Developing Your Lats With a Pulldown Machine – Guide & Recommendations
If you’re keen to work on your back muscles then there are few machines as effective as a lat pulldown machine to get the results you want. These machines are great to have in your home gym and most can also be used for other exercises like standing curls and low rows.
When it comes to buying your own lat pulldown machine it can be hard to know what makes a good value machine. This guide to cable pulldown machines will help you to understand what to look for, what exercises you can do with them, common technique problems and lots of other information you need to know before committing to buying this piece of equipment.
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- What are lats?
- What’s a lat pulldown machine?
- How to use a lat machine
- Types of exercises one can do on it
- What muscles does it train
- Free weights vs. machine resistance lat pulldowns
- The wrong way to use a lat pulldown machine
- Things to consider when buying one
- A list of the 10 best lat pulldown machines
Whether you’re a seasoned weightlifting pro or just starting out with getting fit in your home gym, there’s something for everyone in this guide. So let’s start right from the basics:
‘Lats’ are a short form of the word latissimus dorsi, which are large muscles in your back. In fact, they’re the largest muscle in the upper body and connect to the spine, ribs, pelvis, scapula and upper arm. This muscle performs many different functions, including rotating, abducting, extending your arms, and pulling your arms back and down.
The lat muscles are essential for stabilization and good posture. Those with weak lats may find they have a hunched posture or get chronic shoulder and back pain.
While of course lat pulldown exercises work the lats, you also use your lats in many exercises, from deadlifts to pull ups and bench presses. For this reason they’re an essential muscle for bodybuilders to work on.
A lat pulldown machine is a piece of exercise equipment where you pull a bar or handle down from above you. This bar is on a cable and can have different loads attached to it. Lat pulldown machines are designed to work your ‘lat’ muscles in your back.
When it comes to doing the classic lat pulldown movement, there are some things to consider before you jump right in so that you can avoid improper technique and potential injury. Follow these steps:
#1 Set Up
Sit down on the seat and adjust its height and position to suit you, before adjusting the leg padding. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor and the leg pad will lock you down and prevent your feet and legs rising up when you pull on the bar.
#2 Set the Weight
Next, it’s time to choose your weight setting. Different lat pulldown machines have different ways of loading weight, from pull-pins to physically adding plates to the pegs. Either way, start with a relatively low weight and work your way up from there. The general rule is that you want to have enough weight that your muscles fatigue with 8-15 repetitions, depending on whether you have strength or endurance goals.
#3 Find Your Pulling Position
Check that you have the right position by standing, facing the weight stack, and holding the lat bar with a wide overhand grip. This means that your hands should be spaced wider than your shoulders. Then sit down onto the seat and put your legs under the leg padding. Finally, extend your arms overhead, while keeping your core tight. Make sure the bar is in the correct position and that everything is running smoothly with these movements. Once you’re sitting down this is a good position to begin your workout.
#4 Begin the Lat Pulldown
Keep your body still, breathe out and then slowly pull the bar down and in front of you. You should bring the bar down to your chest level with your elbows pointing down. Then inhale and extend your arms back overhead in a controlled movement. Don’t let your arms completely extend in order to avoid elbow over-extension. Bring the weight stack to a rest gently, just above where it will stop, instead of slamming it back into place.
#5 Rinse and Repeat
Now you have the right technique, repeat the exercise. If you’re new to lat pulldowns then a good starting amount is 8-12 repetitions in sets of 1-3.
VIDEO: Watch ‘The Lat Pulldown’ in Action
There are a number of variations of the lat pulldown exercise that can work different muscles. Try a wider grip, but not super wide, on the bar and you might find it harder to pull down, or opt for a narrow grip to activate your chest and forearm muscles more. If you’re reaching the limits of your machine’s weight, or just want a challenge, then have a go at single arm pulldowns. Doing lat pulldowns with an underhand grip also target slightly different muscle sets and can be great preparation if you’re working towards underhand pullups.
Many lat pulldown machines come with a bottom pulley for other exercises. If you buy a cable machine with this feature then you can significantly mix up your exercise routine because it will allow you to perform standing curls with one or both hands in order to work your biceps more, as well as seated rows that will target your trapezius muscles, deltoids, biceps, forearm flexors and more.
Finally, if you’ve ever had shoulder damage or injuries then you can perform a variation of the lat pulldown that is less intense on your shoulders. The half-kneeling one arm lat pulldown still targets your latissimus dorsi while also having the benefits of putting less strain on your shoulders and adding more of a core workout to the movement.
To perform this exercise, stand in a half kneeling split stance with your front knee at 90 degrees and the weight on your flat front foot and the ball of your back foot. Grip the bar with the same hand as your back leg, with your thumb pointing down, and as you pull down have your thumb rotate to point upwards. This movement works out your rotator cuff in your shoulder. When you pull down the bar be sure to keep your core tight and avoid arching your back. Your elbow should point straight to the ground.
Any vertical pulling motion, such as that used with a lat pulldown machine, will activate your latissimus dorsi. However, a lot of other muscles are also used. You probably never knew what a big workout your arms, back and chest gets from a simple pulldown. Here are most of the muscles that are activated when you workout with a cable pulldown machine:
- Rhomboids – These are rhombus-shaped muscles on each side of the upper back. There’s the rhomboid minor and rhomboid major and they both help to retract the scapula.
- Trapezius – This large group of muscles is in the upper back that moves and stabilizes the scapula and supports the arm. The triangular shaped muscle extends from the middle of the spine, out to the shoulder and to the neck.
- Serratus anterior – This muscle sits on the surface of your ribs, from the first to the eighth rib to be exact. It extends from the side of the chest over to the scapula.
- Levator scapulae – This muscle can be found at the back and side of your neck and it aids in lifting up the scapula.
- Posterior deltoids – The posterior deltoids are on the backs of the shoulders and help with the downward pulling motion of a lat pulldown. The deltoids form the round part of the shoulder.
- Pectoralis minor – Pectoralis muscles are the muscles of the chest, and the pectoralis minor is a thin, triangle shaped muscle at the upper part of the chest. It acts to draw the scapula up.
- Biceps – Yes you can even work your biceps with a lat pulldown exercise. Known as the biceps brachii, these muscles are on your upper arm between your shoulder and elbow. Biceps aid to flex the forearm and turn at the elbow. In the lat pulldown, your biceps help with the pulling motion, especially if you use an underhand grip.
While free weights have been gaining popularity over machines recently, the lat pulldown machine remains a firm favorite among gym goers and home trainers. In fact, the lat pulldown machine made it into Greatist’s list of ‘7 Gym Machines Worth Using’. The reason lat pulldown machines are so good is because they are great at targeting your lats and shoulders and can often be the only way to help prepare you to do a pullup. Lat pulldowns build up those essential back muscles and allow you to progress from easy to harder pulls ahead of trying an actual pull up.
Stuart Munro is a certified personal trainer for the New York Health and Racquet Club. He suggests that those new to working out and using a lat machine begin by trying an under grip first before progressing to the more difficult close grip or wide grip pulls. The under grip engages more of the biceps, which can aid you with the pulldown until you build up strength.
Free weights are usually seen as superior to machines because they engage more stabilizing muscles, allow more movement patterns and develop better balance and coordination. However, they can also cause more injuries due to their wide range of motion and instability.
Machines are ideal for safely guiding a movement and many come with a use explanation attached so you can check you have correct form. The bottom line is that if you’re new to an exercise or are coming back from injury then machines are a great alternative. “If you haven’t got full strength, or balance, or full range of motion, machines are much safer,” said Munro.
Like with all exercises, there are some common technique problems people fall prey to when they are doing lat pulldown exercises. These can lead to an ineffective workout at best, and injury at worst. Stephen Bergeron is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist holding a BS in Exercise Physiology from Bridgewater State University. This biomechanist and personal trainer gave some advice on the most common lat pulldown problems and how to fix them:
AVOID Pulling the Bar Behind Your Neck
At some point this variation of a lat pulldown became popular but it’s essentially a waste of time. The range of motion of your lats is significantly reduced, so your workout is much less effective. Stick to regular lat pulldowns where you keep the bar in front of you.
DON’T Pull the Bar Too Low
If you pull the bar down below your chest then you actually disengage your lat muscles so you get less of a workout. What’s worse is that if you pull down and let your elbows point backwards then your shoulder automatically comes forward, which creates too much load for these muscles and can cause shoulder pain and injury. To prevent this, only bring the bar to chest height and ensure your elbows continue to point down.
DON’T Use Too Much Momentum
If you use more momentum than muscle you inadvertently change the angle you’re pulling at and use your mid back more than your lats. If you feel like you really can’t pull the bar down without some added momentum, there’s a simple fix – use less weight.
DON’T Use a Super Wide Grip
While wide grip lat pulls can be good for using different muscles, your regular lat pulldown shouldn’t be this wide. It can shorten your range of motion and irritate the shoulder joint too much. Aim to grab the bar about shoulder width apart, usually where the bar bends.
Other things to think about in order to improve your technique are keeping your chest up tall and thinking about squeezing your lats by pulling from your armpits. Hopefully all these tips will mean that you get the best results with the smallest amount of repetitions by not wasting any energy and targeting specific muscle groups, while also helping to avoid injuries that can cause you pain and keep you away from your training.
We’re not all cable pull machine experts, but we all want to make sure we’re getting the best value equipment for the money we’re paying. There are certain things to look out for when it comes time to buy your own lat pulldown machine that make them of higher quality and more versatile for your workouts. Here’s a quick checklist for when you’re thinking about spending some money on a machine for your home gym:
- Does it have a bottom pulley: Some lat pulldown machines are not just designed for lat pulldown exercises. Instead, some have a bottom pulley added on so that you can complete standing curls and seated rows. These significantly mix up your workout routine by allowing you to work different areas of the arm, legs, back and core, so it may be worth investing in a machine that has this bottom pulley feature.
- Is the seat adjustable: Getting the right height when you’re sitting and being comfortable during your workout are essential so make sure the seat is adjustable to a range of different heights.
- Does it come with an adjustable leg-restraint: A padded leg restraint is a must-have with a lat pulldown machine. The restraint keeps your feet flat on the floor and your legs locked down so that you don’t raise too far up with the bar and end up with bad posture.
- Warranties: Some companies that sell lat pulldown machines offer warranties on the entire machine or just certain parts, like the frame. These warranties may be for months, years or even lifetime guarantees. Some online companies won’t offer a warranty so ask some questions and get familiar with any warranty there is available.
- Weight capacity: Are you a budding exercise enthusiast or veteran weight lifter? You should have some idea of how much weight you’ll want to be lifting so take a look at the machine’s maximum weight and think about your long term goals in relation to that number.
- Olympic or standard plates: Does your new lat pulldown machine take standard or Olympic weight plates? Most will be for standard plates and will require a special adaptor sleeve if you want to use Olympic plates instead. If you’re planning to use Olympic weights then make sure the machine is compatible with them, or that the adaptor sleeve comes included.
- Weight adjustment system: How do you attach more weight to your machine? Some lat pulldown machines will come with rectangular weight plates incorporated into the machine and use simple pull-pins or pop-pins to adjust the weight. However, many will have pegs for you to add your own weight plates instead.
- Are the weights included: Many lat pulldown machines come in a box to be assembled by the user, and as such the weights do not come included. If you’ve already started your home gym then this might not be a problem as you’ll have a variety of weights that can be added to the lat machine. However, if you don’t have many weight plates lying around then you’ll need to buy them separately or invest in a cable pulldown machine that comes with them included.
- Steel grade: A common misconception is that with steel, a higher gauge number equates to more thickness. However, the opposite is true. So a 14 gauge steel frame is actually thinner than a 12 gauge steel frame. Keep this in mind when you’re looking at the details of a lat pulldown machine. Generally you’ll want the thickest steel you can get as it will be more durable and stable.
Reading the guide on how to properly use lat pulldown machines, the benefits they offer, and what to keep an eye out for, should have given you a better idea about how to proceed. Now that you are well informed and ready to see what’s out there, here are the best lat pulldown machines on the market in a neat lineup of the top 10.
#10 – Lat Machine Pull Down by ATLAS
- Includes long bar and short bar
- Aircraft quality cables
- Can be used with Olympic or standard plates
- 2 inch thick steel frame
This Lat Machine by ATLAS is great for lat pulldowns, bicep curls, seated rows and more. It’s a versatile piece of machinery with a pivoting seat, two different sized pulldown bars, the option for Olympic or standard plates, and a roller knee support that can be adjusted in three different ways.
The ATLAS pull down machine is also durable with 2 inch steel, aircraft quality cables coated in nylon and thick stitches on the cushion.
Who Makes It
ATLAS is a relatively unknown brand that is specializing in low cost home gym equipment, from squat racks to lat pulldowns. They keep their fitness gear simple and affordable so that they are easily accessible to a wide range of people.
The Lat Machine is a solid and affordable choice for home gym builders. It’s durable and provides a great deal of options for your daily workout. Lowest price we found.
#9 – Valor Fitness CB-12 Plate Loading Lat Pull Down
- 12 gauge steel tubing
- Plate storage holds up to 250 lbs
- Lower cable attachment for leg extensions
- Adjustable front foot plate for curls and rows
This small but powerful lat pull down machine is super adjustable with locking pull-pins for easy adjustments, an adjustable seat and a variety of added extras for more varied exercises. There’s an ab crunch harness, a lower cable attachment for leg extensions or standing curls, plus an adjustable front foot plate for curls and rows.
The Valor Fitness lat pulldown machine is durable with a 2 inch steel frame and 12 gauge steel tubing. It also comes with plate storage pegs at the back that hold up to 250 lbs.
Who Makes It
Valor Fitness was founded in 2006 by Jim Vanderbleek. The company creates fitness machinery and accessories for home training studios and distributes them from California, Texas and Largo.
Valor Fitness have created a versatile piece of equipment that can be used to work the arms, back, core and legs. It has durable steel construction and easy adjustments. This lat pulldown machine’s main drawcard is the amount of exercises you can do with it, allowing for dozens of effective workouts. Lowest price we found.
#8 – Family Lat/Row Machine (Black) by NYB
- Includes bottom pulley for rows
- 2 inch steel tubing
- Heavy duty coated cable
- Designed for standard plates
The NYB Lat/Row Machine is an affordable piece of equipment with 2 inch steel tubing, a heavy duty coated cable and smooth sealed ball bearing pulleys. There’s the cable pull down for arm and back exercises, plus a bottom pulley for seated rows. This lat pulldown machine is designed to hold standard plates, however, sleeves can be added in order to hold Olympic plates.
Who Makes It
New York Barbells sell TDS Fitness Equipment and the company prides themselves on fast shipping and quick replacement parts. This is thanks to the company having a warehouse of parts and a manufacturing facility together. They can easily replace damaged parts and create new parts as needed.
The main benefit of this machine is how affordable it is. It has decent construction and a bottom pulley for a more diverse workout so it’s a solid contender, especially for the price. Lowest price we found.
#7 – Deltech Fitness Lat Pulldown Machine
- 500 lbs weight capacity
- For standard and Olympic plates
- 14 gauge steel tubing
- Zinc plated hardware
The Deltech Fitness Lat Pulldown Machine has quality construction with aircraft quality cables, improved metal hub pulleys, top quality vinyl and high density foam padding on the seat for comfort. The hardware is zinc plated, while the lat pulldown and row bars are chrome plated. It is designed to hold both standard plates and Olympic plates so you won’t have to waste money on buying a different weight system or adaptor, and aims for a smooth and ergonomic pulling feel.
Who Makes It
Deltech Fitness is a big contender in the home fitness equipment industry. They’re committed to making equipment that will last for years to come, with high grade steel, quality vinyl and stitching. Their equipment is designed to tough engineering standards so that you can trust in your fitness equipment and get the results you’re aiming for.
This is a good looking and smooth operating machine that comes with quality construction, both a lat pulldown and seated row pulley system and can hold a massive 500 lbs of weight. The amount of weight it carries makes it a real winner. Lowest price we found.
#6 – York ST Lat Pulldown with 300 lb. Weight Stack
- Comes with 300 lbs weight stack
- White or silver frame
- 4200 pound tensile strength aircraft quality cable
- Leg lock down
This cable workout machine from York ST is a sleek looking piece of equipment that can suit any home gym as it comes in white or silver. Unlike many lat pulldown machines, the weights are included. There’s also an adjustable leg hold-down piece that locks you down to secure your body position and promote good form and posture.
Who Makes It
The York Barbell Company has been a huge influence in weightlifting since its foundation in 1993. The company was started by Bob Hoffman, who was named the “Father of World Weightlifting” by the International Weightlifting Federation. The company was pivotal in the development of weightlifting equipment and nutrition, and helped to shape the fitness industry through its innovative product design, education, athletic sponsorship and competition. The name also became famous for its successful Olympic weightlifting team, The York Barbell Club.
The York Barbell Company now develops, manufactures and distributes strength and fitness products to continue its mission of encouraging health and fitness in all people.
While more expensive than many cable pulldown machines, this one comes from a reputable company, with weights included and has high quality construction. Lowest price we found.
#5 – Champion Pull Down and Low Row Combo Machine
- 1 Year Manufacturers Warranty
- 2 inch steel tubing
- Comes with adjustable knee rollers
- Lat pulldown bar and rowing attachment included
You know the Champion Pull Down and Low Row Combo Machine will last the distance with 2 inch steel tubing and high density padding with marine vinyl, topped off with a 1 Year Manufacturers Warranty. You can ensure good posture and proper workout technique with adjustable knee rollers, and add variety to your workouts with a 20 inch bar and a 48 inch lat bar rowing attachment.
Who Makes It
This machine comes from TACVPI, a popular fitness brand that is stocked by both Walmart and Sears. While relatively unknown, the company has been producing a wide range of affordable fitness apparatus, from medicine balls to power racks, kettle bells and more.
This is a mid-priced lat pulldown and rowing machine from a reliable brand. It’s made from good materials, has all the basics, plus an awesome 1 Year Manufacturers Warranty. Lowest price we found.
#4 – Powerline PLM180X Lat Machine
- Large 8 inch foam rollers
- Light construction
- Patented nylon brushings
- 1 inch weight posts
The Lat Machine allows you to complete not just lat pulldowns but also tricep press downs, seated rows, curls and more. You’re sure to stay in the right position during your exercises with a large 8 inch foam roller to keep you locked down, which can be adjusted in two different positions. The Powerline Lat Machine also has patented nylon brushings to ensure smooth and clean operation. This machine is simple and light, weighing in at 76 lbs, so it’s easy to maneuver but favors lighter weight lifters.
Who Makes It
Powerline comes from Body-Solid, a company founded in 1989. Since then the company has expanded from a small warehouse to selling in 57 countries from California to New Caledonia and Belgium. However, its core values remain the same – to provide good value and high quality weight training equipment to all. In fact, Body-Solid are known for providing fitness equipment to police and fire departments, sports teams, universities, medical facilities and fitness centers across the world.
This is a simple and light machine that is easy to move around and take with you if you move. Lowest price we found.
#3 – Giant Econo Lat Machine
- 400 lbs weight capacity
- Adjustable seat pads
- Lifetime warranty
- Lat pulldown and row bar included
The Giant Econo Lat Machine comes from Yukon Fitness. Nylon brushings and chrome tubing allows a smooth pulling motion, and it comes with a three way adjustable seat pad, adjustable knee padding, built in bar storage, a foot plate designed to correct your bio-mechanical angle during low rows, plus two bars for lat pulldowns and rows.
Who Makes It
Yukon Fitness have been creating high quality fitness products since 1991. They pride themselves on using top-quality materials and careful craftsmanship in order to make them stable, durable and effective. Yukon Fitness don’t believe in cutting corners by reducing the quality of their steel or removing extras. They want to provide affordable machinery that is excellent value for money.
The Giant Econo Lat Machine stands above many other lat pulldown machines due to its 400 lbs weight capacity and amazing lifetime warranty. It’s also very affordable considering all the included extras. Lowest price we found.
#2 – Body-Solid Pro Lat Machine
- No cable changes from low and high pulley exercises
- Patented nylon brushings
- Pop pin adjustments
- Lat bar and straight bar included
The Body-Solid Lat Machine comes with no-cable-change technology so you can effortlessly transition between high and low pulley exercises. It has a thick, comfortable seat pad, easy pop pin adjustments, comes with a lat bar and straight bar, a multi-position leg foam roller, a seated row foot brace and diamond plate stabilizers for extra balance and stability. If that wasn’t enough, there are patented nylon brushings that allow for super smooth pulling movements.
Who Makes It
Body-Solid Inc. are a big name in the fitness equipment industry. They’re a leading manufacturer and distributer in the home and commercial market and are well known for providing high quality products. Body-Solid have been around for over 20 years and have one of the widest selections of fitness products in the industry, from weight plates and dumb bells to kettle bells and machines.
From humble beginnings, the company now has a huge distribution facility and sells in over 100 countries across the world. Body-Solid has made a name for itself by creating great quality gear, providing excellent customer service and lifetime warranties.
This is one of the best lat pulldown machines around with top quality materials, lots of extras and a wide range of easy adjustments. Lowest price we found.
#1 – XMark Lat Pulldown and Low Row Cable
- 400 lbs weight capacity
- Can be used with standard or Olympic plates
- High and low pulleys
- 11 gauge steel frame
The Xmark Lat Pulldown and Low Row Cable offers superior quality with 11 gauge steel in 2 inch and 3 inch thickness with a scratch resistant powder coat finish, nylon coated aircraft quality cables, an extra thick cushion for comfort, plus tear and sweat resistant vinyl. The Xmark machine can be used with standard and Olympic plates thanks to included sleeve adaptors. It’s the little details that set the Xmark Lat Pulldown machine apart, including chrome plated bars, textured rubber hand grips and bolted on, skid resistant feet.
Who Makes It
Xmark Fitness are all about comfortable and durable products, from their high quality, sweat resistant vinyl seats to their strong frames and stable bolted on feet. The company focuses on ergonomic design, fantastic customer service and great attention to detail. All of these aspects have made them a leader in the fitness equipment industry.
All the quality extras at a mid-range price makes the Xmark Lat Pulldown and Low Row Cable the best lateral pulldown machine around. It’s top quality craftsmanship and durability mean you’ll love to use this machine for years to come. Lowest price we found.
All set! We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this guide to lat pulldown machines and the lineup of recommendations. If you do decide to own one, make sure you adhere to proper form when exercising. Otherwise, check back on this post every now and then as we constantly update our lists and guides. Please feel free to share with friends and family on social media if you found value in it.
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