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Muscles Used in a Lat Pulldown Machine

author image Jody Braverman
Jody Braverman is a professional writer and editor based in Atlanta. She studied creative writing at the American University of Paris and received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Maryland. She also received personal trainer certification from NASM and her 200-hour yoga teacher certification from YogaWorks.
Muscles Used in a Lat Pulldown Machine
The primary muscle targeted is the latissimus dorsi muscle. Photo Credit Ibrakovic/iStock/Getty Images

Almost every gym has a lat pulldown machine. It’s a cable apparatus that uses weights and pulleys attached to a bar that you pull down toward your chest. The movement is similar to a pull-up, except that you are not using your bodyweight as resistance. The primary muscle targeted in a lat pulldown is the latissimus dorsi muscle, or "lats," of the upper back. Secondary muscles used include the biceps, trapezius, deltoids and pectoralis minor.

Function of the Lats

Building the lats gives men that wide-backed superhero look, while toned lats can help women reduce the appearance of bra-strap bulge. But the lats serve functional purposes, too. Although they aren’t used in many activities of daily life, they are helpful if you’re a swimmer or rock climber. They also help stabilize the upper spine, which promotes good posture, and you need strong lats for other exercises you might want to do, such as pull-ups, which are challenging for many people.

Secondary Muscles Used During Lat Pulldowns

While the lats do the most work in a lat pulldown, many of the smaller muscles of the upper back are challenged, too, including the lower and middle trapezius muscles, the rhomboids and the levator scapulae. The posterior deltoids on the backs of the shoulders aid in the downward pulling motion, as do the pectoralis minor muscles of the chest and the serratus anterior muscles covering the ribs. The biceps muscles of the arms are also at work in the pulling motion; in fact, if you regularly do lat pulldowns, you could get by with never doing another biceps curl.

Fix Your Lat Pulldown Form

Avoid injury and get the most out of your workout by using proper lat pulldown technique. Sit tall on the seat with your feet flat on the floor. Keep your chest up and slightly puffed out. Pull your shoulders together and down your back. Grasp the bar with a grip wider than your shoulders and keep your elbows under the bar. Pull the bar down to your chin or even a little farther; as you do so, squeeze your lats and imagine pulling from your armpits, recommends Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Stephen Bergeron on the Built Lean website.

Use a slow and controlled motion to pull the bar down, rather than using momentum, which takes the focus off the upper back and puts it in the mid-back. If you need to use momentum, you’re likely trying to move too much weight. Do not pull the bar down behind your neck, which disengages the lats and can lead to shoulder pain. Lastly, Bergeron advises against taking a grip that’s too wide, which can shorten the range of motion and lead to shoulder irritation.

Read more: Lat Pulldown for Triceps

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