The banded lat pulldown is a fantastic functional exercise that helps strengthen the back, shoulders and arms. The exercise uses a band to create resistance, which means it is great for exercising at home or whilst traveling, as well as in the gym.
With resistance bands coming in varying levels of strength, it means the banded lat pulldown can be adapted to whatever your current fitness level is. Similarly, depending on the angle you position the band, you can also vary up how you engage and activate the muscles, making it an incredibly versatile exercise to add to your fitness routine.
In this exercise guide, we outline everything you need to know about banded lat pulldowns, including how to perform them safely, the muscles worked, benefits and variations.
How to Perform Banded Lat Pulldowns Safely
To do a banded lat pulldown:
- Fix a band to a sturdy object such as a pull up bar or a door frame. If you fix the band to a higher object such as a pull up bar, you may be able to do the exercise stood up but you’ll most likely need to be kneeling or sitting so that you can fully tighten the band and create the resistance required to engage the muscles properly.
- Grab hold of the resistant band and kneel down on the floor. You may want to use a yoga mat or cushion to make it more comfortable.
- Engaging your core and keeping your back straight, bend at the elbows to bring the resistance band down towards your shoulders and upper chest. Focus on really squeezing the lats to bring the band down.
- Pause for a moment, before slowly returning the band to the starting position.
Depending on the type of resistance band you are using, you may be able to adapt the movement slightly. For example, if you are using resistant bands that have handles, you can simply hold on to the handle as you performed the exercise. In contrast, if you are just using a regular band (that’s a loop), you’ll have to find a grip that feels comfortable.
Aim for between 6 and 15 repetitions per set. If you find you can easily do more than 15 repetitions, you probably want to upgrade to a band with higher resistance.
If you want to increase the resistance without buying a new band, you could always hold the band with one arm, so that each side is pulling all the resistance separately, or double the band up to create more resistance with the same band.
Things to Consider
As with any back exercise, technique and form are everything. The banded pulldown requires you to keep your body still so that you aren’t using momentum to aid the movement. By keeping your back perfectly still and focusing on hinging at the elbows, (or hinging at the shoulders if you’re doing the straight arm variation), you can really maximize the engagement and activation of the lats and focus on that squeezing movement that is ultimately going to lead to muscular development.
Another thing to consider is the amount of slack in the resistance bands as you start the movement. Ultimately, this may take a couple of repetitions to get used to what resistance feels most appropriate. The ideal starting position would be when there is no slack but also that you haven’t actually started to pull the band either. As we mentioned earlier if you find that you’re doing over 15 repetitions comfortably, or that you’re struggling to do 6 repetitions, it suggests the resistance isn’t quite right, and that it’s either not strong enough, or it’s too strong.
If you are doing banded lat pulldowns at home, another thing to consider is how securely you have attached the band to a stable object, particularly if you are actually quite strong and you’re using a door frame, for example. You want to really ensure that the door isn’t going to swing open during the movement which could lead to injury.
As with any form of strength training, you also want to make sure that you warm up efficiently before diving into your workout. Just because you’re exercising at home or using resistance bands, it doesn’t mean you won’t pick up injuries due to a lack of preparation before your workout.
Banded Lat Pulldown Muscles Worked
The primary muscles engaged during the banded lat pulldown are the lats, (or the “latissimus dorsi” muscles as they’re officially known as). These are the large muscles on the sides of your back. The lats are tasked with supporting any sort of pulling movement, making them a vital component to support healthy everyday movement, as well as athletic performance.
The lat pulldown will also engage the shoulders, biceps, forearms and core.
If you adopt an underhand grip you will engage the biceps more, so if the focus is to activate the lats, it’s best to use an overhand grip.
Benefits of Banded Lat Pulldowns
Banded lat pulldowns are a fantastic way to train the lats and back at home. Without the need for a cable pulley machine or a barbell with lots of plates, the banded pulldown is a really effective way to engage and activate the lats, as well as the shoulders, arms, and upper back… that anyone can do, in any location.
Strengthening the lats helps to improve posture and provide support to the spine. If you find you are sat down for long periods and hunched over a desk or driving, exercises that help squeeze the shoulder blades together and open up the chest are great ways to ensure you maintain better posture… and good posture isn’t just about appearances, it also helps prevent injuries such as pinched nerves and lower back ache.
By using thick, high-resistance bands, you can build big strong lats which have aesthetic benefits, as well as being very useful for athletic performance. Thinner, light-resistance bands are great for beginners and incorporating into HIIT workouts and toning routines.
Banded pulldowns (with tinner, light-resistance bands) are also often used in physical therapy sessions as a way to ease muscles and joints back into movements after injuries. These sorts of exercises also often feature in mobility drills and ROM (range of motion) workouts.
Another benefit of the exercise is the versatility… as it is very easy to adapt the movement to keep pushing your muscles, and challenging them in different ways.
You can also change resistance easier than barbells or dumbbells. For example, if you wanted to increase resistance, you could simply adapting your grip slightly, such as holding the band slightly further up… or similarly, standing slightly further away. This means instead of doing more noticeable jumps in resistance in between sets, you can aim for small incremental improvements by increasing the resistance by small margins each time.
There are all sorts of variations of the banded lat pulldown, including; the single arm, straight arm, underhand grip, and lower band angle.
The single arm banded pulldown is a great variation, particularly if you only have access to band of quite low resistance. By holding both bands with a single arm, you can instantly increase the resistance, making the workout more challenging.
Changing the angle at which the resistance band is located, is another way to vary up the exercise. A smaller angle will mean that you pull the band using your shoulders more and would basically become a banded face pull, so if the aim is to focus on engaging the lats, you’re better off having an angle which allows you to pull the band in more of a vertical direction.
Another variation to try is to fix the band to the floor and laying on your back. This is great for technique as it means there is no possibility of using momentum or rocking to pull the band and it can also test your shoulder mobility, as you can better gauge how you pull your arms down because the floor can be used as a point of reference.
We prefer doing this movement on your back as opposed to your front, as it means you don’t have to worry about lifting your head off the floor and consequently putting your neck in a less than ideal position for the movement.
Similarly, you could stand, instead of kneeling, to bring your body closer to where the band is fixed, to change the angle at which you are pulling the resistance band down.
Grip may seem like quite a small factor in an exercise such as banded lat pulldowns, but it can actually have quite a big impact on how the muscles are engaged. To maximise the activation of the lats, you want to reduce the workload for your forearms and biceps, which means using an overhand grip… ideally just by hooking your fingers without using your thumbs, as this will mean that the lats are responsible for more of the movement.
Alternatively, if you do want to use the banded lat pulldown to provide a more rounded upper body workout, using an underhand grip and wrapping your thumbs around will really engage the forearms and biceps more… so you engage more muscles during the movements.
A wide grip, i.e. holding the resistance band wider than shoulder width apart, will put even more emphasis on the lats, as they are required to keep your arms stable for the duration of the movement.
As we’ve described in this article, a banded pulldown involves hinging at the elbows to bring the band towards your upper chest. However, another way to approach the movement is to actually keep your elbows still for the whole movement and to hinge at the shoulders. This will still engage the lats, as well as the overall back in general, and is a great variation to try.
It’s important to keep a back straight during this variation.
Banded Lat Pulldown Alternatives
The dumbbell pullover is a great alternative to consider if you want to engage the lats. The dumbbell pullover is quite unique in that not only does it activate and strengthen the lats and back, but it also engages the chest as well. This makes it a great exercise to include in HIIT workouts and those that want to engage multiple muscle groups in a single exercise.
If you are considering doing the dumbbell pullover, checkout our guide on the dumbbell decline pullover, as this variation increases the range of motion and thus keeps the chest and lats engaged for longer which helps to build muscular endurance as well as strength.
To do a dumbbell pullover, lay on your back holding a dumbbell in each hand extended above you. Lower the dumbbells backwards until your arms are parallel to your body. Squeeze your lats to pull the dumbbells back up into a vertical position.
You could also try this with a resistance band or a barbell.
Bent Over Row
Bent over rows are another popular way to engage the lats and back. It’s also very easy to adapt the movement to all sorts of equipment, including a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells or a resistance band.
To do a bent over row, stand with your feet shoulder width apart, holding a barbell (or whatever type of weight you prefer), with your knees slightly bent. Hinging at the hips, lower your upper body so that your back is parallel to the floor, or as close as you can get. Engage your glutes, hamstrings and core to provide stability, and hinging at the elbows, pull the barbell towards your body, before lowering it back down.
If we’re talking about activating the lats, the pull up is still undeniably one of the simplest yet most effective ways to really strengthen this part of the body. To maximise the activation and consequent muscular development of the lats, use an overhand grip and focus on a full movement whereby you lower yourself down so that your arms straight.
To increase difficulty, you can add additional weight, such as holding a dumbbell between your legs or wearing a weighted vest. Similarly, you can include slow eccentric phases, also known as negative pull ups, so that the lats are engaged for longer during the movement.
If pull ups are difficult, consider using a resistance band wrapped around your knee to help propel you up or using negative pull ups combined with a jump during the concentric phase to help you get started.
Lat pulldowns are a great way to engage and activate the lats. By using a resistance band, you can do the exercise at home, when you’re traveling, or as an alternative for those that simply don’t like using barbells or other weights.
Not only can banded lat pulldowns help build strong and muscular lats, the exercise can also be really effective for rehab and physical therapy sessions whereby you want to ease the muscles and joints into low resistance movements.