What Part of the Body Do Lat Pulldowns Work?

Your back muscle handles most of the work during the lat pulldown.

Your back muscle handles most of the work during the lat pulldown.

It’s likely you’ll have to wait in line for a bit if you want to add the lat pulldown to your workout regimen. It’s a common exercise for developing muscles in the upper body. The exercise involves sitting at a cable pulley unit and then pulling a barbell from over your head and down to your upper chest. Most often the exercise is done with the hands in a wide grip and with your palms facing away from you, but you can tweak your grip to emphasize certain muscles.

Back

It might seem that your arms are doing the work when you pull the bar down to your upper chest, but it’s your latissimus dorsi muscle in your back that’s considered the primary mover. The latissimus dorsi -- often referred to as the lats – originate at the spine and then shoot up towards the back of your upper arm. When they contract, they pull your arm down towards your torso. The back of your shoulder muscle, which is called the posterior deltoid, also helps you pull your arm down.

Biceps and Other Elbow Flexors

When you pull the bar down to your upper chest your arms are pulled down towards your torso and your elbows simultaneously bend. The biceps brachii muscle at the front of the upper arms handles flexing the elbow joint. Also helping out the biceps to bend the elbows are your brachialis and brachioradialis muscles, which are near the biceps at the front of the upper arm and forearm.

Scapula Muscles

An array of muscles are near your scapula bones at the upper back. These muscles help stabilize the scapula bones when you move your shoulder joints. During the lat pulldown, your infraspinatus, teres minor, rhomboids, levator scapulae and trapezius muscles are responsible for rotating the scapulae downward and retracting them, so that the bottom of the scapula bones slide toward the spine and the entire bone pinches inwards.

Considerations

How you grip the lat pulldown bar changes how your muscles work. The wider your hands are on the bar, the more work the latissimus dorsi muscle has to do because there’s a lesser degree of elbow flexion; your biceps brachii, brachialis and brachioradialis muscles aren’t as involved. If you bring your hands into a shoulder-width position, however, your elbows perform a greater degree of flexion and your biceps are more heavily involved. A narrow hand position is less challenging and you can likely lift more weight than when using a wide grip.

 

About the Author

Kim Nunley has been screenwriting and working as an online health and fitness writer since 2005. She’s had multiple short screenplays produced and her feature scripts have placed at the Austin Film Festival. Prior to writing full-time, she worked as a strength coach, athletic coach and college instructor. She holds a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton.

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