Tips for More Intense Lat Pulldowns

We get a lot of questions about doing lat pulldowns in a way that maximizes intensity. The problem with this exercise is that people have been so indoctrinated with the ‘full range of motion’ advice that they actually cheat themselves out of lat development.

When you bend your elbows doing lat pulldowns it means you are using your biceps muscles to take part of the load. You can use more weight and aim it directly and almost exclusively at your lats if you just pull the bar down two or three inches (5-8 cm) instead of going for a greater range of motion.

The model in the photo below is at what I would consider the lowest point of a proper strongest range Power Factor rep or SCT hold. Her overhand, wide grip also discourages the use of biceps (compared to a narrow, underhand grip) and, of course, the hooks allow the use of substantially more weight.

If she pulls the bar lower her biceps do more of the work – and we want to work the lats, not the biceps.

Tips for More Intense Lat Pulldowns

Ending position for strong range reps and/or static holds.

This is an exercise you have to pay attention to. You should try to literally squeeze your lats to hoist the weight.

One Arm Lat Pulldowns with Strap

Another technique to help increase the intensity of lat pulldowns is to slip your arm into a strap and perform the exercise one side at a time. This removes both the elements of grip strength and the use of biceps.

The model below is demonstrating the use of a strap for uni-lateral lat pulldowns. You might be surprised at the difference this makes in what you lift and how it feels on your lats.

One Arm Lat Pulldown Using Strap

Using a strap takes the biceps and grip strength out of the movement.

Try these tips on your next lat workout and see the difference it makes. These tips will: a) maximize the weight you use and, b) keep the exercise focused on your lats and not your biceps. If you are using SCT or PFW I think you will see the immediate increases in your numbers. And that means getting bigger, stronger, better defined lats.

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59 Responses to Tips for More Intense Lat Pulldowns

  1. Mark Winchester at #

    Here’s a tip for more intense lat pulldows…the DL!!! How did Franco Colombu get his “hang-glider” lats? Very heavy DL’s that’s how. What’s the best way to DL really heavy? PFT that’s how. The DL will build more overall back muscle from the traps to the erectors than any machine in existence. Let the “One Direction” fan club members worry about lat pulldowns.

  2. Rama at #

    6 inch range? Isnt that a fairly big range of movement?

    Are you still using that range? Are you consistently improving every workout? Do you do SCT or PFT?

    Just curious. Thanks, I am always interested in trying to get the best out of lat/upper back workouts since they are my worst muscle groups (in terms of aesthetics).

  3. Hi Jon!
    1. When we measured many athletes we discovered that, on average, nothing beat the lat pulldown for intensity (measured in lbs lifted per minute) and that’s why we recommend it. (Same with all our SCT/PFW exercises, we tested and measured for each target muscle group.)
    2. The Hammer Strength pulldown machine is an excellent device. Too bad it’s not in every gym. I set a PR on that of 900 lbs.

  4. Jon at #

    Hi Pete

    Just wondering why the Lat Pulldown is the suggested exercise for Lats. Only asking because i’ve maxed out the pulldown machine after 6 workouts and i’ve tried the one-handed version and it felt a bit awkward, may just need more practice. But there is a Hammer Strength Iso Lateral Row type machine in the gym that is plate loaded and would allow me to use more weight.
    Just curious as to why the pulldown is considered better than a row.

    Thanks
    Jon

  5. Matt at #

    I should mention that this is the single-handed lat pull downs!

    And that the range of motion that I was using, was:
    1) fist about equal with my eyes
    2) fist about equal to my shoulders or only slightly above

    So it’s about a 6inch range of movement

  6. Matt at #

    Well I did my lat workout with this technique yesterday. I used my other hand to feel my bicep muscle whilst doing it – to kinda gauge how hard that bicep was working.

    Interestingly, through the motion, the muscle was semi-limp – like it would sometimes trigger tense and then release on-and-off etc.

    Also, the previous workout was a real strain on my biceps. This workout, I did about 15% more weight and didn’t feel any strain on the biceps, it was just purely the lats that got hammered.

    So I recommend others to try it out this way, see what you think, and post up your feedback so that we can all learn from each other.

  7. Matt at #

    Just been thinking, because I did the lat exercise today (I just started the power factor routine last week), and I was doing the single arm lat pulldowns. I had one of the 1ton hooks on to help me hold the weight, but I found that my bicep was straining and it also felt like my shoulder was going to be ripped out (in a good way if that’s possible! lol).

    Anyways, the focus seems to be how to reduce the work that the bicep is doing, so that it’s just lat that’s doing the pulling.

    Well actually I think the bicep is removed from the equation when you get your elbow down near your waist – try to picture using your bicep in that position, it does nothing in terms of pulling the weight “down” – if you were to flex your bicep in that position you’ll just bang your fist into your shoulder. The good thing is, when your elbow is down so low, that’s when your lat is close to being fully contracted (it’s probably the strongest range of motion for this exercise?).

    So I’m going to try my next workout with single arm lat pulldowns, and with the handle near my shoulder so that my elbow is down low near my waist. I’m expecting big wings *typo* things lol.

  8. David A. at #

    Another positive to this that I just recalled was that you can leave multiple knots in a single rope. All you have to do is fine-tune where exactly a non-slipping knot needs to be and just leave it tied. This way all you have to do is leave multiple knotted loops in the rope that will allow for slide-on/slide-off ease and speed of change from one exercise to another.

  9. David A. at #

    Thanks Ryan,
    I’ve always been a little off the beaten path. “Road less travelled” and all. Who woulda thought Robert Frost knew anything about SCT? haha.

    Charlie,
    That sounds extreme! In a good way. If that doesn’t improve hip mobility, I couldn’t tell you what would!

  10. David A. at #

    Hey Charlie,
    Thanks, like I said, it’s rough. Needs a little creativity and a willingness to fine-tune. As for one-legged squats and deads, it requires a fair amount of caution to make sure that the knee stays in good form and alignment while also balancing a fair amount of weight. Well, I can see the improvements in muscular development since I get home, so as long as it keeps on this good pattern I should be doin alright for myself come Thanksgiving.

  11. It’s hard to find grip machines in gyms. Hammer Strength makes a pretty good one but it’s in 1% of gyms. My friend at KD Industries used to make one but stopped producing it because too few people wanted one. You can place a barbell in a power rack and use your fingers to grip and lift it. But don’t expect your grip strength to become so strong your don’t need hooks. The muscles in your upper and lower back are much larger and much more powerful than your grip muscles and unless you can develop your grip to the point of a world-class strongman (bending nails and ripping phone books) you’ll still need hooks to exhaust your large ‘pulling’ muscles.

  12. Jim at #

    Are there (static contraction) exercises that can be used to improve grip strength? The more I think about it, it seems odd to use devices to get around a weak grip in a strength training program.

  13. Ryan Smithson at #

    Really good ideas put to practice here, David A.! You’ve inspired me to try to set up a home workout apparatus. I think what is really awesome is the fact that you don’t have to do anything unsafe to build muscle.

  14. Ryan Smithson at #

    Really good idea here, Charlie! You got me thinking! When you look at how simple the concept really is: You need something to contract against. You need to see how much force you’re contracting with and increase it over time.

  15. Ryan Smithson at #

    David A.,

    Very good ideas you’ve put into practice here! You inspired me to work on making a home workout station. I think one of the really awesome things about building muscle is that one doesn’t have to do anything unsafe to do so.

  16. Bob at #

    Pete,

    Just was letting you know that I found that my strongest range doing the lat pulldown with straps is pulling from the front.Just an FYI,thanks.~B

  17. charlie at #

    wow this got my mind goin’…what if you got the weights out of the picture and found some digital strain gague that tied the two ends of the rope together?

  18. charlie at #

    your setup seems like it would easily lend itself to my lumbar/hip extensor hold.
    lie on back across bench at the shoulder blades. place (padded) bar across pelvis. the feet should be in a position that allows the shin to be basically vertical so that hamstring in not fully involved in the hip extension. set height where weight engages to just about the level of the bench(fine tune).
    the bar will set snugly between above the pubic bone and below the ASIS’s. this will allow for major loading of the lumbar erectors and the glutes without the shear forces of the deadlift because the lumbar is kept in a neutral curve and the weight is compressing through the vertical line of the skeleton. i recommend setting a limit of under 2inches for the range of movement with the top of the movement restricted to below neutral hip position. be prepared to use all your weight…

  19. charlie at #

    GREAT POST, i can almost see your setup.
    sounds like you will be getting asked at thanksgiving, just wear a fitted shirt
    they will be stumbling over you…
    do you really do a squat and deadlift standing on one foot? now how’s that for core stability folks?

  20. David A. at #

    Hey Pete,
    Here’s some of the common sense and creativity revolution you have started in my and others’ lives. I want people to see how simple it is to get huge, healthy, and save money and time doing it using your programs, so here’s how I did it at home and couldn’t be happier.

    I put 6 sections of 200lb-test rope through 100lbs of weights and tied them around the bottom weights. I tie the ropes to the bar at either end with a non-slipping rescue knot. I set it up so the weights are never more than a few inches off the ground at the top of the movement. I adjust the ropes so they are all the length for the exercise I want to do. I set the bar on a chair, or whatever, at the right height, tie the ropes, and remove the chair.

    For deadlifts, I make the weights rest on the floor at the bottom of the movement and come up off the floor as I lift. This works pretty safely, since the weights are never over my body and the bar stops being heavy at the bottom of the movement.

    For squats I lengthen the ropes so the bar is mid-thigh, grab the bar and lift with the load on my glutes and quads (while wearing my 2-Ton Lifting Hooks, which are BEAST!). Squats and deads are both at 550lbs one-legged.

    For chest and tris I simply do normal and narrow grip bench press. I get on the floor under the bar and lay on two body-length rugs for padding. Then I just press 500lbs and get huge.

    For my lats I have a sturdy bar at the right height and use weightlifting belts to strap on the necessary weight. I hit the rest of my upper back with bent over rows. I do curls so that the bar is “heavy” when my elbows are bent a little under 90 degrees.

    For abs, I lie under the bar like I was going to bench press, bar in hand with arms extended, and tense my abs to move the bar. It seems to be working since my numbers are going up quickly.

    With this setup I can do SCT and PFT without a gym membership or commute. So long as the bar holds, I could go get 100lbs. of sand at a hardware store and tie it to the bar. Matter of fact, I just did the math. A person could probably set this up this from scratch for less than $300. Roughly 200 bucks for a good bar, 15 bucks for 50’ of 200lb-test rope, 60 bucks for 800lbs of sand (16 bags at 50lbs ea. ~ $3.80 ea., as opposed to steel weights, which are like 90 cents/lb.), maybe ducktape to reinforce the bags, some carpet scraps for your bench press. A lot of this was just lying around my house. Your new SCT/PFT workout area cost $275 if you buy everything. Kinda hard to say no to that. Plus, you could always buy the weight over time as you need it. Think, create, get huge! No paying for even 1-Day gym memberships and gas. It’s no SCT/PFT Machine, and it’s a little rough, but it works in the meantime. Anyway thanks for your work, Pete and Greg. I might even mention it all at Thanksgiving this year, haha. The least I can do is spread the word.
    Thanks Pete,
    David

  21. No. I mean do A, wait 3 days, do B, wait 3 days, do C. Etc. And expect that to change soon as you’ll need more than 3 days off as you get stronger.

  22. Brett at #

    Pete I just bought PFW today. You say “if you are just beginning, you can train twice per week to start”. Do you mean each body part twice in a week, so 6 days? Also I have some lower back issues which may make heavy leg press and shrugs dangerous for me…any ideas for alternative exercises?

  23. Bob at #

    I train in my home and can not afford gym membership anymore.I trained at home for years now.I am sure a lot of the other people on this blog do the same.I do not have access to a hammer strength machine.
    Yes,I agree the hammer and nautilus machines would be superior.At this time I have to work with what I have.~B

  24. That’s a great machine. That’s the one I did my P.R. 900 lb lat pulldown on. (We put a barbell across it and load that.) Check with the gym’s trial lawyer before you do it. Haha.

  25. Brian Schamber at #

    I know the topic is ways to increase the contraction on pulldowns, but why not use a hammer strength pullover machine, since it takes the biceps out of the equation? Two weeks ago I loaded it to full (regulation) capacity, which is 450 lbs (plus whatever the machine weighs) and had my training partners pull back on the weight after I had it out at 45-90 degrees in front of me for 2-3 seconds. It was pretty intense any very fun (and my 63 year old dad matched me on that exercise, cough, genetics, cough).

  26. Bob at #

    I have tried both ways,and the parallel position feels more natural,I feel my lats working more.I get a more powerful contraction in the way you are talking about.I can use more weight in the 90 degree parallel position.When I tried it from the top position I used my biceps more just to keep the straps from slipping of.Thanks for your input on this.~B

  27. JW at #

    For lats, you should be able to get much higher intensity by using
    form similar to that in the old/original Nautilus lat machine.
    That machine braces behind the elbow(similar to your straps),
    but the motion is pulling the arms down until they are
    parallel to the body, or even slightly behind vertical.
    Arms would be similar to hanging at rest straight down besides
    your torso, but with elbow bent ~90 degrees and a strap
    or other gizmo behind the elbow to strain against.

    Pulling down a couple of inches from an overheard position
    is utilizing the lats in a very weak position. It may deactivate
    the biceps but still doesn’t utilize them in a fully contracted position.

    In regards to the biceps, since lats are much stronger than biceps,
    using the biceps doesn’t cheat, it’s just inefficient. I agree that
    using biceps should be avoided, but using them doesn’t ‘help’
    in the effort. Main thing is to get one’s elbow down beside the
    torso or even slightly behind vertical.

  28. Normally we use the top of the range to avoid using the biceps to get lower. Experiment to see where you can use the most weight with the straps.

  29. Bob at #

    Pete,

    I also was wondering if I need to go high with the straps or should my arms be parallel to the ground,as pictured with the model?Thanks again Pete for the advise and help.

  30. It is normally done to the side but it’s fine to experiment to discover whether being more in front allows you to use more weight. More weight is better. :-)

  31. Bob at #

    Pete,

    For the strap pulldowns,do you suggest pulling down with the elbows to the front of me or to the sides of me?Thanks

  32. Hi Troy! Yes, we tested scores of exercises and measured how much intensity they deliver to the target muscle. Then we picked the #1 exercise (with the highest possible intensity) and use only that exercise for that muscle. There are 10 different exercises in the full-body workout. It makes such logical sense you can only ask why everyone else does not do the same. (Don’t get me started. Haha.)

  33. Troy Milton at #

    Hello. I’ve been trying some static contractions in the gym after checking out this website. Makes a lot of sense to me. The part that I’m not sure if I understand totally is the exercise selections. This article about the pulldown, I understand the idea of bypassing weaker muscles and getting the load as direct as possible to the target muscles. Is this what’s happening in all the other static contraction exercises?

  34. Keith at #

    My guess on the knees is that during the exertion, you are literally squeezing out some of the joint fluid and it takes a few seconds to re-inflate. That is not a anatomically exact description but you get the picture.

  35. My guess Daniel is that those will go away with time.

  36. Daniel at #

    hey there Greg, thanks for replying back. I never had a shoulder injury but i do get some nagging joint pains/aches sometimes.

  37. Daniel, have you had any injuries in the past on that shoulder? Is your hand spacing equal on both sides? You could be feeling a bit more pain because that side is your weaker side and is getting more of a load than the right side is. That’s just my guess.
    As far as the pressure in the leg presses go, its normal. As long as its not pain, you should be fine.

  38. Daniel at #

    Hey there Pete, i have been on your program for a bit over a month and i enjoy your workouts. One question I have is why do I get shoulder pain in my left shoulder every time i do lat pull downs? I am using a bit wider than shoulder width overhand grip. And another quick question, when i do leg presses after i finish the 5 second static hold i feel a little pressure in my leg bones/knees for about 3 seconds then it disappears.

    Any help appreciated
    Take Care

  39. Malik, it sounds like that would load the lats but I’m picturing that arrangement as possibly inviting an injury. Is sounds like you’d end up swinging in the air with weights hanging off you.

  40. Malik at #

    Thanks Pete for lat pull down….if we tie heavy weights around waist & hang both the hands from elbows in two straps as shown in picture, will that work for lat?

    Thanks

    Malik

  41. charlie at #

    this felt very strange and could not really pull with full effort safely, i will tinker more later with it. hope to see an answer from pete and may just wait till end of month and my first 5 workouts.

  42. John at #

    Pete,

    I used the wrong term iso in my previous entry. I meant static…sorry.
    Thanks again.

    John

  43. You can do it as an isometric, static hold. You’ll use more weight that way. But you can also do short, strong range reps from the top of the motion to the point you see in the photo. The real value of this method is that it isolates the use of just the lats – whether you do the exercise statically, or strong range or even full range.

  44. John at #

    Hi Pete,
    Regarding the one arm lat pull down with strap;
    Is this a pure isometric exercise?
    I tried it with hanging straps for abs but I used a range of motion pulling with and from my upper lat. It was like doing a crunch for the lats and it did isolate and work them at the same time. Still, I’m not sure if this is correct. Could you elaborate a bit on the movement or if this should be done as an iso with no movement just force against the strap pulling from your lat.
    Thanks…enjoy all your articles and tips.
    John

  45. Jim, the back is slightly bent forward at the waist and the correct motion is to straighten the back up by pushing forward with the hips. Its not a lift with the lower back but more of a push thru with the hips. Lifting the weight with the lower back can cause injury so be very careful with this lift.

  46. I used the Hammer Strength pulldown machine. It was fully loaded plus we put a barbell across it and loaded that.

  47. Brian Schamber at #

    Back when you did your 900 pound pulldown, how did you get the weight down? What type of machine did you use? I think that a Hammer Strength machine can hold a pretty decent amount. Just looking for new ideas to annihilate myself.

  48. charlie at #

    pete
    i guess my question is, what is strong range about this? the shoulder is outstretched and the lat might be too depending on positioning…maybe this is a matter of targeting, if i want to hit my lats without rear delts….i think i want to hit my delts maybe…i am pulling well over 400 already again almost hit 500 before…maybe i will do 2 separate lifts in my routine? this and the biceps have been a lift of contention for years, i just do where i can do the strongest, i think!

  49. charlie at #

    pete
    when i do sct latpull like the pic here i am much weaker and it feels more strenuous to my rear delt. area. in the palm facing i focus my effort off the elbow flexion and into the shoulders pulling down, i am down quite a bit- the bar is about 6in overhead.
    always been fine until last week, little warm up and still stiff in rear shoulder from workout #0. i felt a pull in the rear shoulder(rear delt.) with my peak attempt and could not really do the 6 holds for endurance. thank goodness for no ROM. been a little ginger since 5 days. after tomorrow’s workout i will get a feel for this with straighter arms and a higher bar and just squeeze down, no elbow flexion. probably will need my straps.

  50. In general, heavier weight is more beneficial than any other element. But the new PFW routine is about building muscle endurance so time is a necessary goal. That’s why you need the spreadsheet to calculate what is working for you. It’s a balance between weight/reps/time and you need a few workouts to get dialed in to what is getting your best performance. That’s the fun part!

  51. I stopped making printed books 10+ years ago. The e-books have links to relevant information, some include video, audio and/or additional features that can’t go into print books. Right now Amazon sells more e-books than print books. It took 10+ years but the world is catching up to me. Haha.

  52. Jim at #

    Hey Pete – I can’t quite tell from the photos in your PFW book; for the barbell dead-lift is the starting position with the back straight or bent slightly forward at the waist so that the reps are performed by bending and straightening the lower back? Thanks. Love your stuff!

    Jim

  53. Steele at #

    Pete, in your opinion is it better to use heavier weights in the PFW workout with more rest during the set or lighter weights and more reps with less rest?

    Thanks,
    Steele

  54. Charles at #

    Can I purchase your programs in book form?

  55. This model is actually using the SixPackStrap which is primarily for working the abs. This is a bonus way to use the strap. It’s made by the same guy who makes the lifting hooks.
    Link: http://www.1shoppingcart.com/app/adtrack.asp?AdID=77039

  56. Paul Corben at #

    Hi Pete,

    Your products are awesome!

    With the picture above for the one arm pulldown could you please put up a link for the strap?

    Have an awesome day!

    Paul

  57. Try anchoring your feet under a barbell.

  58. Greg Gilbert at #

    Thanks Pete for clearing up the technique I’ve always been told to pull down to your head head no wonder my arms hurt more than my lats.

    Cheers
    Greg

  59. Jim Coene at #

    That reminds me of another question. When doing the low pulley crunch, I notice i’Il keep slipping out of place. My body slides along the mat slightly after each rep, requiring me to reposition after about every 10 reps. Is this normal? Is there a suggested fix for this? The weight I use is about 4/5ths of my body weight.

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