The lat pulldown has cemented itself as a staple back exercise for practically any training purpose – but what if things can be taken further by the small change of a wider grip?
The wide grip variation of the lat pulldown allows for greater focus to be placed on the muscles of the back (rather than those of the shoulders and arms) and is simple enough to be performed by even the most novice of weightlifters.
In this article, we will review the more salient aspects of the wide grip lat pulldown, how best to take advantage of its many benefits, and a few common mistakes to avoid.
What is the Wide Grip Lat Pulldown?
The wide grip lat pulldown, in technical classifications, is a compound machine-based exercise primarily performed so as to train the latissimus dorsi and other nearby muscle groups found in the back.
It is frequently used within the context of an accessory exercise, and sets of the wide grip lat pulldown usually feature high amounts of repetition volume so as to elicit optimal muscular hypertrophy.
The wide grip lat pulldown is considered to be a variation of the conventional lat pulldown, with the main difference between the two being the distance of the hands from each other, as well as the angle at which the arms are drawn backwards.
Who Should do Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns?
Wide grip lat pulldowns are relatively simple and low-risk, and are entirely suitable for even the most novice of lifters. It is particularly useful for bodybuilders seeking greater upper back width without the use of heavy free weight compound movements like the barbell row.
However, those with a history of shoulder or shoulder blade injury may wish to avoid this exercise so as to avoid further injuries.
How to do a Wide Grip Lat Pulldown
To perform a repetition of the wide grip lat pulldown, the lifter will seat themselves within the machine as they grip the pulldown bar overhead. The hands should be set significantly wider than would be the case for a traditional pulldown, at anywhere from one-and-a-half to twice the width of the shoulders.
Pushing the chest upwards and outwards and contracting the core so as to straighten the torso, the lifter will draw their arms vertically downwards – keeping the elbows parallel to the hands as the bar is pulled beneath the chin. The movement should be driven by contraction of the latissimus dorsi and retraction of the scapula.
Once the bar is at the bottom of the range of motion, the lifter will squeeze their lats. From this point, they will simply reverse the motion in a slow and controlled manner.
Once the arms have returned to their original state of extension, the repetition is considered to be complete.
What Muscles Does the Wide Grip Lat Pulldown Work?
The wide grip lat pulldown is a multi-joint exercise, meaning that more than a single muscle is used at once.
The various muscles recruited during a repetition of the wide grip lat pulldown are classified according to their function within the movement, with dynamically contracted muscles referred to as primary and secondary “mover” muscles, whereas those contracted isometrically are called “stabilizer” muscles.
Primary and Secondary Mover Muscles
The wide grip lat pulldown primarily works the latissimus dorsi – but other muscles like the rhomboids, teres muscles, infraspinatus, posterior deltoid head and biceps brachii are also used in a dynamic capacity as well.
In terms of stabilizer muscles, the posterior deltoid head (again), the erector spinae, forearms and abdominals are all worked alongside the mover muscles.
What are the Benefits of Doing Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns?
In addition to the more general impact of resistance training as a whole, wide grip lat pulldowns also offer the following advantages – many of which are unique to the wide grip lat pulldown itself.
Excellent for Building the Lats
The wide grip lat pulldown is one of the most effective exercises for targeting the lats, as the wide grip used means that the muscles of the arms and deltoids are utilized to a lesser extent. This causes the latissimus dorsi to bear more of the resistance than would be the case with the conventional or narrow grip lat pulldown.
For the best lat development, it is best to perform wide grip lat pulldowns within the hypertrophy range of repetitions – somewhere between 6 and 15 repetitions per set.
Pairs Perfectly With Heavier Compound Back Exercises
Although the wide grip lat pulldown is also considered to be a compound exercise, it is rarely performed to the same level of intensity as other back exercises such as the barbell row or pull-up.
As such, this can create the opportunity for greater training volume of the back without producing the same level of fatigue and joint strain as would be the case with other heavy compound movements.
The wide grip lat pulldown is often paired with horizontal pulling movements so as to create a more well-rounded back workout, and pairs particularly well with row variations of all types.
Reinforces Scapular Biomechanics and General Posture
Because the latissimus dorsi (and nearby muscles) play a role in the movement of the shoulder blades, it stands to reason that directly strengthening them will also reinforce any biomechanical functions related to the shoulder blades as well.
This can help correct imbalances in scapular movement, improve flexibility of the related tissues and help the lifter consciously execute mechanical functions with the scapula itself.
In addition, the muscles of the posterior deltoid head, erector spinae, core and other mid-back muscles all help maintain proper upper body posture – especially in cases where the individual slouches at the upper back or the neck, as is often the case in previously-sedentary individuals.
With the correct rate of progression, individuals with poor upper back posture will find marked improvements as they regularly perform the wide grip lat pulldown.
Before using any form of exercise in a rehabilitative or corrective manner, it is important to first consult your doctor, as doing so without prior approval may make matters worse.
Builds the Coveted “V-Taper”
A term more specific to bodybuilding culture – the “v-taper” is the appearance of a wider upper torso in relation to the waist and hips. This bodily aesthetic is in part created by developing the width of the latissimus dorsi muscle, as it is one of the widest muscle groups spanning across the upper body.
Bodybuilders, fitness models or individuals seeking the v-taper will benefit greatly from incorporating the wide grip lat pulldown into their routine, considering that it is one of the most effective exercises for eliciting hypertrophy of the lats.
Common Wide Grip Lat Pulldown Mistakes
Despite the simplicity of the wide grip lat pulldown, there are nonetheless several common mistakes that must be avoided so as to create a safer and more effective exercise.
Insufficient Range of Motion
As is the case in all exercises, failing to perform the wide grip lat pulldown through a full range of motion can reduce its effectiveness as a training tool. Not all muscles are recruited throughout the entirety of the movement pattern, and time under tension is established to be a vital aspect of eliciting muscular development.
An insufficient range of motion effectively hamstrings both aspects of the exercise, as it will not only shorten how long the muscles are under tension, but also potentially alienate certain muscles as they are not recruited during the range of motion.
In order to perform the lat pulldown correctly, each repetition must begin and end with the arms extended overhead, with care taken to ensure that the pulldown bar is drawn beneath the chin at the midpoint of the movement.
Over Relying on the Arms
As the name implies, the wide grip lat pulldown is meant to primarily be a latissimus dorsi exercise. The biceps brachii (and other arm muscles) are meant to act only in a secondary capacity at most, and are in fact in a disadvantageous position due to the wide grip used in the exercise.
Overly relying on the arms to draw the bar downwards not only defeats the purpose of the exercise, but can also potentially lead to shoulder irritation and injury. To avoid this, the lifter must focus on drawing the bar towards their chest by retracting their shoulder blades and engaging their lats.
Swinging With the Torso
In a similar mistake to relying on the arms excessively, the torso itself should also play little to no part in drawing the bar downwards. This includes any bending of the waist, hinging at the hips or otherwise moving the upper body in a manner that draws emphasis away from the lats and the muscles of the back.
For lifters having difficulty keeping their torso stationary, contracting the core and ensuring that the knees are firmly pressed against the pads of the seat may help.
Using Excessively Wide Grip
At most, the hands should be set at twice the width of the shoulders, if not less. The further apart the hands are placed along the bar, the more disadvantageous the position of the shoulder joint, and the higher the risk of impingement or similar issues therein.
This is especially an issue for individuals with poor shoulder mobility or a history of injury, and additional care should be taken to not only keep the hands at a comfortable width, but also to ensure that the shoulders are down and back as they perform the exercise.
Wide Grip Lat Pulldown Variations and Alternatives
If the wide grip lat pulldown doesn’t quite fit your needs – or if you just want to shake up your workout – then there are a few variations and alternative exercises that may be performed instead.
Underhand/Supinated Lat Pulldowns
Also known as a “chin-up grip” pulldown, the supinated grip pulldown is performed for the opposite purpose as the wide grip pulldown, as it places far greater emphasis on the muscles of the mid-back and the biceps brachii, rather than the lats.
As the name implies, the supinated grip pulldown is performed with the hands set shoulder-width apart and in an underhand orientation – not only placing greater emphasis on the aforementioned muscles, but also making the movement somewhat easier due to a more advantageous position.
Underhand lat pulldowns function less as an alternative to the wide grip lat pulldown and more as a supplementary exercise that can act as a substitute if the lifter finds their biceps and mid-back to be lagging behind.
Wide Grip Pull-Ups
For lifters without access to a lat pulldown machine, it is possible to partially recreate the benefits of the exercise through the use of pull-ups instead.
Wide grip pull-ups are simply conventional bodyweight pull-ups performed with the hands set distinctly wider than shoulder-width apart, and function in much the same way as wide grip lat pulldowns save for the greater amount of weight being lifted.
Lifters should note that the risk of injury with wide grip pull-ups is somewhat greater in comparison to wide grip pulldowns, and due caution should be taken.
Vertical Traction Machine
The vertical traction machine is a lesser-known alternative to the wide grip pulldown that shares many of the same benefits and mechanics.
It involves the lifter seating themselves with a machine and performing a pulldown with the arms parallel to the sides of the head – resulting in somewhat less latissimus dorsi recruitment but greater deltoid and trapezius focus instead.
The vertical traction machine may be used as a direct alternative to the lat pulldown, and fulfills much the same role within a workout.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Is a Wide Grip Better for Lat Pulldowns?
If your goals involve greater lats growth – then yes, a wide grip is better when performing lat pulldowns. Just remember that doing so will also change the manner in which your arms will move, and shift some of the emphasis away from the biceps brachii.
What is the Difference Between Wide and Regular Lat Pulldowns?
During wide grip lat pulldowns, the hands are set significantly wider than shoulder width apart, and the elbows will remain largely parallel to the hands throughout the movement.
In comparison, regular lat pulldowns involve the hands at approximately shoulder width apart, and the elbows being drawn back to the sides of the torso in a more diagonal movement.
What is the Difference Between Narrow and Wide Lat Pulldowns?
Narrow grip lat pulldowns place a greater emphasis on the rhomboids and trapezius muscles – as well as the middle section of the latissimus dorsi.
Wide grip lat pulldowns focus more on the outer section of the latissimus dorsi, and feature far less involvement of the biceps brachii than the narrow grip lat pulldown does.
The wide grip lat pulldown is an excellent tool for building up back width and vertical pulling strength. When performed with proper form and the right kind of programming, it can be invaluable for weightlifters of all types and goals.
Keep in mind that the wide grip lat pulldown features a somewhat greater risk of shoulder joint stress than its conventional or narrow grip counterparts, and as such performing a proper shoulder mobility drill beforehand is essential.
If you begin to experience pain or a “catching” feeling in the shoulders at any point during the exercise, it is best to stop performing it and to seek out the advice of a medical expert.