Straight Arm Lat Pulldown | How to Grow a Bigger and Stronger Back!

By
Mike Kenler
September 14, 2020

Straight Arm Lat Pulldown

The straight arm lat pulldown is one of the best exercises to strengthen your lats. This isolation exercise can also help to improve your posture and build a bigger back. The straight arm lat pulldown is an essential exercise for people of all fitness levels.

Muscles Worked by the Straight Arm Lat Pulldown 

Primary Muscle Groups:

As you may have guessed, the straight arm lat pulldown primarily works your lats. Originating in the lower-mid back, the latissimus dorsi is the largest 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 straight arm lat pulldown also incorporates the triceps, chest, abs, shoulders, and upper back. While your back should do most of the work to bring down the weight, other muscle groups will activate to help stabilize the movement. 

Straight Arm Lat Pulldown Benefits

1. Bigger & Stronger Back

Compared to the traditional lat pulldown, the straight arm lat pulldown allows for a greater range of motion. As a result, your lats will fully contract at the bottom of each rep, which will help you build a bigger, stronger back. A sturdy back is essential for improving your performance in athletics, other compound lifts, and simple day-to-day activities. 

2. Enhanced Mind-Muscle Connection

Because your arms are straight during the straight arm lat pulldown, your biceps cannot drive the weight downwards. Therefore, this exercise isolates the lats and improves your mental connection to your lats during the exercise motion. Not only will this help you build lat strength, but it will also help you focus on activating your lats during other back exercises. 

3. Improved Posture

Hours of sitting in chairs at work or while driving can cause you to underuse your lats and other back muscles. As a result, this can lead to slouching, pain, and tension in your shoulders and back. The straight arm lat pulldown can help to activate these under utilized muscles and reduce back pain or discomfort. With regular exercise, you will be standing upright with proper posture in no time.

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How to Do the Straight Arm Lat Pulldown

Equipment:

For this exercise, you will need a cable machine and a straight bar or lat bar attachment.

Setup: 

1. Set your straight bar or lat bar attachment to shoulder height. 

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

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

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

Action:

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

2. Pause briefly at the bottom of the rep, squeeze your lats hard, 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 straight arm lat pulldown. As you get more comfortable with the form, feel free to change up your set and rep ranges to challenge yourself.

Straight Arm Lat Pulldown Mistakes

1. Bending Your Arms

Many lifters tend to bend their arms during the straight arm lat pulldown. Bending the arms allows the triceps to take over during this exercise, thus removing tension from your back. It is better to lift less weight with perfect form than trying to lift too much and making mistakes. Be sure to keep those arms locked out straight during the straight arm lat pulldown.

2. Using Your Arms Too Much

Another common mistake made during the straight arm lat pulldown is using your arms to pull down the weight. Your arms should play a secondary role in this exercise. Instead, try consciously focusing on utilizing your lats to bring the weight down to get the most out of the straight arm lat pulldown. 

3. Completing Partial Reps

Far too often, many weightlifters will pull down the attachment halfway and then return to the starting position. Completing partial reps with heavier weight risks injury and steals your potential gains. Instead, bring the attachment all the way down to your thighs for a full contraction of the lats.

Straight Arm Lat Pulldown Variations

1. Straight Arm Band Pulldown 

For an at home variation of the straight arm lat pulldown, attach your resistance band to an elevated hook and kneel on the ground. Contract your lats and pull down as far as you can. Repeat!


2. Straight Arm Pullover

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet planted on the ground. Grasp a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip and extend your arms straight up above your chest. Slowly bring your arms back until the dumbbells touch the ground. Then, squeeze your lats to bring them back to the starting position. Repeat!


3. Side Straight Arm Pulldown

The straight arm pulldown can be performed unilaterally and to the side as well. Set up a resistance band or pulley system with the handle at shoulder height. Keeping your arm straight, extend your arm out to the side and contract your lat to the pull the handle down to your thigh. Squeeze your lat hard at the bottom of the rep and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat!

Straight Arm Lat Pulldown Alternatives

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

1. Wide Grip Lat Pulldown

The wide grip lat pulldown variation of the lat pulldown also reduces the resistance on your forearms and biceps. To set up, grab the bar with your palms facing away from you and your hands more than shoulder width apart. Then, pull the bar down until it reaches the top of your chest. Note — because your arms take a back seat on this variation, you might have to decrease the weight!



2. Underhand Barbell Row

Bend over at a 45 degree angle and grab the barbell with an underhand grip. Squeeze your lats to row the barbell towards your belly button with each rep. Repeat!

3. Alternating Lat Pulldown (with Handles)

The alternating lat pulldown is another great way to train your lats unilaterally. Using two separate handles, you can pull down one at a time. The alternating lat pulldown is a great way to correct muscle imbalances between the right and left sides of your back.


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Looking for more back workouts? Check out this intense 5 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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