9 Intense Lat Pulldown Variations | How to Build a Bigger Back!

By
Mike Kenler
November 2, 2020

Anatomy of the Lats

The latissimus dorsi holds the title for the largest muscle in your back. Your lats span from your mid-lower back out to your sides and behind your arms. 

The lats activate to help adduct and rotate your shoulders,  as well as move your torso forwards and upwards when your arms are over your head. 

These muscles also play a significant role in most “pulling” exercises such as the lat pulldown, pull ups, and other rowing exercises.

Benefits of Lat Pulldown Variations

The lat pulldown is an essential back exercise, as few other exercises activate the lats with equal intensity. 

Training with an array of lat pulldown variations can provide the following benefits:

1. Stronger and Bigger Lats 

Nearly every lat pulldown variation maximizes the contraction of your lats at the bottom of each rep. With proper mind-muscle connection, you will build a thicker, stronger back in no time.

A sturdy back is essential for improving your performance in athletics, other compound lifts, and simple day-to-day activities. 

Performing a wide range of lat pulldown variations will help you accomplish any of your fitness goals. 

2. Improved Posture

Lat pulldown variations are some of the best exercises to improve posture. Hours of sitting in chairs at work or while driving can cause an underuse of your lats and other back muscles.

As a result, this can lead to slouching, pain, and tension in your shoulders and back. 

Lat pulldowns can act as posture correctors and help to activate these under utilized muscles. With regular exercise, you will be standing upright with proper posture in no time.

3. Improved Aesthetics

Far too often, people tend to focus on exercising the most prominent muscles in the front of their body—the abs, chest, and arms. 

While these are important muscle groups, building muscle evenly across your body is safer and more physically appealing.

Whether you are trying to increase size, improve definition, or increase strength in your back, these lat pulldown variations will undoubtedly help you accomplish your goals.

9 Intense Lat Pulldown Variations

1. Resistance Band Kneeling Lat Pulldown

During the banded kneeling lat pulldown, the resistance increases as you pull downwards. This means you have to work harder throughout the exercise motion.

Setup: 

a) Attach your resistance band to an elevated hook or door frame and sit or kneel on the ground.

b) If your band has handles, extend your arms upwards to grab the handles with your palms facing forward. If your band does not have handles, grab the band with your palms facing forward and your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart. 

Action:

a) Brace your core, bring your shoulder blades down and back, and pull the band down until it reaches roughly chest level.

b) Pause briefly at the bottom, squeeze your lats, and slowly return to the starting position.

c) Maintain tightness in your core and repeat!

2. 1-Arm Lat Pulldown Machine

If you prefer to use machines at the gym for extra stability, the 1-arm lat pulldown machine is a great way to work your lats unilaterally.

Setup:

a) Assume a sitting position on the pad with your back straight and your feet planted firmly on the ground.

b) Secure your knees underneath the knee pads and engage your core.

c) Reach up with one hand and grab the handle with an overhand grip.

Action:

a) Contract your lat to pull the handle downwards.

b) Squeeze your lat hard at the bottom of the rep and slowly return to the starting position.

c) Repeat this motion for your desired number of reps!

3. Cable Straight Arm Pulldown

The straight arm lat pulldown allows for a greater range of motion than the standard lat pulldown. This can help you build a bigger back with every rep.

Setup: 

a) Set your straight bar or lat bar attachment to just above shoulder height. 

b) Stand in front of the pulley machine with your feet shoulder width apart.

c) Grasp the attachment with an overhand grip and your arms fully extended.

d) Maintain a slight bend in your knees and lean forward slightly. 

Action:

a) Keeping your arms straight, squeeze your lats to bring the bar down to your thighs.

b) Pause briefly at the bottom of the rep, squeeze your lats hard, and slowly return to the starting position.

c) Maintain tightness in your core and repeat!

4. Supinated Lat Pulldown

Also known as the underhand lat pulldown, this lat pulldown variation may help you lift more weight, as your biceps play a larger role in the pulling motion.

Setup: 

a) Sit on the bench while facing the cable machine.

b) Extend your arms upwards to grab the bar with your palms facing towards you. Your hands should be roughly shoulder width apart.

c) Lean slightly back and brace your core.

Action:

a) Bring your shoulder blades down and back and pull the bar down until it touches the top of your rib cage. 

b) Pause briefly at the bottom, squeeze your lats, and slowly return to the starting position.

c) Maintain tightness in your core and repeat!

5. Alternating Lat Pulldown (With Handles)

You can also train your lats unilaterally with the alternating lat pulldown. 

Setup:

a) To begin, sit on the bench while facing the cable machine. Keep your back straight. 

b) Extend your arms upwards to grab the handles with your palms facing forwards. Engage your core.

Action:

a) Contract your right lat to pull the right handle down. 

b) Then complete the same motion on the left side.

c) Squeeze your lats hard at the bottom of each rep.

d) Slowly return each handle to the starting position and repeat!

6. Close Grip Lat Pulldown

The close grip lat pulldown variation works key muscles in the middle of your back more than the traditional lat pulldown. 

Setup: 

a) Sit on the lat pulldown bench while facing the cable machine. 

b) Secure your legs in a comfortable position under the knee pads.

c) Extend your arms upwards to grab the close grip attachment with your palms facing each other. 

d) Lean slightly back and brace your core.

Action:

a) Bring your shoulder blades down and back and pull the attachment down until it touches your chest.

b) Pause briefly at the bottom, squeeze your lats, and slowly return to the starting position.

c) Maintain tightness in your core and repeat!

7. Wide Grip Lat Pulldown

The wide grip lat pulldown variation works the outer portion of the lats more than the standard lat pulldown.

Setup: 

a) Sit down facing the cable machine and use the knee pads to lock in your legs and secure your knees directly above your ankles.

b) Extend your arms upwards to grab the bar at the widest grip position with your palms facing away from you. Your hands should be wider than shoulder width apart.

c) Lean slightly back and brace your core.

Action:

a) Bring your shoulder blades down and back, and pull the bar down until it touches the top of your rib cage. 

b) Pause briefly at the bottom, squeeze your lats, and slowly return to the starting position.

c Maintain tightness in your core and repeat!

8. Side Straight Arm Pulldown

This lat pulldown variations is one of the best unilateral lat exercises. You will need a cable machine and a handle attachment.

Setup:

a) Set the pulley machine so that the handle attachment hangs just above your shoulder.

b) Stand to the side of the machine and reach one arm out to grab the handle with your palm facing down. Your arm should be straight in this position. 

Action:

a) Contract your lat to pull the handle down to your side. 

b) Squeeze your lat hard at the bottom and slowly return to the starting position.

c) Repeat this motion for your desired number of reps!

9. Close Grip Reverse Lat Pulldown 

The reverse close grip lat pulldown variation requires enhanced core stability and mind muscle connection. 

Setup:

a) Begin by sitting on the pad facing away from the lat pulldown machine.

b) Extend your arms upwards to grab the close grip attachment with your palms facing each other. Engage your core.

Action:

a) Bring your shoulder blades down and back and pull the attachment down until it touches your chest. 

b) Pause briefly at the bottom, squeeze your lats, and slowly return to the starting position. 

c) Maintain tightness in your core and repeat!

Looking For A Full Back Workout?

Follow along to this intense 5-minute dumbbell back workout!

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Mike Kenler
Director of Writing | Certified in Plant Based Nutrition at T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies

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