When it comes to building an impressive physique, lats should be a primary focus. Nicely developed lats create the sought after and powerful looking V-taper for men, and in women, nicely developed lats give the illusion of a slimmer waistline, defining a sleek and contoured figure.
Yet for many lifters, lat pull-downs are a rarely included afterthought. Rows and deadlifts tend to dominate.
The reality is, you may be shortchanging your back development by ignoring the isolated, muscle-building benefits the lat pull-down provides. Proper form is difficult to achieve with pull-ups alone, and if you want to build enviable lats, the pull-down is the exercise for you.
Think the lat pull-down is too basic? We’ll explore 5 variations that give your lats the attention they deserve. Get “back” to basics by adding these pull-up variations to your physique-building routine.
1. Single-Arm Lat Pull-Down
If you’ve ever done a lat pull-down, you’ve probably used both hands at once. This traditional bilateral lat pull-down maximizes the amount of weight you can lift and makes great use of your time if you need to get in and out of the gym in a hurry.
Yet it would be a mistake to discount the value of the single-arm lat pull-down. When it comes to feeling the mind-muscle connection and maximizing the squeeze at the bottom of the lift, nothing beats the single-arm lat pull-down.
If you have the time, try adding a few sets of single-arm lat pull-downs toward the end of your workout, using a lighter weight and slowing down the tempo. With each repetition, hold at the bottom for a few seconds before slowly releasing back up to the top. You’ll take full advantage of the strength and muscle-building effects this variation has to offer.
2. Wide-Grip Lat Pull-Down
The wide-grip variation is an excellent choice if you’re looking to increase the width of your back and want to improve overall strength. This variation will also help you with your pull-up strength, allowing you to work your lats with good form through the entire range of motion.
As you perform the wide-grip lat pull-down, think of squeezing and retracting your shoulder blades for optimal muscle activation. Avoid leaning too far back while performing this exercise. The momentum you gain from leaning back takes away from the benefits this exercise has to offer.
3. Behind-the-Neck Lat Pull-Down
One pull-down variation often overlooked is the behind-the-neck lat pull-down. Many believe this variation places too much stress and strain on the body. While this may be due to lack of shoulder flexibility for some, many can comfortably incorporate this movement pattern into their workout without pain, and are able to take full advantage of the benefits it offers.
Most people who can do behind-the-neck lat pull-downs find they feel a stronger overall contraction using this range of motion, making it beneficial for building lean muscle mass. That said, proceed with caution: The risk of injury is higher with behind-the-neck lat pull-downs. Start with a lighter weight and higher reps.
To find out if the behind-the-neck lat pull-down is right for you, try it out one day in the gym, paying close attention to how it feels. If the movement feels natural to you, chances are you can add it to your routine without any issue.
If you incorporate behind-the-neck lat pull-downs into your routine, emphasize shoulder mobility by doing plenty of shoulder and rotator cuff stretches as well.
4. V-Bar Pull-Down
When it comes to lat pull-down variations, don’t underestimate the benefit of choosing a different attachment. The V-bar pull-down is an excellent option to improve the center of your back, while still targeting your lats.
If you choose the V-bar option, lean back slightly more than normal to allow for full range of motion as you bring the bar down to just in front of your chest.
As you return the weight to the starting position, move slowly. Ensure that your muscles reach a deep stretch at the top of the movement. You want your shoulders to be completely extended, which—thanks to this long range of motion—will help yield maximum strength progression.
5. Reverse Close-Grip Lat Pull-Down
Finally, the last variation to include in your improved workout routine is the reverse close-grip lat pull-down. This move is great for targeting your lower lats, and will also help to activate your biceps by mimicking the action of a chin-up.
The closer you position your hands on the bar, the more activation you’ll get in your center back, so keep that in mind as you perform the exercise. Take advantage of this variation for the strength-building benefits it has to offer. If you’re a fan of pull-ups and chin-ups, you’ll probably enjoy the addition of the reverse close-grip lat pull-down in your exercise lineup.
Changing Things Up Is Vital for Your Success
Don’t let yourself get stuck in a lat pull-down rut. Maximize your results by alternating between a couple of these variations per session to build a spectacular and well-rounded back. Variations of traditional exercises help prevent the dreaded strength plateaus, and with so many great options, the lat pull-down will never feel mundane again.