The cable pulldown is one of the most commonly performed exercises that you’ll see at any gym. And that’s for good reason. It’s excellent for developing your lats and back muscles in general, plus it’ll muscle to the arms. Having a muscular back make you look more aesthetic and improves other all other compound lifts.
In this exercise guide, we’ll explain the muscles involved, how-to, tips, variations, and how to incorporate the cable pulldown in your training routine.
Here’s a guide to the cable pulldown…
In This Exercise:
- Target Muscle Group: Latissimus Dorsi, other back muscles
- Type: Hypertrophy
- Mechanics: Compound
- Equipment: Cable machine
- Difficulty: Beginner
How To Do The Cable Pulldown
If you want to maximize the effectiveness of this exercise, then it must be down properly. Here are step-by-step instructions of the cable pulldown.
- Sit on the machine bench and adjust the leg support padding accordingly.
- Choose your weight and grip the long bar with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
- Pull your shoulders down and lean slightly back.
- Drive your elbows down and back to pull the bar down to mid-chest.
- Slowly reverse the motion until you feel a slight stretch in your lats but do not allow your head to sink down into your shoulders.
Cable Pulldown Tips
- Use a thumbless grip to better mentally engage the lats.
- Do not lean too far back to effectively maximize engagement. Lean back slightly just to allow the bar to pass your chin.
- Never allow your head to sink down into your shoulders. Keep your shoulders down even during the negative portion of the exercise where the arms are extended overhead.
- Choose a weight that you can handle. Never lift beyond your means as this is dangerous and reduces the effectiveness of the exercise.
The cable pulldown works several muscle groups of which we’ve given a brief description of below.
The latissimus dorsi, or lats for short, is a large muscle that spans the width of the back, partially covered by the trapezius muscle. This muscle contributes to thoracic and brachial functions such as adduction, medial rotation, extension, and depression of the upper extremities. It also helps to move the trunk up and forward during overhead movements.
The brachialis muscle is a pure elbow flexor at all physiological positions. It’s found deep to the biceps and adds width to the upper arm when fully developed.
The brachioradialis is a forearm muscle that acts as an elbow flexor, but it can also supinate or pronate the forearm.
The deltoid posterior or rear delt is one of the three heads that make up the shoulder muscles. Along with the anterior head, the posterior head stabilizes the arm while the lateral abducts the arm. It also works with the lats to extend the arm during walking.
The infraspinatus is a rotator cuff muscle. Its role is external rotation of the shoulder joint, scaption, and lateral rotation of the humerus.
The teres major is a rotator cuff muscle that medially rotates and adducts the arm, in addition to stabilizing the shoulder joint.
The teres minor is a rotator cuff muscle that is responsible for lateral, or external, rotation of the arm at the shoulder.
Trapezius Lower Fibers
The trapezius lower fibers work with the upper fibers to upwardly rotate the scapula.
Trapezius Middle Fibers
The trapezius middle fibers adduct (retract) the scapula.
3 Pulldown Variations
The cable pulldown will never go out of style as it’s extremely effective for its intended purpose. But there are variations that may be even more effective for developing the upper posterior chain muscles.
Single-side training is a must. The single-arm pulldown allows for a deeper contraction of the target muscles due to being able to bring the elbows down even further behind the back. Not to mention, it’s useful for identifying and correcting left to right imbalances.
Training one side at a time is referred to as unilateral training because it involves more stabilization, activation of the core muscles, and it simply offers benefits that bilateral training (affecting both sides) does not. You may not be able to lift as much weight overall but the advantages are clear.
Close-grip cable pulldown
Whether you use two single-grip handles or a v-bar, this variation of the pulldown will allow you to lift more weight which is necessary for building muscle and strength. This variation involves keeping your arms close to your sides and may emphasize the rhomboids and traps a bit better than using a wide grip.
How To Incorporate The Cable Pulldown Into Your Training Routine
For your best back development, it’s recommended to include a few different exercises that emphasize the various muscles that make up the back. The cable pulldown is typically utilized to emphasize the lat muscles. Although, it will engage the other back muscles as well.
We recommend doing 3-4 sets of around 6-20 reps of the cable pulldown and no more than 2-3 sets of another pulldown or pull-up type exercise. Then, of course, you’ll do 2-3 other exercises to complete your back training.
But ultimately, your sets and reps will depend on your overall training volume.
The cable pulldown is here to stay and it’ll make an excellent addition your back training regime. It’s a great lat and back building exercise and we recommend it. But you don’t have to just stick to the straight bar variation. Include the other variations that we included as well in addition to any other variations that you feel may be good for your development.