Cable Pull-Down is another great exercise for building back muscles. It’s a compound movement however done with the cable instead of free weights or own bodyweight. It develops the wideness of our lats. It’s excellent for people who are too heavy or too weak to do pull-ups or for anybody who want to finish off their back training with the lighter exercise.
Muscles involved in pull down
This exercise will help you to build wider back and achieve the V-shape look. Additionally it will significantly improve your posture, of course if done correctly (chest pushed out and straight back).
Execution of wide-grip cable pull-down (to the chest)
To perform wide-grip cable pull down correctly:
- Grab a bar attached to the cable-pulley with the wide over-hand grip (palms facing away from you) and place your thighs underneath supporting pads. Make your back completely straight, chest pushed out.
- Use your lats to pull the bar down until it touches your upper chest.
- Slowly return to the starting position – fully extend your arms.
Note that holding the bar too wide can limit the range of motion of this exercise so don’t spread your hand too far apart.
As with every exercise there are also couple mistakes possible during pull-down. The most common one is using whole upper body to pull the weight down (swinging back and forward). Although small upper body movement is allowed with heavier weight try to keep it as stable as possible.
Another mistake during this exercise is using excessive force of arm muscles to do the work and therefore limiting back engagement. Think about your arms as of hooks and try to use back muscles to perform the movement.
Bending the back is also very common especially when pull downs are performed to the neck (behind the head) which causes wrong muscles to help with the work and destroys the proper posture by causing rounding of the upper back. Keep your back straight and chest pushed out whether you perform this exercise behind the neck or to the chest. It will cause the right muscles to do work and improve your posture especially if you have a problem with the rounded back. In the long term it will straighten it up, make you taller looking and more attractive.
Changing the positions of hands on a bar and using different grips will cause certain muscles being emphasized:
- Wide-grip pull-down to the chest works mostly upper lats, middle back and brachialis,
- Wide-grip pull-down behind the neck (BTN) makes middle back be more involved,
- Close-grip pull-down with under-hand grip (palms facing you) targets more the lower part of upper back and biceps.
Generally the wider the grip the more upper lats involvement, closer grip works more the bottom of the upper back. Some people use even close-grip V-attachment with the pulley to emphasize the tie-ins of their lower lats.
Behind the neck pull-down
Behind the neck (BTN) pull-down isolates more our lats and increases involvement of the middle back. It’s a great version of this exercise and it’s perfect for improving the posture.
Many trainees feel discomfort with pull-downs behind the neck. Many say that this version of the exercise is dangerous, causes injuries and should be avoided. However there are also group of bodybuilders who use it all their life in their workouts and strongly disagree with that.
Discomfort, pain or injury during this exercise is usually caused by wrong technique – bending the back and neck down at the end of the movement or too tight chest muscles and lack of decent shoulder mobility (excessive internal rotation).
So stretch your chest and shoulders well if you have any problem with this exercise and keep your neck straight and stable. If the problem persists simply avoid BTN version or replace it with something else; at the end of the day everybody is different and you have to find out what works the best for you.
If your gym isn’t equipped with pull-down machine the only way to substitute this exercise is to do pull-ups. If you aren’t strong enough to do them ask your partner to hold your legs behind you – it will make this exercise much easier. You can also try jumping pull-ups – simply jump to lift yourself up and try to go very slowly on the way down (up to 5 seconds).
Cable pull-down is an excellent additional exercise for building back muscles. It will help to make your lats wider and improve your posture. Make sure your chest is well stretched before attempting behind the neck version and try to use different grips and variations of this exercise to achieve even back development or desired outcome of your workout.