From Ergo Log
You’ll do lat pull-downs most effectively if you pull the bar down to your chest. The old-fashioned way, where you pull the bar towards your neck, doesn’t isolate the upper back muscle as well, write Brazilian sports scientists in an article that has been published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. Because a lat pull-down to the neck is risky, the Brazilians argue that it’s clear that the lat pull-down to the chest is a better exercise for training the uppermost back muscles – the latissimi dorsi.
Best way to do a lat pull-down: bar to your chest, not in your neck
The traditional way of doing the lat pull-down is risky for the shoulder joint. That’s why many instructors prefer the version where you do the lat pull down to your chest. The Brazilians wanted to know whether this version has consequences for the muscles you train. Is the safer version also good for your muscles?
The Brazilians got 24 young men in their mid-twenties to train their upper back muscles in the old-fashioned and in the safe way, and in an additional way that may be new to you: using a V-shaped bar. This exercise – see the photos below – is a kind of middle way between the other two.
The test subjects performed the sets at 80 percent of their 1RM. The researchers attached electrodes to the subjects’ upper back muscles, chest muscles, shoulder muscles and their biceps. The figures below show the amount of effort the test subjects exerted with each of their muscles. V = lat pull-down with V-shaped bar; B = lat pull-down to neck; F = lat pull-down to chest.
All three exercise forms stimulated the latissimi equally, as the graph below shows. The black bars represent the concentric movement, when you pull the weight block upwards. The grey bars represent the eccentric movement, where you lower the weight.
So there’s no difference there. But you do notice a difference if you look at the activation of the biceps. A little less with V, but a lot less with F.
When it comes to the shoulder muscles, the stimulus is a little bit more for B than for F. And the activation of the shoulder muscles using V is even less.
Adding everything up, all versions of the lat pull-down stimulate the latissimi dorsi equally, but the old-fashioned version isolates the muscle group less well. If you want to train the upper back muscle specifically, there’s everything to be said for pulling the bar to your chest and not to your neck. It’s not only safer, but also more effective. And if you don’t like doing lat pull-downs to your chest, the V-bar version is a good alternative.
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research Oct 2009 23(7) 2033-8.