Close-Grip Lat Pulldowns (Reverse Grip Pulldowns)
Close-grip lat pulldowns are done on a machine found in almost every gym. This great latissimus dorsi exercise belongs in the multiple-joint exercise category because both the shoulder and the elbow joints are mobilized. The wide-grip overhand pulldown is actually best for building a wide back. It better stimulates the teres major and upper-lat fibers, which gives the appearance of winglike lats. Grabbing the bar with your hands outside shoulder width is much tougher for your lats because your arms can’t help as much.
The underhand (and narrow) grip pulldown better stimulates the lower-lat muscle fibers, giving the appearance of thick, full lats all the way down to the waist. In other words, this is equivalent to the chin-up, involving your biceps and lower lats more. You should routinely include both exercises in your back program for the best overall lat development.
How to Perform Close-Grip Lat Pulldowns?
STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Place your legs snugly under the pads on a pulldown machine and position your hands approximately 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) apart on the bar, palms facing you (underhand – reverse grip). Begin with your arms extended upward and your torso erect.
EXECUTION (ACTION): Keeping your torso perpendicular (erect) to the floor and your back slightly arched, slowly pull the bar downward (leading with your elbows), focusing on your back muscles the entire time, until the bar touches your upper chest. At this point, squeeze your shoulder blades together for maximal contraction (squeeze the lats at the bottom by pulling the elbows down and back as far as possible). Return to the starting position, extending your arms completely at the end of each rep to achieve a full stretch.
Exercise Key Points To Remember
- Underhand (reverse) grip – palms facing you;
- Narrow grip – little closer than the shoulder width;
- Keep your elbows close to your torso as you bring them as far back behind you as possible; focus on pulling your shoulder blades together;
- Leaning your torso back about 30 degrees from the vertical plane improves trajectory and helps isolate the latissimus dorsi muscle. Do not lean back to far or pull the weight down with momentum.
- Keep your torso steady. Don’t let your torso sway backward during the exercise – doing so takes effort off the lats and shifts it to the upper back. When your torso is steady, the lats do all the pulling. If you have trouble remaining stationary, have a spotter gently place his or her hands on your shoulders.
- Pull the bar past your chin and down toward your collarbone, hold for a brief moment (or a two count), then slowly return the bar to the start by fully extending your arms. Don’t pull the bar below collarbone level. Avoid leaning back too far, and don’t pull the weight down with momentum.
Muscles Involved in Close-Grip Lat Pulldown
Exercises that are supposed to develop back width (as this one here) 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.
- 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
Wide-Grip Lat Pulldows vs Close-Grip Lat Pulldowns
Using a close grip with supinated hands is easier than using a wider grip in pronation; however, the biceps work more and the back works less with this version. If you are a beginner, a supinated, close grip is good to use until your strength increases.
Close-Grip Lat Pulldown Variations
- A narrow, neutral grip handle (palms facing together) can also target the lower latissimus muscles from a different angle. You can also use V-Bar attachment (as you’d use for seated cable rows) – it’s shaped like a triangle that’s open on one side. When you use the triangle handle to position your hands close together, palms facing each other, you arm and back muscles are in more powerful position. You can handle maximum loads using this attachment.
- If you don’t have access to a pull-down machine, you can do the same movement using a chin-up bar.
Bodybuilders tend to divide back-training exercises into three categories: those for width, those for thickness and those for the lower back. Width exercises place most of their stimulation on the outer edges of the upper and lower lats, helping to emphasize the V-shape. The best width exercises are variations of chin-ups and pulldowns.
- Wide-grip lat pulldown
- Vertical traction exercise
- Behind the neck lat pulldown
- Assisted pull-ups
- Straight arm lat pulldowns
Lat pulldown is another good exercise for your back if you lack the upper body strength to lift your own bodyweight in the regular chin-up (or pull-up). The muscles involved are almost identical. As you can see from the images above, you put your hands in the same position as when performing chin-ups. In this exercise you can increase the resistance to build strength gradually.
The pulldown belongs in the multiple-joint exercise category because both the shoulder and the elbow joints are mobilized.
Traditional bodybuilders have always considered chin-ups to be a cut above cable pulldowns, but this is just another example of the comparison between a free weight and machine exercise. For the user, the muscle intensity achieved is virtually identical. In chin-ups, a beginner will find it hard to pull all the way up even once (at least with good technique) and advanced athletes tend to carry weight in the form of pounds of muscle (and bone) that stops them from doing many repetitions. Very few people can actually manage a sufficient number of well-done chins. Cable pull-downs make a good alternative and make it possible to progressively increase the weight from a light warm-up to as heavy an exercise as you want.