The lateral or ‘lat’ pulldown exercise is widely recognised and utilised as a primary exercise for developing strength and size in the upper back muscles. This particular machine exercise primarily targets the Latissimus Dorsi muscle, which encompasses the shoulder blade region and through training provides you with the desirable ‘V’ shaped back. As with many exercises, the Latissimus Dorsi muscle is not the only muscle recruited during the performance of this exercise. There are numerous surrounding secondary muscles which also act to bring about either assistance to the prime mover or add a stabilising element to the movement. Through manipulation of your hand positioning and grip during this exercise it is possible to either add or remove emphasis from the Latissimus Dorsi muscle. Normally for this exercise, a long handled bar is utilised on the machine. Consequently, this article will focus on the effects of both the wide grip and narrow grip techniques to determine what effect, if any, this has on the recruitment of the Latissimus Dorsi and other secondary muscle groups.
This is probably the most commonly utilised version of the lateral pulldown exercise. The grip selected is achieved by placing your hands towards each end of the bar, wider than shoulder width apart. The bar should always be pulled down in front of your head as this will reduce any unnecessary strain on your neck throughout the exercise. In this position, research has demonstrated that the Latissimus Dorsi muscle produces the highest activation levels, which in simplistic terms, means that this muscle is being primarily recruited to produce the movement. Also activated, but to a lesser extent, is the Biceps Brachii muscle which mainly exerts its effects around the elbow joint.
An alternative to the wide grip approach detailed above moves the hand positioning in the opposite direction. With the narrow grip selection your hands are placed approximately shoulder width apart with your palms facing towards you. Again the bar is pulled down in front of your head for identical reasons mentioned previously. In this position, although the Latissimus Dorsi muscle is still considered the prime mover, there is a greater activation demonstrated by the Biceps Brachii muscle as the closer hand positioning places this muscle into an advantageous position. Although both variations of the lateral pulldown exercise target the Latissimus Dorsi and Biceps Brachii muscle groups primarily to bring about the movement, it is important to acknowledge that you can place greater emphasis on either of these muscle groups simply by altering the positioning of your hands. The simple reason for this is that the wide pulldown position favours the Latissimus Dorsi muscle and places it into a position of recruitment strength, whilst the narrowing the your grip brings the Biceps Brachii muscle group more into contention and places this muscle into a favourable position.
So next time you attend the gym to complete a back session it is definitely worth considering your training needs and in particular your hand positioning during this exercise. One favourable training tip is to start narrow and complete your required repetitions and sets before moving your hands into a wider position and repeating. Conversely, start as wide as possible and move in the opposite direction, finishing with the narrow grip. This will ensure that all segments of the Latissimus Dorsi muscle are worked equally and will have your back shaped with that desirable ‘V’ in no time at all.