A pulldown, also known as a cable lat pulldown, is a compound exercise that primarily works the latissimus dorsi muscles but also benefits the biceps and the muscles in the middle of the back. Pulldowns involve the use of a pulley system to pull weight down toward the floor or the use of another form of resistance while pulling downward. This exercise works the same muscles as a traditional chin-up, so it is useful to those who do not yet have the strength to pull up their entire body weight. The pulldown exercise also is useful because there are so many variations of it, with each variation working the muscles slightly differently.
Pulldowns require a weight machine or another form of resistance. This exercise involves pulling weight down toward the floor, so it is impossible to perform it with free weights. The correct machine for this exercise will consist of a pulldown bar attached to a cable. This cable then passes through two or more wheels in a large metal frame. These wheels create a pulley system that allows the weight at the end of the cable to create resistance as the athlete pulls the bar towards the floor.
To perform this exercise, the athlete begins in a seated position on a bench or chair below the pulldown bar. The athlete should bend his or her knees at a 90 degree angle and secure them beneath a padded bar. This bar is crucial to the exercise, because it provides the leverage necessary to pull the bar down.
Using a pronated (overhand) grip, the athlete grasps the pulldown bar and uses the muscles in his or her back and arms to pull the weight toward the floor. It is important that he or she focuses on trying to bring the shoulder blades together while lowering the elbows as close to the floor as possible. In order to accomplish this, he or she needs to keep a slight arch in the back. It is crucial that the athlete uses the latissimus dorsi muscles to lower the weight, rather than simply allowing his or her own body weight to bring the bar down. Once bar has been lowered to the collar bone or upper chest, the athlete slowly allows the pulldown bar to raise back to the starting position.
There are many ways to grasp the bar when performing a pulldown. The width of the hands can vary from being in line with the shoulders to being twice the width of the shoulders, although the most common variation lies somewhere in between. Also, the grip on the bar can be supinated (underhand) or even parallel, though the pronated grip is the most common. Each of these variations stresses the muscles in different ways and thus results in a slightly different workout.
In addition to being useful for those athletes who don't have the strength to perform a traditional chin-up, the pulldown also is useful for those who want to use less of their body weight in order to increase the number of repetitions. Conversely, the exercise also is useful for those who want to increase the total weight beyond his or her body weight. By keeping his or her feet on the floor and using the padded bar, the athlete also is far more stable during a pulldown than during a chin-up, which allows proper form to be maintained.