Kinesiology of Exercise


The lat pulldown is a very effective exercise that is used for developing the upper latissimus dorsi to create "wings." The typical lat pull-down exercise has traditionally utilized a wide pronated grip. Today, however, many bodybuilders also use a narrow grip. When the exercise is done in this manner, different portions of the latissimus are worked together with other secondary muscles. 

So, for full development of the latissimus and for different stress on the other major muscles involved, it isimportant that you do both wide grip and narrow grip variants. You can do this by using different bar attachments or by using a lat pulldown machine or bar, with which you can execute both variants.

Major Muscles and Actions Involved

pronated wide grip variant

In the pronated wide grip variant of the lat pulldown, the upper latissimus dorsi, the teres major, and the lower pectoralis major muscles are involved in shoulder joint adduction. In this action your arms are pulled down in a side (lateral) plane until your upper arm is below shoulder level. In the shoulder girdle, downward rotation of the scapulae is performed by the rhomboid and pectoralis minor muscles. In this action the right scapula rotates clockwise and the left counterclockwise (when viewed from the rear).  

Major Muscles and Actions Involved

narrow neutral grip variant

In the narrow neutral grip variant of the lat pulldown, the lower latissimus dorsi, the lower pectoralis major, and the teres major are involved in shoulder joint extension. In this action the arms move from in front of the body down to the sides of the trunk. This action is perpendicular to the lateral plane of movement as seen in the wide grip variant. 

In the shoulder girdle the rhomboid, the pectoralis
, and the middle trapezius are the major muscles involved in downward rotation and adduction of the scapulae. In this action the muscles pull the scapulae in toward the spine and at the same time rotate the right scapula clockwise and the left counterclockwise when viewed from the rear. 


Variant 1: Pronated wide grip.

Adjust the height of the seat and sit down under the bar of a lat pull-down machine. The height of the seat must allow you to grasp the bar with your arms and hands outstretched. When you are seated, place the padded leg bar over your thighs. Take a wide grip (hold the outermost ends) so that your arms form a wide V. Hold your arms in a fully extended position with your trunk and midsection straight and in the same plane with your arms.  When you are ready, inhale and hold your breath as you pull down. Concentrate on bringing your elbows down and keeping your trunk in place. Flexion will occur in the elbow joints, but it should be a consequence of the shoulder adduction, that is, it should not be an active movement. Pull the bar down in front of your head until it is shoulder level or slightly below. Relax and exhale as you return the bar under control to the starting position and then repeat. 

Variant 2: Neutral narrow grip.

Assume the same body position as in the wide grip variant. When you are properly seated, grasp the bar with a neutral grip, with your hands directly above the head.  When you are ready, inhale and hold your breath as you pull down at a moderate rate of speed. Concentrate on pulling your elbows down in front and keeping your trunk erect. Flexion will occur in your elbow joints, but it should be mainly a consequence of the shoulder joint extension. Keep pulling down with the upper arms until the neutral grip handle is below the head and your elbows are alongside your chest. Relax slightly and exhale as you return the bar under control to the initial position.

Sports Uses

The act of pulling your arms down sideways from above your head or raising your body when your hands are secured as, for example, in climbing and when doing pull-ups, is extremely important in many sports. The action involved is shoulder joint adduction or extension. These actions are important in the execution of stunts on the rings, horizontal bar, and uneven bars in gymnastics.

The muscles and actions are also important in pulling down rebounds in basketball, and in all pulling-up actions (climbing a ladder or wall and rock climbing). They are also important for many holds in wrestling, for various phases of the pulling pushing actions used in different swimming strokes, and in rowing, especially when the elbows are down. 

Exercise Analysis

  • Because the entire latissimus dorsi is not involved in any one exercise, it is important that you do these two variants of the lat pulldown to develop this muscle fully. Development of the upper part of the latissimus dorsi will give you wings. Development of the lower part will give you greater definition on the sides of your lower back.
  • However, it is important to have an adjustable seat for proper positioning when you are grasping the bar. Also, the machine should have the different grips, handles or bars to work the muscle completely.
  • The recommendation to pull the bar down in front of the body is relatively recent. For years everyone was told to pull the bar down behind the head until it touched the shoulders. However, most individuals do not have the shoulder joint flexibility needed to do this variant correctly and effectively. As a result, they were not getting maximum benefit from this exercise and in some cases were irritating the shoulder joint because of the unaccustomed to extreme backward positioning of the elbows. Some individuals were also bruising the seventh cervical vertebra. Thus, it is now recommended to pull down in front which still produces the same, if not better, results.
  • When you are using the wide grip, the exercise may feel easy in the upper range and difficult as the bar approaches your shoulders. If you experience this, it means that you are strong in the initial range of motion and weak in the bottom range. Therefore, when you use machines that do not have variable resistance, especially those with weight stacks, the exercise feels difficult in the early stages and even more so in the bottom position.
  • To counteract this and to strengthen the muscles more effectively in the upper or lower range of motion, you can increase the resistance initially and work only the upper range. Or you can do the exercise as usual so that it taxes mainly the lower range. When you use the narrow grip, it is important to keep your body erect so that you can more effectively work the lower lat in the upper range of motion. If you lean back, as many people do, you will be working only the lower range of motion. Thus, if you are looking for total development, it is a good idea to do both variants of the exercise with your trunk erect and also with your trunk inclined backward.
  • However, when doing the pulldown with your body inclined backward, be sure to pull the bar down sufficiently so that your elbows go behind your body. You will notice that when you do this, the action is similar to that used in the seated row with a neutral grip.
  • Using a seat with a padded bar that goes over your thighs to hold you down is very important for execution of the lat pulldown. If the bar too secure your body is not available, then you will find your body rising up as you execute the pulldown when you use weights that are close to or greater than your body weight.
  • Also, it is very important that the seat be adjusted so that your arms are maximally extended when you grab the bar. If you have to reach too high for the bar, it will be very difficult to keep your legs secured at the same time.
  • An effective variant of the lat pulldown is the narrow grip pulldown, especially when done with a neutral grip. This version is analogous to the neutral grip pullup. In this exercise you get additional assistance from the posterior deltoid and the long head of the triceps. When you use the wide grip for shoulder adduction, the assisting muscles are the coracobrachialis, subscapularis (when your arm is above the horizontal), short head of the biceps, and long head of the triceps.
  • To execute the lat pulldown successfully, the scapulae must rotate downward as shoulder joint adduction takes place. If the shoulder girdle muscles are not strong enough to rotate the scapulae downward, the arms will not be able to move down and the amount of shoulder adduction or extension is limited considerably. Also, there is a very good chance of injury to the muscles involved.

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