Lat Pushdowns: The Secret to a Strong and Defined Back

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lat push down

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You’ve finally made it here! Your back and you want your lats to be huge and strong! (you see what I did there!)


You’ve been training hard in the gym and paying your dues with barbell rows, chin-ups and dumbbell rows! You have some muscle mass in your lats, and your overall back strength is up! But you want more! You demand more! You deserve more!


And I’m going to show you how to be back bigger! (I did it again!)


I want to share the most effective exercise to shape your back and give it the cobra-esque appearance you’ve always wanted!


My friend, I’ll give you the lat pushdown!


The most overlooked back and lat building exercise that will give you that wide cobra-esque look that we all work for!


So get ready and dedicate the next 5 mins of your life as I share with you just how good the lat push-down is, why you need to do it for a big back, what the benefits are and how you can add it to your back-building workout routine!


Let’s go!


What Are Lat Pushdowns?

Lat pushdowns are an awesome strength-training exercise which targets the latissimus dorsi muscles. These two wing-looking muscles are in the upper back, giving you that brilliant v-shape look from the back (and front).


These muscles pull the arms down and back, making them important for exercises like pull-ups and rows.


Recommended Read: >>> How to Do The Smith Machine Row? <<<

Which Muscle Do Lat Pushdowns Activate and Train?

The lat pushdown primarily hits the upper back’s lattisimus dorsi muscles (the “lats”). They are significant back muscle that enables you to pull your arms down and back. Without them, you couldn’t row or push your chest out.


In addition to the lats, lat pushdowns can also engage other muscles in the back and arms, such as the trapezius, rhomboids, and triceps.


However, the primary focus of the exercise is on the lats, making it an effective way to target and strengthen this muscle group.


Lat Push Downs

Why Are The Benefits Of Lat Pushdowns?

I’ve put together five core benefits of this exercise which I have observed from training over 1000’s people:


Strengthening the Lats: As mentioned earlier, lat pushdowns target the latissimus dorsi muscles, which are essential for various upper body movements, including pull-ups and rows. Strengthening the lats can improve your overall upper body strength and help you perform these exercises more efficiently.


Improving Posture: Weakness in the upper back muscles can lead to poor posture and rounded shoulders. By strengthening the lats with exercises like lat pushdowns, you can help improve your posture and reduce the risk of back pain.


Enhancing Athletic Performance: Strong lats are essential for athletes who engage in sports that require upper body strength, such as swimming, rock climbing, and rowing. Lat pushdowns can help enhance your performance in these sports by improving your pulling strength and power.


Versatility: Lat pushdowns can be performed using various equipment, such as cable machines, resistance bands, or even dumbbells. This versatility makes it easy to incorporate lat pushdowns into your existing workout routine or switch up your training.


Isolation: Lat pushdowns offer a great way to isolate and target the lats specifically, which can be challenging with other compound exercises like pull-ups or rows.


Recommended Read: >>> 10 Best Lat Pulldown Alternative Exercises <<<

lat push down_2

Recommended Read: >>> How Much Does The Smith Machine Bar Weigh? (Answered) <<<

What Is The Difference Between Lat Pushdowns and Lat Pulldowns?

There are some key differences between the two exercises, and I can summarise them as follows:


  • Equipment: Lat pushdowns are performed using a cable machine with a high-pulley attachment, while lat pulldowns are performed using a cable machine with a bar attachment pulled down in front of the body.


  • Movement Direction: Lat pushdowns involve pushing a weight down towards the thighs, while lat pulldowns involve pulling a weight down towards the chest.


  • Grip: With lat pushdowns, the hands are positioned with an overhand grip on the cable attachment, while with lat pulldowns, the grip can be overhand or underhand on the bar attachment.


  • Muscle Activation: While both exercises primarily target the latissimus dorsi muscles, lat pushdowns tend to emphasise the lower portion of the lats. In contrast, lat pulldowns tend to activate more of the upper portion of the lats.


Should I Do Pushdowns Standing or Kneeling?

Whether you should do pushdowns standing or kneeling depends on your preference and fitness goals.


Over the years, I have got results from both movement styles and always defaulted to using both – changing them every workout.




Standing pushdowns are the more common variation of the exercise and involve standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and using a cable machine to push the weight down towards your thighs. This variation engages more stabilizer muscles in the legs and core and can help improve overall balance and coordination.


Kneeling pushdowns involve kneeling before a cable machine and pushing the weight from your upper chest toward your thighs. This variation removes the stabilization aspect of the exercise, allowing you to focus more on isolating and targeting the lats.


Ultimately, both standing and kneeling pushdowns can be effective exercises for strengthening the lats. If you’re new to the exercise, you may want to start with standing pushdowns to get a feel for the movement and engage more of your stabilizer muscles. As you become more experienced, you can try kneeling pushdowns to increase the isolation and focus on the lats.


Choosing the most comfortable and effective variation for your body and fitness goals is important.


lat push down_3

Recommended Read: >>> Mastering the Smith Machine Deadlift <<<

How To Perform Lat Push Downs

Here are the steps to perform lat pushdowns:

  1. Stand in front of a cable machine with a high-pulley attachment and adjust the weight so you can get to 12 reps. (Make sure you use the long straight bar)

  2. Grab the cable attachment with an overhand grip with the hands shoulder width and bring your elbows to your sides, keeping them tucked into your sides.

  3. Engage your core and glutes to maintain a stable standing position.

  4. Keeping your upper arms stationary, exhale and push the cable attachment down towards your thighs, fully extending your arms.

  5. Pause at the bottom of the movement, feeling the contraction in your lats.

  6. Inhale and slowly release the cable attachment back up to the starting position, maintaining control throughout the movement. Work on creating a mind-muscle connection to the back, as this can increase lat activation.

  7. Congrats! You’ve just done one rep! Let’s go for 11 more!


How To Add Lat Push Downs To Your Workout?

You can add the lat push-down exercise to your existing back training but following the set and rep scheme below. OR, you can create a specialized back training routine that focuses on this exercise (see the two examples below)

Volume, Sets and Reps

  • Volume: Limit back volumes per week to 12 to 15 sets total

  • Sets: Per exercise, aim for 3 or 4 sets

  • Reps: Aim for 12 reps and add weight when you hit this top range.

Lat Push Down Workout #1

Lat Push Down Workout #1

Recommended Read: >>> 6 Exercises For Dips At Home For Bigger Chest and Triceps <<<

Lat Push Down Workout #2

Lat Push Down Workout #2

5 Tips To Maximize This Exercise

I am sharing five tips with you that have served my trainees and me well over the years:


1. Focus on proper form: Proper form and technique are essential for targeting the right muscles and preventing injury. Keep your elbows tucked in and your upper arms still throughout the movement. Use controlled, deliberate movements to work the muscles properly.


2. Use various grip types: Changing the grip of the cable attachment will help target different areas of the back and arms. Use a wide, narrow, or underhand grip to add variety to your lat pushdowns. I can’t stress just how important this is and its effect on the muscles with a minor change.


3. Vary the equipment used: While a cable machine is the most common equipment for lat pushdowns, you can also use resistance bands, a weighted dip belt, or a pull-up bar with hanging rings to perform the exercise.


4. Increase the weight gradually: Gradually increase the weight as you become strong and more comfortable with the movement. This will help you continue to challenge your muscles and avoid plateaus. Remember, stick with a target upper rep range; when you hit it, add more weight.


4. Incorporate supersets: Supersetting lat pushdowns with other upper body exercises can help increase the intensity of your workout and improve muscle endurance. For example, you could superset lat pushdowns with bicep curls or overhead presses.


By following these tips, you will maximize the effectiveness of your lat pushdowns and build a stronger, more defined back (and arms).


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3 Mistakes You Must Avoid When Doing Lat Push Downs

From the start, I want you to know what to avoid to maximize your back training gains.


Below are three top mistakes to avoid when training your back with this movement:


1. Using too much weight: Using too much weight will lead to poor form and technique, which can increase your risk of injury and prevent you from targeting the right muscles. Start with a weight that allows you to perform the exercise with proper form, and gradually increase the weight as you become stronger. Remember, you are no good to me or anyone if you are injured!


2. Swinging or using momentum: Swinging or using momentum to perform lat pushdowns takes the focus away from the targeted muscles and can lead to injury. Instead, use slow, controlled movements to engage the muscles properly.


3. Rounding the shoulders or back: Rounding the shoulders or back during lat pushdowns can put unnecessary strain on the spine and prevent you from targeting the right muscles. Keep your shoulders back and your chest up, and engage your core muscles to maintain proper posture throughout the exercise.


By avoiding these common mistakes, you can perform lat pushdowns safely and effectively, helping you build a stronger, more defined back and arms.


Recommended Read: >>> V Bar Lat Pulldown Exercise Guide <<<

3 Alternatives to this Lat Exercise

I want you to enjoy your back-building journey, so it’s always good to know other movements you can add or substitute. Below are my top three exercises that I’d like you to add:

#1 Pull-Ups

Pull-Ups: No back workout must ever exist without this bad boy exercise!


Pull-ups will add slabs of muscle to your back and upper body if performed with strict form and supplemented with progressive overload training (always adding weight or reps!).


The pull-up can be done on a pull-up bar, and weight can be added around your waist or feet to add more tension. Oh, and it’s also worth knowing that the pull-up will work nearly all the same muscles as the pushdown!


  • Volume: 4 sets per week


  • Sets: 4 Sets


  • Reps: Target weight 10 reps and then add weight


Recommended Read: >>> Best Gym Machines for Glutes <<<

#2 Seated Cable Rows

Nearly every gym has this machine! A low pulley cable machine that looks like you’d use it to start an engine!


But don’t ignore this lat machine. When performed correctly, it works the entire back and places huge stress on the lat muscles.


  • Volume: 4 sets per week


  • Sets: 4 Sets


  • Reps: Target weight 10 reps and then add weight


#3 Rack Chinsups or Smith Machine Chinups

I would say that this exercise has been the single more key movement to add in a lat workout regarding overall muscle mass and strength gains.


The fact that you can remove any leg-based cheating or momentum means that your upper body is fully responsible for executing the movement. Add these to your workout, either at the beginning or the end.


  • Volume: 4 sets per week


  • Sets: 4 Sets


  • Reps: Target weight 10 reps and then add weight


FAQs On Building The Back With Lat Push Downs

How does the lat pushdown, especially with straight arms, work the muscles for a defined back?

Both the lat pushdown and the straight arm pulldown target the latissimus dorsi muscles. The straight arm lat pushdown emphasizes the long head of the lats more due to arm position, leading to a wider back.

Can you explain the technique for the straight arm pulldown exercise?

Absolutely! With a light weight to start, extend your arms in front and pull down using your lats. Maintain a tight core and squeeze your shoulder blades together at the bottom of each rep for maximum effectiveness.

How does the Arnold back workout incorporate lat pushdowns?

The Arnold back workout often included lat pushdowns as part of his comprehensive approach to back training. This exercise was beneficial in creating a strong and defined back, similar to Arnold’s impressive physique.

Can lat pushdowns be considered a compound back exercise?

While Lat Pushdowns are typically classified as an isolation exercise, they can complement compound back exercises by specifically targeting the latissimus dorsi muscle for a more defined and strengthened back.

How can lat pushdowns be incorporated in a wide back workout?

Lat Pushdowns are an essential exercise to incorporate into a wide back workout. They directly target the lats, a muscle group crucial for achieving a wide and V-shaped back.

How does the bent-over cable row compare to lat pushdowns?

The bent-over cable row is a compound exercise that targets several back muscles simultaneously. In contrast, lat pushdowns focus on isolating the lats. Both exercises are valuable for developing a strong and defined back.

Can v-bar lat pulldowns be a substitute for lat pushdowns?

The v-bar lat pulldown can indeed serve as a suitable alternative to lat pushdowns. While the exercises differ slightly in technique and grip, they both primarily target the latissimus dorsi, contributing to a strong and defined back.

Are there effective rack pulls alternatives that can complement lat pushdowns in a back workout?

Absolutely, rack pulls alternatives like deadlifts and barbell rows can complement lat pushdowns in a back workout. These exercises help in building overall back strength and definition.

How can smith machine deadlifts complement lat pushdowns in a back workout?

Smith machine deadlifts are a great compound exercise that can be paired with lat pushdowns in a back workout. While lat pushdowns target the lats, smith machine deadlifts engage multiple muscle groups, contributing to overall back strength and definition.

What does a lat pushdown work?

A lat pushdown primarily targets the latissimus dorsi muscles in the back. It also engages the triceps, rear deltoids, and the lower and middle trapezius.

Is a lat pushdown the same as a pull up?

No, they are different exercises. While both target the latissimus dorsi, a lat pushdown is a cable exercise where you push down a bar, whereas a pull-up involves lifting your bodyweight by pulling yourself up on a bar.

What is the difference between straight-arm lat pushdowns and pulldowns?

Straight-arm lat pushdowns involve pushing the bar down with arms fully extended, targeting the lats and serratus anterior. Pulldowns involve bending the elbows and pulling the bar to the chest, which engages the lats, biceps, and middle back more intensely.

Is a lat pulldown the same as a shoulder press?

No, they target different muscle groups. A lat pulldown focuses on the latissimus dorsi in the back, while a shoulder press primarily targets the deltoids in the shoulders.

What are the benefits of lat pulldowns?

Lat pulldowns help in strengthening and toning the upper back muscles, improving posture, enhancing shoulder stability, and aiding in activities that require pulling strength.

Is the lat pulldown good or bad?

The lat pulldown is good when performed with proper form. It’s an effective exercise for targeting the upper back. However, improper technique can lead to injuries.

Is 70kg lat pulldown good?

Whether 70kg is good depends on individual strength levels and fitness goals. For some, 70kg might be challenging, while for others, it might be moderate. It’s essential to prioritize form over weight.

Should I go heavy on lat pulldowns?

It’s okay to lift heavy on lat pulldowns as long as you maintain proper form. However, it’s crucial to progressively increase weight and ensure you’re not compromising technique for the sake of lifting heavier.

What are the disadvantages of lat pulldowns?

Potential disadvantages include the risk of shoulder and back injuries if done with poor form, over-reliance on momentum, and not engaging the target muscles effectively. It’s essential to be mindful of technique and not to overtrain.

What are lat pushdowns, and how do they work the back muscles?

Lat pushdowns are an upper body exercise that primarily works the muscles in the back, specifically the latissimus dorsi, or lats for short. The exercise involves using a cable machine with a bar attachment to push the bar downward while keeping your arms straight and pulling your shoulder blades down and together. This movement targets the lats and helps to build strength and definition in the back muscles.

How can lat pushdowns help with building muscle mass in the back?

Lat pushdowns can help build muscle mass in the back by targeting the lats, the largest muscles in the back. Using the cable machine and performing lat pushdowns, you can effectively isolate and stimulate the lats to grow in size and strength over time. Additionally, lat pushdowns also engage the triceps muscles, which can contribute to overall arm and back muscle growth.

What is the difference between lat pushdowns and lat pulldowns?

Lat pushdowns and lat pulldowns are two different exercises that target the back and upper body muscles. Lat pulldowns involve pulling a weight down towards your body using a bar attached to a cable machine, while lat pushdowns involve pushing a weight down using a straight bar attached to a cable machine. The main difference between the two exercises is the direction of the movement, but both can be effective for building a strong and defined back.

Can straight arm lat pushdowns effectively work the back muscles?

Yes, straight arm lat pushdowns can effectively work the back muscles, specifically the lats. This exercise involves extending the arms straight down, engaging the lats to bring the weight down, and slowly releasing the weight back up. Keeping the arms straight throughout the exercise puts the latissimus dorsi muscle under tension, leading to activation and growth.

What are the benefits of strengthening the back muscles with lat pushdowns?

Strengthening the back muscles with lat pushdowns can lead to better posture, improved athletic performance, reduced risk of injury, and a more defined and aesthetically pleasing physique. Additionally, stronger back muscles can improve overall stability and balance, making it easier to perform daily tasks and exercises correctly.

Recommended Read: >>> The 17 Ultimate Cable Chest Exercises (Complete Guide) <<<

How can lat pushdowns be incorporated into a workout routine for maximum results?

Lat pushdowns can be incorporated into a workout routine after exercises targeting larger muscle groups such as the chest or back. Aim to do 3 to 4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions with proper form and technique. Additionally, consider adding lat pushdown variations, such as reverse grip or single-arm lat pushdowns, to add variety and challenge to your routine. As with any exercise, it’s important to gradually increase the weight and intensity to avoid injury and achieve maximum results.

Can lat pushdowns help with muscle activation and growth in the back muscles?

Yes, lat pushdowns can help with muscle activation and growth in the back muscles. When performed with proper form and technique, lat pushdowns can effectively target the lats and other muscles in the back, leading to muscle activation and growth over time. This, in turn, can help improve overall back strength, posture, and appearance. Incorporating lat pushdowns into a well-rounded workout routine that includes other exercises and proper nutrition to optimize muscle growth and development is important.

How do grip width and variations affect the effectiveness of lat pushdowns?

Grip width and variations can impact the effectiveness of lat pushdowns. Wider grips tend to target the outer portion of the back muscles, while narrower grips focus on the inner portion. Overhand grips work the back muscles more than underhand grips, which tend to target the biceps. Varying grip width and using different grip types can help engage different parts of the back muscles and promote overall muscle growth and strength. However, it’s important to use proper form and not exceed your body’s limitations to avoid injury.

What can back exercises be combined with lat pushdowns for a complete workout?

To create a complete back workout, lat pushdowns can be combined with other back exercises, such as rows, pull-ups, and deadlifts. These exercises target different areas of the back muscles, providing a well-rounded workout and helping to build strength and muscle mass and improve posture. It’s important to have a balanced workout routine that incorporates a variety of exercises to avoid muscle imbalances and prevent injury.

What type of gym equipment is needed to perform lat pushdowns?

Lat pushdowns require a cable machine, a common gym equipment in most fitness centers. Some cable machines have specific attachments, such as a lat pulldown bar or rope, that can perform lat pushdowns.

Can lat pushdowns also work the triceps muscles?

Yes, lat pushdowns can also work the triceps muscles somewhat, especially when using a close grip or V-bar attachment. During the movement, the triceps are activated as a secondary muscle group, making lat pushdowns an effective exercise for targeting multiple muscle groups in the upper body. However, other exercises may be more effective if your goal is primarily to focus on the triceps.

What is the importance of bar attachment for lat pushdowns?

The bar attachment used for lat pushdowns can affect the range of motion, grip width, and the muscles targeted during the exercise. Different attachments, such as a straight bar or a rope, can vary the exercise, allowing different muscle groups to work. Choosing the right attachment can help to target specific muscles and enhance the effectiveness of the exercise.

What are the differences between cable pulldowns for lats and lat pushdowns?

Cable pulldowns and lat pushdowns are two exercises that work for different muscle groups in the back. Cable pulldowns work the lats and upper back muscles, while lat pushdowns mainly work the lower back muscles. Cable pulldowns are performed with a wider grip, while lat pushdowns are performed with a narrower grip. Additionally, cable pulldowns involve pulling the cable down towards the chest, while lat pushdowns involve pushing the cable down towards the thighs.

Can lat pushdowns be a suitable alternative for pull-ups and rows?

Lat pushdowns can be useful for strengthening and building the back muscles, but they should not be considered a complete replacement for pull-ups and rows. Pull-ups and rows work a wider range of muscles in the back and also engage the arms and shoulders to a greater degree, while lat pushdowns primarily target the lats and triceps. To ensure a well-rounded back workout, it is recommended to include a variety of exercises that target different muscles and movement patterns.

What are the different lat pushdown variations, and how do they target different muscles in the back?

There are several variations of lat pushdowns, including:


  1. Overhead lat pushdowns – This variation focuses on the upper back muscles, particularly the traps.

  2. Reverse grip lat pushdowns – This variation targets the lower lats and can help improve overall back width.

  3. Straight arm lat pulldown – This variation helps correct muscle imbalances and allows for a deeper lats stretch.

  4. V-bar lat pushdowns – This variation allows for a more neutral grip and can simultaneously target the lats and triceps.


Each variation targets slightly different areas of the back and can be used to add variety to a workout routine.


How can resistance bands, dumbbells, and ropes be incorporated into lat pushdowns for added variety?

Resistance bands, dumbbells, and ropes can add variety to lat pushdowns. For resistance band lat pushdowns, attach the band to a high anchor point and hold onto the other end of the band. Hold a dumbbell with both hands and perform the exercise as usual for dumbbell lat pushdowns. For rope lat pushdowns, attach a rope to the cable machine instead of a bar and hold onto the ends of the rope instead of the bar. These variations can help target different parts of the back muscles and provide a new challenge to your workout routine.

What's the difference between lat pushdown vs pulldown?

The lat pushdown and pulldown exercises target the latissimus dorsi muscles but are performed differently. The lat pushdown, also known as the lateral push down, is typically done with a cable machine where you push the bar down in front of you. On the other hand, the pulldown is where you pull a bar down towards you, and variations include the close grip palms up pull down, elite fts lat pulldown, close grip lat pulldown, and wide grip pulldown.

How far down should you go during a lat pulldown?

For optimal muscle engagement, it’s recommended to pull the bar down to about chest level or until your elbows are just past your torso. This ensures you’re fully activating the lats without putting unnecessary strain on your shoulders.

Which grip is best for targeting the lats: close grip or wide grip pulldown?

Both grips target the lats but emphasize different parts. The close grip lat pulldown, especially with palms up, focuses more on the lower lats and offers a fuller range of motion. The wide grip pulldown targets the upper lats and helps in achieving a wider back appearance.

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Closing Thoughts : Add Lat Pushdowns To Your Workouts

Has the penny dropped?


Have you seen the light?


A “Hell yeah!” is what I want to hear!


So let’s get these added to your workout. But remember, you must adhere to a strict form, and controlled motion and adopt the progressive overload training principle!


If you follow the above, I guarantee that within 12 weeks your back and lats will be bigger and stronger and you will need new shirts and t-shirts!


(oh, and do keep in touch and check in with us regularly for more fantastic content. For a complete list of our previous blog posts, please go here)


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