The lat pulldown is an effective back-widening exercise. It is also easy to learn and accessible as the equipment required for the exercise is standard at most fitness centers. This exercise involves a multi-joint movement that flexes and extends your elbows and shoulders. Add the lat pulldown to your workout routine to tone your upper body and increase your strength for pullups.
A lat pulldown machine uses a long handle that bends near the ends. It is attached to an upper pulley on a weight machine. You sit facing the machine with your hands on the bar at a position wider than your shoulders. Your palms face the machine with your arms straight. Exhale and pull down with your elbows as you lower the bar toward the top of your chest. Pause for one or two seconds, then inhale, straighten your arms and return to the starting position.
The main muscle mover in the lat pulldown is the latissimus dorsi, or lats. They are located on the sides of your middle- to lower-back. You probably recognize the lats on bodybuilders because the muscle looks like wings that extend from underneath the shoulder to the lower back. As your lats contract, the distance between your arm and your sides shortens, as it does during the lat pulldown.
Your lats are not the only muscles in your back that contribute to the pulldown. Your rhomboids, located between your shoulder blades, contract to stabilize your shoulder throughout the exercise. Your trapezius, located across your upper back and down the center of your back, is also strengthened during the lat pulldown.
The rear deltoid muscle in your shoulder contracts as you pull the bar down toward your chest. Deep within the shoulder, the rotator cuffs are involved in the lowering and raising of the bar as your shoulder remains stable.
The three muscles that make up your biceps -- the biceps brachii, the brachialis and the brachioradialis -- are also used during the lat pulldown. When the bicep group contracts and shortens, your arm flexes. This flexion occurs when you pull down the lat bar and decrease the angle at your elbow.
A mother of two and passionate fitness presenter, Lisa M. Wolfe had her first fitness article published in 2001. She is the author of six fitness books and holds an Associate of Arts in exercise science from Oakland Community College. When not writing, Wolfe is hula-hooping, kayaking, walking or cycling.