Behind the Neck Lat Pulldown

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Behind the Neck Lat Pulldown

The behind the neck lat pulldown (rear pulldown) belongs in the multiple-joint exercise category because both the shoulder and the elbow joints are mobilized. As a result, the pulldown recruits many muscles in addition to the back: the rear shoulders, the biceps, the long head of the triceps, and the forearms.

Pulling the bar down behind the neck is a less favorable trajectory that can cause injury to the shoulder joint (it can be hard on the rotator cuff due to the hyperextension created by bringing the bar behind the neck). It is much better to pull the bar in front of your head, down to your collarbone. Pulling the bar down behind the head does not have a lot of practical application in real life or athletics. The contraction in the lat muscles is not so strong as in the front lat pulldowns. For this reasons, you should pull the bar to your chest, not behind your neck.

Some gym machines simply don’t allow a straight pull to the back of the neck, which means you have two options: either give up on this variation or turn around and face the opposite direction on the apparatus, giving up the bracing pads for your thighs.

Front lat pulldowns and back lat pulldowns will help beginners to develop enough strength to move on to chin-ups and pull-ups. You can increase the resistance to build strength gradually.

Back Lat Pulldowns – Proper Exercise Technique

STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Sit facing the machine with the thighs positioned under the pads, grasping the bar with a wide (wider than shoulder width) overhand grip. As you have both arms extended in front of you holding the bar at the chosen grip width, bring your torso and head forward (lean your torso slightly forward, keeping your neck and back straight). Think of an imaginary line from the center of the bar down to the back of your neck. This is your starting position.

Behind The Neck Lat Pulldown

Behind The Neck Lat Pulldown

MOVEMENT (ACTION): Inhale and pull the bar down to the back of the neck, bringing the elbows alongside the body. Exhale at the end of the movement. Hold the contraction for a moment, then slowly return the bar all the way back to the starting position.

Additional Exercise Tips

  • Position yourself on the seat with your feet flat on the floor, arms extended overhead, and your back leaning just slightly forward.
  • Keep your body fixed throughout the exercise. You should move your arms only.
  • Concentrate on squeezing your back muscles when lowering the weight. In other words, pull your shoulder blades together as you squeeze your lats to initiate the movement, pulling the bar down in a smooth motion to the back of your neck.
  • Slowly pull the bar down to the back of your neck but do not let the bar touch your neck.
  • Maintain proper body position by keeping your chest up and your head facing forward.

Muscles Used

Behind the neck lat pulldown exercise primarily works the latissimus dorsi (mid- and lower back), teres major (below the shoulder blades), and the rhomboids (upper back). Latissimus dorsi, commonly called the “lats,” are the triangle-shaped muscles that extend from below the armpits to the lower back on both sides. They are the largest muscles of the back and the only ones that can be clearly seen in a frontal view.

  • Main muscles: latissimus dorsi, biceps (short head), teres major
  • Secondary muscles: pectoralis major (lower and outside), triceps (long head), teres minor,
    rhomboids, brachioradialis, biceps (long head), deltoid (front and rear)
  • Antagonists: deltoid, pectoralis major (upper), triceps

Exercise Variations

  • Neutral grip front lat pulldown. Use either of the neutral-grip handles (the straight bar with vertical handles, or the triangle handle) to put your arms in a stronger position. While you’ll be able to use more weight, remember that your arms bear some of the extra weight.
  • Supinated front lat pulldown. A false underhand grip results in the easiest pulldown because the best angle of pull for your biceps. The closer your hands are each other, the more the biceps are involved.
  • Wide-grip front lat pulldown. A wider-than-shoulder-width false grip cuts your range of motion slightly but helps you feel the exercise more in your lats and less in your arms.
  • Machine pulldown

Behind the Neck Lat Pulldown Replacement Exercises

There are plenty of other alternative exercises that do the same thing. Choose any other of the following  middle back exercise (latissimus dorsi exercise) for building a wide back:

Exercises that are supposed to develop back width (chin-ups / pull-ups) will primarily recruit the latissimus dorsi and the teres major. When you work this muscles, they certainly grow thicker, but mostly they expand outward, giving the impression of width.

Closing Thoughts

When we started lifting, everyone did lat pulldowns behind the neck (head). Now the front pulldowns rules, and the behind-the-neck version is bogeyman. The front lat pulldown is a better exercise – studies have shown it produces a more powerful contraction in the lat muscles – but we include the behind the neck lat pulldown in our workouts because it’s more clearly the opposite of the behind-the-neck shoulder press. As with the press, on each repetition you should pull down to the same point on your neck and make the line of pull as straight as possible.

This is just another exercise for your back if you lack the upper body strength to lift your own bodyweight in the regular pull-up (chin-up).  If you have shoulder problems that make this exercise painful, use the front pulldown instead.

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