulldown Variations For a Wider Back

There is no muscle as important for upper body symmetry than your back. The lats (Latissimus dorsi) cannot be overlooked when trying to attain the classic, bodybuilder V-taper. 

The back is activated by pulling movements. However, the musculature must be stimulated properly to maximize hypertrophy and strength.

Where rowing exercises target your rhomboids and all areas of the trapezius, vertical pulling movements activate your lats. Considering the lats form the lateral portions of the back, vertical pulls are paramount for posterior thickness!

While chin-ups and pull-ups are equally great movements, there is no exercise that isolates the lats better the lat pull-down.

In the same way you can perform many variations of the pull-up, there are almost endless methods of execution for the lat pulldown to target the musculature differently.

Wide Grip

A properly executed wide grip lat pulldown can activate the latissimus dorsi greater than any other vertical pulling movement.

To perform the exercise, grip the bar overhand at roughly a fist wider than shoulder width and engage your lats with the weight by pulling the bar into position. You don’t want to go too wide or narrow, otherwise you are not using your levers appropriately to engage your lat.

Without excessive movement/momentum, use your lats to pull the bar down to your upper chest while making a conscious effort to retract your scapula (pinch your shoulder blades together) and squeeze back. Be cognizant to avoid arching your back excessively - the movement then becomes a row rather than a vertical pull, so keep your upper body relatively straight!

Your arms are merely a lever between the back and the attachment piece. Meaning, your biceps should not be roasted after a set of pulldowns. They are an accessory to the exercise. 

You don’t need to go lower than your chest. If so, you are taking emphasis away from the lats. Depending on the attachment you are using, pulling to just below your chin is sufficient.

Reverse Grip

For this variation, grip the bar underhand as you would a chin-up with a shoulder width grip.

Again, you want to pull down to your upper chest, retract your scapula and engage that mind-muscle connection focusing on squeezing your lats & using them to pull vertically down. Do not rock back n' forth, using momentum and your biceps to move the weight.

This movement is great for hitting the lower fibers of the lats - think Dorian Yates and the definition he brought with his award winning wings!

Neutral Grip

The final movement uses a neutral grip, meaning your palms are facing together. This necessitates the use of another attachment for the machine, so take the standard bar off and replace it with a v-bar. 

The natural grip pulldown recruits muscles in a similar way to the reverse grip pulldown, with a little more emphasis on muscles like the Teres Major which also contributes to back width!

To perform, pulldown as you have been doing with the other movements; retract the scapular, maintain an upright position, utilize the lats properly & stop at the upper chest. 

Focus on pushing your chest towards the ceiling, sucking your stomach in and ensuring your shoulders are not rounded over.


So, there you have it. The three best variations for full lat development. 

This is an accessory movement, so use it to warm up and pre-exhaust, or to finish after your heavy rows. Don’t feel the need to PR on Lat Pulldowns. Focus on the execution of the movement, not how much weight you pull.

3 sets at 8-15 reps should get your lats burning, so work these variations into your back routine to build those wings!

 SIGNORILE, J. E., Zink, A. J., & Szwed, S. P. (2002). A comparative electromyographical investigation of muscle utilization patterns using various hand positions during the lat pull-down. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 16(4), 539-546.
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