Lat pull-downs are a staple back exercise that helps grow your “wings”, your latissimus dorsi muscles, otherwise known as your lats. These are the V-shaped muscles that connect your arms to your vertebral column.
The lats help stabilize and protect the spine while providing strength in the shoulders and back, also helping to support movement and posture.
While lat pull-downs are a key exercise to building these major muscles, there are multiple grip widths and hand positions that can provide a slightly different stimulus. Though, it’s hard to know how you should do this exercise, and which one to perform, to get the best results.
This article explains the different variations of the lat pull-down, showing you how to perform the movement correctly, and how to use each variation to your advantage when it comes to building a bigger back!
Close Grip Lat Pull-Down: Muscles Worked
As per the name of the exercise, lat pull-downs primarily target the latissimus dorsi muscles, though the movement also requires activation of the upper back muscles. These muscles include the rhomboids, teres major, teres minor, and infraspinatus.
Additionally, the rotation of the arms also activates the rear delts, and the arm-flexing action recruits the use of the biceps.
So, the lat pull-down is very much an effective exercise for most major back muscles, as well as some muscle groups in the shoulders and arms.
How to Do a Lat Pull-Down
A lat pull-down is performed on the lat pull-down machine, found in most recreational gyms. Firstly, the pad will need to be adjusted, so it sits snugly on your thighs to minimize movement throughout the exercise.
Next, grab the bar with a wide grip (the most common grip), looking forward with your torso upright. Retract your shoulder blades and pull the bar downwards in front of you to your upper chest.
At the bottom of the movement, you should be squeezing your lats and resisting the temptation to lean backward to aid the movement.
Slowly control the bar back up to the starting position and complete as many reps as required. Reduce the weight if your form starts to break!
Close Grip Lat Pull-Down Vs Wide Grip
While the traditional lat pull-down is a wide grip, many different hand grip variations help to target other parts of the back muscles. A close grip lat pull-down is the next most popular option, so what is the difference between these two grip variations?
With regard to body mechanics, the most obvious difference between the two is the grip distance between your hands. However, it’s also the position of your arms as you pull the bar down that changes the exercise.
Wide grip pull-downs result in your upper arms pulling out and back. Also, at the bottom of the movement, your arms stick out to the sides more when viewed from behind.
Close-grip pull-downs, on the other hand, pull your arms in and forward. From the back, your arms are more tucked in and closer to your body.
When comparing these two grips in terms of muscle activation, it again comes down to the differences in arm position, which results in different muscle groups being activated.
The wide grip activates more of the lats and upper back due to the external rotation of the arms. Though, the internal rotation of the arms during a close grip pull-down shifts part of the load away from the lats and puts it more on the chest.
However, the lesser lat activation that comes with doing a close grip pull-down is not necessarily a bad thing, as the forward arm rotation puts you in a stronger position, which means that your can lift more weight as a result when compared to a wide grip pull-down.
Close Grip Lat Pull-Down Technique
When doing a close grip lat pull-down, you want to set up the machine in the same way as the wide grip pull-down, also following most of the form cues.
Though, as the name suggests, you want your hands to be positioned closer together.
Think about pulling straight down through your elbows instead of your hands, keeping your body tight and engaged to maintain proper form.
Lat Pull-down Alternatives
Other alternatives to the close grip lat pull-down include:
- Close grip pull up
A great substitute for a lat pull-down as it’s essentially the same movement, but using your body weight instead of a machine.
- Banded close grip pull-down
A good alternative if you don’t have access to a gym but want to incorporate this move into your home workout routine.
- Supinated close grip lat pull-down
This is also referred to as a reverse grip pull-down, which simply implies an underhand grip instead of an overhand grip. This would recruit more of the bicep muscles.
Both grip variations of the lat pull-down are great additions to your back workout routine.
While wide grip provides more lat activation, the close grip puts your arms in a stronger position, allowing you to generally pull more weight.
You could even include both variations in your workouts, or alternative week to week, to hit your lats from all angles!