Wide grip lat pulldowns to build a wide back


Kevin Mangelschots

Many men want to know how to build a large back to get that classic V shape, but few know how to get it done.

The Latissimus dorsi muscle is responsible for giving our back a broad, V-tapered look.

This means that we can use wide-grip lat pulldowns to build a wide back.

What is a lat pulldown?

A lat pulldown is a weightlifting exercise used to strengthen and develop the Latissimus dorsi muscle.

They are performed by pulling the handle of the weight machine with resistance, which is typically weight towards your chest.

Different grips can be used like a small, medium, and wide grip. Alternating between grips allows us to build strength and muscle mass by targeting slightly different parts of the muscle.

A whole variety of pulldown variations exist, such as:

  • Wide grip lat pulldown
  • Wide lat pulldown
  • Lat pulldown close grip
  • Wide grip lat pull down
  • Wide cable pulldown

Which muscles do wide-grip lat pulldowns work?

Wide grip lat pulldowns target and develop the Latissimus dorsi muscle.

The function of the Latissimus dorsi is depression and downward rotation of the scapulae in combination with extension and adduction of the shoulder joint.

Wide grip lat pulldown guide

Woman wrong and right lat pulldown posture, illustration

  1. Sit down on a lat pulldown machine and keep your back straight.
  2. Grab the bar of the weight machine with your palms facing forward. Grips can vary depending on which part of the muscle you’re trying to target.
  3. Curve your back slightly backward (around 20/30°) so your chest sticks out. This is called the starting position.
  4. Pull the bar downwards until it touches your chest.
  5. Let the bar raise slowly and in a controlled manner until your arms are extended again.
  6. Repeat for as many reps as necessary.

Alternative exercises to wide grip lat pulldowns

  • Reverse grip lat pulldown

    Pulldowns where the palm of your hands are turned inwards, towards your body.

    Using different grips regularly leads to building more strength and muscle mass.

  • Small grip lat pulldown

    Pulldowns where your grip is closer than shoulder width.

  • Pull-ups

    Picture of a man performing a pull-up from a pull-up bar.

    Pull-ups use the same muscles as lat pulldowns do, and thus, are very similar.

    It’s like pull-ups are the cousin of the pulldowns.

    With pull-ups, you use your body weight as resistance instead of weights when performing lat pulldowns.

    → If you want to make pull-ups harder at home, you can simply put some weights, bricks, or whatever heavy you have at home in a backpack and put the backpack around your back.

    → Resistance bands are also an option to make pull-ups harder and more challenging. However, it might be more inconvenient to get the resistance bands in the right position.

  • Bent over barbell rows

A dark skinned woman performing a bent over barbell row at home.

Bent-over barbell rows are a great compound exercise to build muscle mass.

  1. Stand with both of your feet at shoulder width.
  2. Place both of your feet under the bar. The bar must be above your mid-feet.
  3. Bend over with a straight back and grab the bar with a full palm medium grip. Make sure the palms of your hands are facing down.
  4. Unlock your knees. This means slightly bending your knees.
  5. Tense your abs to keep your back straight.
  6. Pull the bar upwards towards your lower chest.
  7. Lower the bar in a slow, controlled manner.

→ Keep your back straight. You can accomplish this by tensing your abs.

→ Make sure your knees are unlocked to be able to lift the weight more easily towards your chest. It’s also better for overall joint health and decreases the stretch placed on the hamstrings, which could otherwise hamper your lift.

→ Lift in a slow, controlled manner to make sure your form is on point. This way, you’re also sure you’re not cheating on the exercise by using too much weight or incorrect form. Pulling the bar towards your chest, which is the concentric part of the lift, should be done faster than lowering the bar, which is the eccentric part of the lift.

→ Incorrect form will often lead to lower back pain. Make sure to regularly do a form check or to lift lighter weights if you have lower back pain while or after performing bent-over rows.

  • Seated cable rows

    An illustration of a seated cable row.

    Note: If you want to perform this exercise, you will need access to a low pulley row machine.

  1. Sit down on the machine with your feet locked in the platform. Your knees should be slightly bent to prevent injuries. This is called the starting position.
  2. Lean forward and grab the bar, you can use a neutral or an overhand grip depending on the bar of the rowing machine.
  3. Pull back until your torso is at about a 90° angle from your legs. Your back should be slightly arched backward with your arms fully extended.
  4. Keep your torso still at the 90° angle and pull the bar towards your core until it touches your abs.
  5. Slowly extend your arms again and return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for as many reps as necessary.

Personal takeaway

A black and white image of the muscular back of a man.

Wide grip pulldowns have many benefits for building a strong, muscular, and wide back.

Most people do some sort of abdominal exercise such as sit-ups or crunches to build a slimmer, stronger core, but neglect their back muscles.

Pull-ups can easily be performed at home without much equipment. The only thing you need is a pull-up bar which can be installed at home or, if you want to get back to the basics and be creative, you can even perform pull-ups outside on the branch of a tree.