How to Perform the Lat Pulldown Behind the Neck

How to Perform the Lat Pulldown Behind the Neck

Lat pulldowns are a great way to add width to your back and are almost always included in every workout program. With results similar to the time-tested pull up, forcing the weight down in a lat pulldown machine is an exercise everyone can benefit from.

This compound exercise primarily works the latissimus dorsi, but additional muscles are called into play throughout the motion.

The lat pulldown is so popular that numerous attachments are available to bring the bar down in several different ways. The various grips used to pull the bar down maximize the effectiveness of the lat pulldown exercise. Pulling the bar down behind the neck is one popular variation.

Lat Pulldown Behind the Neck

Lat pulldowns behind the neck have become a controversial movement. This exercise is often listed as one that should not be performed out of fear of injury. However, a simple search on the Internet will provide examples of men like Ronnie Coleman pulling the bar behind his neck and Charles Glass providing his guidance for performing lat pulldowns behind the neck.

This exercise has certain risks if performed incorrectly so it is important to properly educate yourself to avoid unnecessary injuries. This is one of those exercises where less weight is used and the process is slowed down as you concentrate on the movements.

Kai Greene discusses the benefits of the lat pulldown performed behind the neck.
Lat pulldowns behind the neck place stress on the rotator cuff if the bar is pulled down too far. It will also strain the subscapularis muscle by stretching it to the point that they cannot properly support the joint in the shoulder.

Much like overhead presses behind the neck, it is important that the bar isn't brought too far down for the shoulder muscles to support the joints. Like many exercises, the proper form will minimize the chances of an injury. Additionally, added stress could be applied to the spine if the trainee is not flexible enough to be able to bring the bar straight down while performing this exercise.

Lat pulldowns should only be performed behind the neck by individuals without flexibility or rotator cuff issues to reduce the chances of injury.

How to Perform a Lat Pulldown Behind the Neck

Properly adjust the kneepad at a lat pulldown machine so you can comfortably execute the exercise without being pulled out of the seat.

While standing, grip the bar where your hands will be a little wider than your shoulders and your palms are facing forward. Keep your arms extended and sit at the machine while slipping your knees under the pads.

Straighten your body to a point where the cable and pull down bar are directly above your spine and tuck your head forward to allow the bar to be safely lowered. Shrug your shoulder blades back to set your shoulders, this allows the tension to stay on your lats throughout the exercise.

While breathing out, slowly lower the bar behind your head so it is approximately level with your ears. Do NOT lower the bar to shoulder level. While the bar is at its lowest point, fully squeeze your shoulder blades together and pause for one second.

Inhale as you slowly raise the bar towards the starting position but stop just before fully extending your arms to keep the tension on your muscles. Without pause, lower the bar again and repeat the process until you have reached your desired reps.

Muscles Targeted with Lat Pulldowns Behind the Neck

Primary: Latissimus Dorsi

Secondary: Trapezius, Pectoralis Minor, Rhomboids, Levator Scapulae, Deltoids, Teres Major, Biceps Brachia, Brachialis, Brachioradialis

Lat Pulldown Behind the Neck Tips

Tip #1 - Keep Control of Everything

Keep your torso upright and your body tight, you won't need to lean forward or backward during the movement if you lined yourself up below the cable. Ensure that your shoulders are set through the exercise; otherwise, you will be working your arms and not the Lats.

Drive the bar down with your elbows. This is the same theory with all Lat pull downs in the same way the elbows are driven back during bent rows to minimize tension on the biceps.

Remember to tightly squeeze during the pause at the lowest point and prevent your arms from fully extending or resting at the highest point. This keeps constant tension on the muscles in order to maximize the exercise.

Do not bring the bar all the way down to your shoulders, this places excessive stress on the rotator cuffs and increases the chances of injury. Try slowing this exercise down; consider taking two seconds to lower the bar, pause for two seconds, and make it take two seconds for the bar to reach the highest point? remember not to pause at the top or extend your arms fully to keep the tension.

Tip #2 - Attach Yourself to the Bar

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This exercise isn't about training your grip strength, form is far more important. Try grabbing the bar with your thumbs going over the bar in the same direction as your fingers or completely off the bar.

Even better, consider Versa Grips, straps or hooks with Lat pulldowns to help keep the focus on your Lats. By adding Versa Grips you are attaching your arms to the bar, allowing you to focus on driving the bar down with your elbows instead of your hands.

Tip #3 - Pulldown don'ts

don't use a grip more than a few inches wider than your shoulders when pulling the bar down behind your neck. This causes unnecessary stress on your shoulders and increases the chances of injury.

don't jerk the bar down, rock for momentum, or allow the weight to shoot up too quickly. No one will ever ask how much your Lat pulldown behind the neck max is, this exercise is best utilized with 10-15 rep sets and plenty of time under tension on the muscles. Use a moderate weight that can be kept under control

don't pull the bar all the way down to your shoulders, preferably not lower than your ears. This cannot be stressed enough, it is the most important thing to remember to minimize the chances of injury while doing Lat pulldowns behind the neck.

Properly executed, lat pulldowns behind the neck offer an additional tool in your back building arsenal. Applying these simple tips allow you to perform the exercise safely while you decide if you will be adding it to your program. Give it a try the next time you sit in a lat pulldown machine.
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Jerry - August 28, 2019

I’ve been doing behind the neck pull downs for the last 20 years atleast twice a week and I always super set it with either front shoulder presses or chest presses and never had an injury..But I also go light and do it on my knees for core training 👍🏻Also I wish Charlez could of not made that comment about pit bulls that are actually beautiful creatures who are abused by humans

Charlez Lee Mu'ir - January 11, 2019

I’m going to deliberately overextend now and utilize this exercise as a stretch and muscle conditioning of those very joints people are fearing to injure. Clearly its an area of vulnerability that needs to be reinforced. For me besides general health/fitness, working out is about preparing for survival and the unexpected..that moment when you may need to be able to do this motion to avoid death or serious injury or maybe that moment I have to break something like say a pitbull’s spine across my back. Though there are very real risks thought tend to outweigh the benfits, the behind the neck lat phobia is clearly a bogeyman in the real world analysis. Considering how many people do it and are NOT being injured.

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