The lat pull-down, also known as the cable pull-down, is a compound exercise designed to work the Latissimus dorsi (the middle back muscle) as well as the arms (primarily the biceps muscles). Although there are many ways to perform this exercise, it is most often performed using a machine with a bar and pulley.
Although it can be very effective in working the middle of the back and arms, it is only a great exercise if it is performed properly. The lat pull down machine is one of the most misused machines in the gym. The incorrect way of performing this exercise is to pull the bar down behind the head (posterior pull-down) whereas the correct way is to bring the bar in front of the head and chest (anterior pull-down).
Only people with very mobile shoulder joints are able to keep their spines straight enough to do this exercise properly. If this move is done incorrectly by bringing the bar behind the head, excessive stress is placed onto the shoulder muscles, ligaments and joints. This can lead to shoulder impingement, a tear in the rotator cuff muscles, subluxation, dislocation, or even cervical vertebrae injuries.
From a practical point of view, everyday activities do not usually require pulling a resistance down behind the head, so it makes much more sense to pull the resistance down in front of the body.
A Safer Lat Pull-down:
1. Sit down at the pull-down machine and place your feet flat onto the floor and have your knees tucked under the padded bar. To work your abdominal muscles more, do not tuck your knees under the pad and use only your body to hold yourself upright.
2. Lean back a few degrees.
3. Contract your abdominal muscles to stabilize the body by pulling your belly-button in towards your spine.
4. Decide which grip you would like to use on the bar. Moving your hands closer or farther apart will stress different parts of the muscles in your back. You may use a wider-than-shoulder pronated (overhand) grip with knuckles facing up or a close supinated (palms up) grip.
5. After you have placed your hands on the bar, pull the bar down towards your body to the breastbone. (Do not pull the bar below your upper chest) As you do this, exhale and concentrate on form: bring the shoulder blades down, back and together. Think about contracting your lat muscle (large back muscle) and imagine cracking a walnut between your shoulder blades.
6. Hold this position briefly.
7. In a slow and controlled manner, inhale and return the bar upward until your arms are straight with elbows slightly bent. Do not lock out the elbows!
8. Repeat these steps above until the desired amount of repetitions and sets have been reached.
9. Be sure to avoid using momentum to swing the bar up and down. Your body should remain steady and your bottom should stay on the seat throughout the entire exercise.
Remember, no matter what exercise you are performing it is important to always concentrate on using proper technique through body awareness and visualization of joint movement and muscle contraction. To prevent injury, pay attention to how you feel each day and listen to what your body is saying to you. Never “work through” chronic pain or any type of discomfort that could be the beginning of an overuse injury . The old saying, “No Pain, No Gain” isn’t always the smartest motto to follow.
Take care and have fun,