how to do a rear lat pulldown

Never Do This Exercise: The Rear Lat Pulldown

Time for our Workout Of The Month. Typically for our Workout Of The Month we feature or breakdown what we consider a great exercise. For this month, we’re going to do something a little different and talk about an exercise which you should never do: the rear lat pulldown. The rear lat pulldown is one of those exercises that I see people at the gym doing ALL THE TIME yet I never really understood why. Let me tell you why I think the rear lat pulldown is a stupid exercise and you should completely eliminate it from your repertoire of movements.

Why The Rear Lat Pulldown Is Not A Good Exercise

Let’s begin with the basics – what is a rear lat pulldown? See the picture below:

rear lat pulldown

Pretty obvious, eh? I’ve even seen people doing this exercise with a pull up bar. Well, good for them, but I still think the rear lat pull down is a stupid exercise.

Why The Rear Lat Pulldown Should Not Be Done

1. The Lats We broke down the lats in our last Workout Of The Month series. With the target muscle for this exercise being the lats, there are far greater exercises you could be doing that get much more use out of your lats.

2. The supporting muscles:

the triceps long headthe teres major

Take a look at these smaller muscles that assist with the movement of the rear lat pulldown. The first one seen is the long head of the triceps while the second one is the teres major.

The Triceps: The triceps muscle is a smaller muscle of the back of the arm frequently used to help with pushing motions like the bench press or push up.

The Problem With Rear Lat Pulldowns: The triceps isn’t the most-used muscle when moving the back but the triceps is the most frequently injured muscle during the rear lat pulldown (1). The problem lies in the main function of the triceps which is to extend the forearm and bring the arm towards the rib cage – complimenting the action of the muscle you’re trying to target (your lats). Improper warming up, awkward positioning of the rear lat pulldown, and fatigue of the latissimus dorsi causes the main workload to be transferred over to your triceps which is too much for the small muscle to handle, often resulting in a muscle tear. No bueno, eh?

The Teres Major: The teres major helps to rotate your arm inward, bring your arm closer to your body, and extend your arm.

The Problem With Rear Lat Pulldowns: As you lower the bar closer to your neck it externally rotates your shoulders into an extremely awkward position. The lower the bar gets to the back of the neck, the less work your lats do and the small teres major muscle is forced to take over. With the muscle being so small it can’t handle a large workload and BAM, now you have a shoulder injury due to a teres major tear.

Other Problems With The Rear Lat Pulldown

Rotator cuff injuries are also common from this exercise from the awkward positioning that it places on the shoulder joint in the behind the neck position. Nothing like a good rotator cuff injury to mess with your programming, right?

Paralysis Anyone?

The lowering of the bar to the neck also compresses the cervical spine and was found to cause cord compression and brachial plexus injury (an injury to a network of nerves that run through your cervical spine) which lead to paralysis (2,3).

The Rear Lat Pulldown: Too Much Risk vs Too Little Reward

With the risk for injury being far too great on the small muscles that support the shoulder we veto this exercise in relation to the benefit that one actually gets out of it. Let’s face it, those that do this exercise are doing it most likely to build the muscles of their back. Well, there’s other, far better exercises to do that can build up the strength and muscles in the back. Such as the old fashion pull up.

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1. Delavier, F. “Strength Training Anatomy.” Paris: Human Kinetics. 2010. Print.
Strength Training Anatomy
2. Davis, G. J., Durall, C., Manske, R. “Avoiding Shoulder Injury From Resistance Training.” National Strength and Conditioning Association (2001). Volume 23, Number 5, 10-18.
3. Colado, J., Garcia-Masso, X. “Technique and Safety Aspects Of Resistance Exercises: A Systematic Review Of The Literature.” The Physician and Sports Medicine (2009). Volume 37, Number 2, 104-111. UPPER EXTREMITY INJURIES ASSOCIATED WITH STRENGTH TRAINING
Clinics in Sports Medicine, Volume 20, Issue 3, Pages 481-490
Herbert A. Haupt

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