Double Vs. Single Pulley Lat Pulldowns

The single pulley and the double pulley lat pulldown are exercises performed on special cable weight machines. The technique you choose to perform the exercises is different depending on how the machine is set up; however, both techniques target and work the same muscles. Lat pulldowns are designed to strengthen and develop the muscles of your back.

A pretty woman is doing pulley lateral pulldowns. (Image: alexovicsattila/iStock/Getty Images)

Muscles Targeted

The primary muscle targeted is the latissimus dorsi. These are triangular, fan-shaped muscles covering your middle to lower back and are instrumental in pulling your arms down toward your pelvis. Some of the more significant secondary muscles worked are the biceps, trapezius, rhomboid and rotator cuff muscles. With the downward pulling movement, the elbows bend, which engages the biceps, the muscles in front of your upper arm. At the bottom of the pull, your shoulder blades are drawn down and together, which engages your trapezius and rhomboid muscles located in your upper back. The rotator cuff muscles help to keep your shoulder joint stable.

Single Pulley Technique

The basic single pulley lat pulldown is executed on a cable machine where a single cable is attached to a bar at one end and weights at the other. After setting the desired weight, sit on a bench in front of the machine, reach up and grasp the bar with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart and palms facing forward. As you exhale and by using only your arms, pull the bar down until it reaches the top of your chest. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold the position five seconds. Inhale, slowly return the bar back to the starting position and repeat.

Double Pulley Technique

The double pulley lat pulldown requires a special cable machine equipped with two high pulleys, one on each side. Each cable is attached to a separate handle at one end and weights at the other. After setting the machine to the desired weight, sit on a bench in front of the machine. Reach up with your right hand and grasp the left pulley handle and then reach up with your left hand to grasp the right pulley handle. In this starting position, the cables will be crossed with your arms extended, your lats stretched, your hands crossed at your wrists and your palms facing forward. In an arc movement, pull the handles down until your hands are in front and slightly off to the sides of your shoulders. At the bottom of the pull, turn your hands so that your palms are facing each other and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Pause, slowly return to the starting position and repeat.


The lat pulldown has more variations when performed on a single pulley machine. These include using a wider or narrower grip, palms facing backward, pulling the bar down behind your neck, standing and pulling the bar down with straight arms, and using only one arm to pull the bar. A single pulley machine with a bar limits your motion; however, a full range of movement can be achieved with a double pulley machine.

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