The Lat Pulldown Technique – in front or behind?


The Lat pulldown is an important exercise used by athletes in sports such as; swimming, basketball, gymnastics and wrestling. These sports require the athlete to pull the arms down from an overheard position. The exercise is also a popular exercise amongst the general public.

I am often asked by clients “When I do the lat pull-down should I pull the bar down in front of my head or behind?” Another question is “What is the best grip to use”. These are important questions to answer as incorrect technique can lead to poor results and potentially injury. A 2002 study conducted by staff at the University of Miami tested subjects in the Lat pulldown when using a:

  1. A neutral, close grip,
  2. A supinated (reverse) close grip,
  3. A pronated (overhand) wide grip with bar coming in front of the head,
  4. And a pronated wide grip with bar coming in behind the head.

So was it better having the bar pulled down in front or behind the head?

In a nutshell you want to have the bar pass in front of your head. The researchers found:

“…that the wide grip hand position with the bar pulled anteriorly across the chest recruits more motor units , and therefore requires more work from the latissimus dorsi than any of the other conditions tested.”

In other words:

If you want to strengthen you lat’s more effectively – pass the bar in front of your head.

The researchers also pointed to the increased risk of injury posed by passing the bar behind the head due to the pressure placed on the shoulder and the head being pushed forward putting pressure on the cervical spine.

In conclusion passing the bar behind the head is less effective in terms of strengthening the latissimus dorsi muscle and poses distinct injury risks. So pass the bar in front of your head when doing the lat pull down. Why not refer to our Warwick Workout exercise of the week video below showing the lat pulldown exercise and refresh your technique today?