The Beginner’s Guide to the Lat Pulldown

By Brittany Risher |

Master this basic exercise to improve posture, breathe easier, and feel stronger.

Fitness expert David Jack calls the lat pulldown “medicine for the malady.” What’s the malady? Everyday life and gravity pulling your upper back and shoulders forward, resulting in poor posture, trouble breathing, and generally not feeling great.

The lat pulldown can help you counteract all those things—once you learn how to do it with proper form. Watch the video above, and check out this step-by-step guide.

Step #1: Position Your Feet Forward

Before you even touch the pulldown bar, sit down and situate your feet forward so that your shins are against the lower pads—your feet will slide in underneath the pads.

Step #2: Lower the Top Pad onto Your Thighs

Push the top pad down far enough so that it puts pressure on the top of your legs without being uncomfortable. Your feet should feel stable on the ground, about hip-width apart.

Step #3: Set Your Starting Weight

Use the pin to choose a weight from the weight stack. Start light to feel the movement and get your form right. You can add more weight later.

Step #4: Stand and Grab the Handle

Now that the machine is set up, carefully stand and grab the handle with your hands shoulder-width apart. If that’s uncomfortable for your shoulders, adjust your grip until it feels good.

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Step #5: Sit Down Slow and Steady

Firmly holding the bar and keeping your arms extended, slowly sit down. Secure your legs under the pads and plant your feet forward, just like you did before.

Step #6: Pull the Bar to Your Chest

Keep your chin back and chest up as you pull the bar down, squeezing your shoulder blades down and back. Pause at the bottom of the movement (when the bar is at chest height), and then raise the bar as high as you can go. That’s the movement! Aim for 10 to 15 slow—and controlled—reps.

Want More of a Challenge? Do This

When you feel comfortable using a lat pulldown machine, there are a few ways you can ramp up the intensity. First, try increasing your total number of reps. So if you’ve been doing three sets of 15 reps (45 total), you could do three sets of 20 reps (60 total) or four sets of 12 reps (48 total). There’s no hard rule for how many additional reps you need to do. Every bit of extra effort counts.

Another option: Slow down. Take a full five counts to pull the bar down, engaging your muscles the entire time. Really squeeze your shoulder blades together at the bottom of the movement, and then take three to four seconds to raise the bar.

Last, you can increase the weight. Start by moving the pin one slot lower or adding a single weight plate to the top of the stack. Remember: It’s normal to do fewer reps when you increase the weight, so don’t worry if can only finish 10 good reps instead of your usual 15.

However you choose to challenge yourself, always focus on proper form. If you ever feel too tired or that your form is compromised, stop. Safety always comes first!

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