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.
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.
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.