For optimal back size and shape, is it better to do wide-grip pulldowns or reverse-grip pulldowns? We decided to find out. Here are some of the facts of the case.
Take a wide-as-possible overhand grip on a lat bar attached to the high pulley of a lat pulldown station. Keep your chest up and your lower back arched as you pull the bar down, and let your elbows go out to your sides and down as you bring the bar to your upper chest, pulling your shoulder blades together. Hold the contraction for a moment and then slowly return the bar to the top position.
Take a shoulder-width, underhand grip on a lat bar attached to the high pulley of a lat pulldown station. Keep your chest up and your lower back arched as you pull the bar down to your chest.
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. Hold the contraction for a moment and then slowly return the bar to the top position.
During wide-grip overhand pulldowns, the elbows move from above the shoulders down toward the sides of the torso while staying in the same plane as the torso. The upper-lat muscle fibers and teres major have the best line of pull to move the arms through this range of motion. This was demonstrated in a research study performed at the University of Miami (Coral Gables, Florida).
During an underhand-grip pulldown, the elbows move from above the shoulders and in front of the body to behind the back. The lower-lat muscle fibers have the best line of pull to move the arms through this range of motion.
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. The underhand grip pulldown better stimulates the lower-lat muscle fibers, giving the appearance of thick, full lats all the way down to the waist, a la Dorian Yates. You should routinely include both exercises in your back program for the best overall lat development.
Author: Jim Stoppani, PhD
References: J.F. Signorile et al., “A comparative electromyographical investigation of muscle utilization patterns using various hand positions during the lat pull-down,” The journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 16(4), 539-46, 2002.
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