The latissimus dorsi, commonly referred to as the “lats,” is the largest muscle in your back. A variety of exercises effectively recruit and develop your latissimus dorsi, including pullups, chinups and rows. Lat pulldowns are also a quality latissimus dorsi exercise -- most fitness gyms provide the lat pulldown pulley unit.
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According to ExRx.net, the latissimus dorsi originates at your pelvis, sacrum, vertebral column and the back of your ribs, and then runs up toward each of your shoulders, where it inserts at the back of your humerus bone. Its primary function is to perform adduction and extension at your shoulders joint, however it also assists in internal rotation and transverse extension at your shoulder, and depression, downward rotation and adduction at your scapula.
According to the American Council on Exercise, the seated lat pulldown is an effective exercise for targeting your latissimus dorsi. To perform the exercise, sit at a pulldown pulley machine with your feet firmly on the floor and position your thighs underneath the leg pads. Reach up and grip the bar above your head with both hands, positioning your hands in a wide grip with your palms facing away from you. Pull the bar down toward your chest by driving your elbows down toward your sides. Pull the bar in front of your face until the bar nearly makes contact with your upper chest, and then control it back up by extending your arms.
Lat pulldowns can be completed with a narrow hand position. This causes your shoulder joint to perform a larger degree of shoulder extension and a lesser degree of shoulder adduction. The latissimus dorsi is still the primary muscle recruited, but you require the muscle to work slightly differently. Lat pulldowns can also be completed while standing. Grip the bar and then step back from the seat and position your feet into a staggered stance. Pull the bar to your chest, driving your elbows back and down toward the floor.
If performed incorrectly, lat pulldowns can cause injury to your shoulder joint. Do not pull the bar behind your head when performing lat pulldowns. According to Owen Anderson of the Sports Injury Bulletin, doing so can cause your shoulder to undergo excessive external rotation and cause injury to your shoulder capsule. In addition, pulling the bar behind your head increases your risk of neck injury if you bend your neck too far forward.