What is a Lat Pushdown? (A complete guide for bodybuilders)

What is a lat pushdown - Header image

What Are Lat Pushdowns?

Lat pushdowns effectively strengthen and add mass to the Latisimus Dorsi muscles in the back. They can be performed on a lat pushdown machine, in a standing position in front of a cable machine or in a laying position with a fixed barbell or dumbbells.

The Lat Pushdown is a great exercise if you are looking to add width to your back and are chasing the V-Taper. It targets the lats from a different angle to regular rows and lat pulldowns making it a great movement for hypertrophy.


How to do a Standing Lat Pushdown

Standing lat pushdowns are the easiest form of the exercise and allow constant tension making them a better option than the laying option. You will need a cable machine ideally with a double rope attachment. 

How to do a lat pushdown

  1. Set the pulley pin of the cable machine to a high setting and attach the double rope.
  2. Select a relatively light weight to start with (Pyramid up once comfortable with the form)
  3. Stand in front of the cable with your knees slightly bent and feet at shoulder width for stability.
  4. Grap the rope attachment at each end with a firm grip, hinge slightly at the hips so that you are slightly bent forward and take a deep breath. This is your starting position. 
  5. Upon exhaling, pull the rope attachment down keeping the back straight and the arms slightly bent but rigid.
  6. As the rope comes down, pull the ends apart so that they go on either side of your hips. 
  7. When your elbows have gone just past your back, pause. Hold this position for a second or two and squeeze the lats.
  8. Slowly raise the rope attachment back up breathing in as you go and keeping the body and arms rigid.
  9. Repeat for the required number of reps and sets. 

Tips for the best results

Focus on strict form with this exercise. You are not going to be able to go very heavy whilst keeping the body rigid so go light, slow and steady. Make sure that you can feel the mind-muscle connection each time you contract the lats at the top of the movement for maximum effect. 

If you do not have a double rope extension for your cable machine, you can use a straight bar, v-bar, EZ bar or tricep bar. You will not get the same range of motion as you can not move each arm behind your back at the top of the movement but they will still work to a certain degree. 

Another option is to work each side individually with a single rope attachment or even just by holding on to the ball stop on the cable. Although working each arm separately will take longer, it will allow you to really isolate the muscle and connect with it. 

Muscles worked with a Lat Pushdown

The Lat Pushdown is a great exercise for the back muscles. It works out the latissimus dorsi, one of the largest muscles in your back. This muscle also helps you to stabilise your shoulder joint and improve your posture.

Although other muscles are bought into the movement as stabilisers, this exercise only really puts major tension on the lats so it can be great for isolating the muscle if you want to directly target it.

Other muscles that are engaged in the movement are the rear delts, forearms, triceps, spinal erectors, chest and core. Because it is not possible to go too heavy with a lat pushdown, these supporting muscles only have minor involvement and will not be put under much strain.

Alternatives to the Lat Pushdown

There are no other exercises that target the lats from the same angle as a lat pushdown but there are a few others that are great for adding overall mass to the area. Here are a few of the best alternatives:

- Bent-over barbell row

The bent-over barbell row is a great compound movement if you want to go really heavy on the back. It activates the lats, rear delts, traps, rhomboids, spinal erectors and the biceps. The hamstrings, forearms and core muscles also play a big part in stabilising the body for the movement. 

Bent over row

All of this muscle activation from one movement makes the bent-over row one of the best exercises for developing the back for both hypertrophy and strength. 

- Seated cable row

Another great rowing exercise to add to your back training routine is a seat cable row. By performing this movement in a seated position, you can take away many of the stabilising muscles and concentrate on the target muscles. 

Seated Cable Row

In this case, the lats, rear delts and traps will be taking the majority of the strain making it another good alternative to the lat pushdown. 

- Pull-ups

Pull-ups are underused and underrated by most lifters. Many look at them as a warm-up exercise or a finisher after a heavy back session but they are a great muscle builder in their own right. 

By focusing on slow movement and strict form, you can place the lats, rhomboids and rear delts under a lot of strain and really promote hypertrophy. 

Pull ups

If you are training from a home gym, a pull-up/dip station should be one of the most utilised stations that you own. If you are building a home gym, make this station the first thing you buy. It is cheap, has a small footprint and allows you to work the entire body and core without any weights. 

- Barbell deadlift

The deadlift is one of the big three when it comes to mass building and adding strength. It activates the entire rear chain so not only are you getting a good back workout but the glutes and hamstrings are also heavily activated. 

Deadlift

So many muscles are activated with this compound movement that it puts a real strain on your central nervous system. This, in turn, tells your brain to temporarily release more testosterone and HGF-1 growth hormones. Over time, this will make a big difference to the strength and mass gains in the entire body, not just the back. 

All lifting routines should include deadlifts, squats and heavy pressing for optimal growth and hormone release. 

- Lat Pulldown

Lat pulldowns are great for isolating the lats and hitting them from different angles with different grips. Many believe that using a wide grip will help with adding width to the lats but recent studies have shown this not to be the case. 

Lat pulldown

A narrow, underhand grip or a v-bar grip will add just as much width but will also add thickness to the lats making this the best option for hypertrophy. 

Conclusion

The benefits of training your back in the gym are numerous, ranging from increased muscle strength, improved posture and overall improved performance.

If you are a Bodybuilder looking to compete, the benefits of a good back routine will be displayed on stage.

Whilst heavy rows, deadlifts and lat pulldowns are great for adding mass to the back, adding lat pushdowns into your routine will give a thickness to the lats and more definition between them and the other surrounding muscles like the rhomboids and traps.

If you are not already using lat pushdowns in your training routine, add them in and see the benefits. Just remember to keep the resistance relatively light, the movement slow and to get a good connection with the target muscle.

We hope that you have found this article useful. If you looking for the best hypertrophy training split for a natural bodybuilder, check out our HyperGrowth program by clicking on the banner below. 

HyperGrowth bodybuilding program


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