Close Grip Lat Pulldown 101 | Form, Benefits, and Variations!

By
Mike Kenler
October 23, 2020

Close Grip Lat Pulldown 

The close grip lat pulldown, also known as the close hammer grip lat pulldown, is one of the best exercises to strengthen your back. This compound exercise can also help improve your arm strength and posture. The close grip lat pulldown is a fantastic exercise for people of all fitness levels. 

Muscles Worked by the Close Grip Lat Pulldown

Primary Muscle Groups:

Given its name, it comes as no surprise that the close grip lat pulldown primarily works your lats. Originating in the lower-mid back, the latissimus dorsi holds the title for the broadest muscle of the back. Your lats play a significant role in most “pulling” exercises such as the lat pulldown, pull ups, and other rowing exercises.

Secondary Muscle Groups:

The close grip lat pulldown also incorporates the biceps, abs, shoulders, and upper back. While your back should do most of the work to bring down the weight, your biceps fully contract as well. Your core also activates to stabilize the movement. 

Close Grip Lat Pulldown Benefits

1. Stronger and Bigger Lats 

Compared to the traditional lat pulldown, the close grip lat pulldown offers an increased range of motion. The close grip attachment allows you to pull the weight down slightly further than you normally would be able to with a wider grip. 

As a result, you maximize the contraction of your lats at the bottom of each rep, which helps to build a thicker, stronger back. A sturdy back is essential for improving your performance in athletics, simple day-to-day activities, and other compound lifts such as the barbell row and the Pendlay row.

2. Improved 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.

The close lat pulldown can help to strengthen these under-utilized muscles and reduce back pain or discomfort. With regular exercise and practice, you can correct your posture in no time.

3. Increased Confidence

While your lats do most of the heavy lifting, the close grip lat pulldown also engages your biceps. The biceps should allow you to pull down more weight than you would normally be able to lift. This can give you a boost of confidence to power through your workout.

That being said, although it’s always important to push yourself to the next level, be sure to use proper form to avoid risking injury!

How to Do the Close Grip Lat Pulldown

Equipment:

For this exercise, you will need a cable machine and a close grip attachment. 

Setup: 

1. Sit on the lat pulldown bench while facing the cable machine. 

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

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

Action:

1. While leaning slightly back, brace your core, bring your shoulder blades down and back, and pull the attachment down until it touches your chest.

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

3. Maintain tightness in your core and repeat!

Recommendation:

You should aim to complete 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps of the close grip lat pulldown. Of course, as you get more comfortable with the form, feel free to change up your set and rep ranges to challenge yourself.

Close Grip Lat Pulldown Mistakes

1. Pulling Too Low 

Many weight lifters tend to pull the close grip attachment below their chest, sometimes all the way down to their waist. After the attachment dips below the chest, the back is no longer engaged.

In this position, the shoulders are stressed and little work is being done. Instead, stop pulling down when the attachment reaches your chest and squeeze your lats hard. Sometimes, less is more when it comes to training properly!

2. Using Your Arms Too Much

Far too often, the arms take over the exercise motion during the close grip lat pulldown. In effect, the lat pulldown becomes a bicep exercise, which greatly reduces the stress on your back.

While the biceps should play a secondary role in the pulldown, try bringing the weight down with minimal help from your arms to focus on your back training.

3. Using Momentum to Pull Down

When lifters use the momentum of their body to bring the weight down, they are almost always lifting too much weight. As a result, they swing their upper body back and forth to compensate.

In reality, using momentum doesn’t help you build strength in your back. If you make this mistake, try decreasing the weight and keeping your back relatively stationary during the close grip lat pulldown to maximize tension on your back. 

Close Grip Lat Pulldown Variations

1. Reverse Close Grip Lat Pulldown

The reverse close grip lat pulldown requires more core stability and mind muscle connection. Begin by sitting away from the lat pulldown machine. Extend your arms upwards to grab the close grip attachment with your palms facing each other.

While leaning slightly back, brace your core, bring your shoulder blades down and back, and pull the attachment down until it touches your chest. Pause briefly at the bottom, squeeze your lats, and slowly return to the starting position. Maintain tightness in your core and repeat!


2. Supinated Lat Pulldown

The supinated lat pulldown is another variation that works the biceps more than the traditional lat pulldown. To begin, sit on the bench while facing the cable machine. Extend your arms upwards to grab the lat pulldown bar with your palms facing towards you. 

Your hands should be roughly shoulder width apart. While slightly leaning back, brace your core, bring your shoulder blades down and back, and pull the bar down until it touches the top of your rib cage. Pause briefly at the bottom, squeeze your lats, and slowly return to the starting position. Maintain tightness in your core and repeat!


3. Alternating Lat Pulldown (with Handles)

You can also train your lats unilaterally with the alternating lat pulldown. To begin, sit on the bench while facing the cable machine. Extend your arms upwards to grab the handles with your palms facing forwards.

Contract your right lat to pull the right handle down. Then, complete the same motion on the left side. Slowly return each handle to the starting position and repeat!

Close Grip Lat Pulldown Alternatives

If you enjoyed the close grip lat pulldown, check out these back exercises to improve your upper body training:

1. Chin Up

Begin by grabbing the bar with your palms facing towards you and your hands shoulder width apart. Pull yourself upwards until your chin passes the bar. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat!

2. Resistance Band Close Row

Secure the resistance band around a pole or a similar stable object at chest height. Grab the handles with your palms facing each other and step back to create some tension in the band.

Keeping your hands together, contract your lats to pull the handles towards your chest. Squeeze your lats hard in this position and return to the starting position. Repeat!

3. Dumbbell Lat Pullover

Grab a pair of dumbbells and straddling the exercise bench. Sit on the bench and place your feet firmly on the ground. Lie back so that your head rests at the end of the bench. Raise the dumbbells side by side directly above your chest with your palms facing forward. Engage your core by bringing your belly button in towards your spine.

Keeping your arms straight, squeeze your lats and slowly bring the dumbbells behind you until they are in line with your head. Squeeze your lats hard at the bottom and contract your chest to bring the dumbbells to the starting position. Squeeze your chest hard in this position.

Maintain tightness in your core and repeat!


Looking for a Full Back Workout? 

Check out this intense 4 minute at home 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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