The Lat Pulldown vs. the Straight-Arm Pulldown

Make heads turn when you step out in that backless little black dress.

Make heads turn when you step out in that backless little black dress.

You put your bra on in the morning only to turn around and see that your chest has invited over some friends to hang out in the back. That backless dress you are dying to wear out on the town hides in the back of the closet because the rollover of skin on your back just isn’t attractive. If back fat is a struggle, the lat pulldown and straight-arm pulldown exercises are just what you are looking for. Which exercise you use, or use first during a back workout, depends on your needs and goals.

Lat Pulldown

Choose a weight amount you can comfortably lift. Sit at the lat pulldown machine and secure your upper thighs underneath the pad. Reach up and grab the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Use an overhand grip with your palms facing forward and your thumb wrapped around the bar. Keep your back straight and lean back slightly at the hips.

Exhale, bend your elbows and slowly pull the bar down to your chest. Maintain your leaning position but do not lean back any farther. Do not let your upper body hunch over to complete the pulldown. If this happens, you are probably lifting too much weight. Your elbows should move downward toward the floor. Do not allow them to move backward as this movement places too much stress on the shoulder joint.

Inhale and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat for eight to 12 repetitions.

Straight-Arm Pulldown

Stand in front of the machine with one foot slightly in front of the other for stability. Reach up and grab the bar with the same grip as the traditional lat pulldown. Bend your elbows approximately 30 degrees and maintain this slight bend throughout the exercise. Bend slightly forward at the hips while maintaining a straight back.

Exhale and slowly pull the bar downward until your upper arms are at your side and your palms are facing the wall behind you.

Inhale and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat for eight to 12 repetitions.

When to Use Each Exercise

Perform the straight-arm pulldown when you plan to focus specifically on the latissimus dorsi muscle in your back. The straight-arm pulldown is a single-joint exercise, in that you are only moving your shoulders. Because of this, the latissimus dorsi is the main muscle controlling the load and is not using the assistance of secondary muscles.

Use the straight-arm pulldown as a pre-exhaust exercise in your workout routine. As a single-joint exercise, the straight-arm pulldown pre-fatigues the latissimus dorsi muscles and allows for a more intense back workout. Follow with lat pulldowns, deadlifts, bent-overs rows and seated rows for a complete workout.

Alternate each exercise during your back workouts. If you work your back muscles twice a week, perform the lat pulldowns during your first weekly workout and the straight-arm pulldowns during your next workout to provide variety in your workout routine.

Items you will need

  • Lat pulldown cable machine
  • D-handle attachment (optional)


  • Variations in the lat pulldown include an underhand grip and the rear pulldown where you pull the bar behind your neck.
  • If one side of your back is flabbier, it may be beneficial to target each side separately. For this, consider the one-arm lat pulldown. With the traditional lat pulldown, both arms work together on one bar. With this, your dominate side may end up doing more of the work. To counteract this, connect a D-ring to the cable and perform one-arm lat pulldowns. The basic steps are the same but you only pull with one side at a time.


  • Consult a physician before starting any new exercise program to discuss medical conditions and exercise concerns.
  • Choose a weight amount that provides resistance while still allowing you to maintain proper form. As the exercise becomes easier, increase the weight amount. Not following proper form increases your risk of injury.

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About the Author

Deborah Lundin is a professional writer with more than 20 years of experience in the medical field and as a small business owner. She studied medical science and sociology at Northern Illinois University. Her passions and interests include fitness, health, healthy eating, children and pets.

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