Lat Pulldown Machine Exercises: Attachments and Alternatives Explained

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
August 17, 2022

The lat pulldown machine is among one of the most commonly purchased resistance exercise machines, with its simplicity of use and accessibility making it a favorite among exercisers and competitive athletes alike.

However, what many don’t know is that the lat pulldown machine may be used for more than just its namesake exercise - potentially saving home gym owners space and money in the long run.

The lat pulldown machine may be used to train more than just the latissimus dorsi and biceps brachii, with such possibilities as tricep pushdowns and cable face pulls being just as viable as certain variations of the lat pulldown exercise itself.

How to Use a Lat Pulldown Machine for Other Exercises

Like other cable exercise machines, the lat pulldown machine features the ability to change out the handle that the exerciser uses, as well as certain other adjustments that can aid in the comfort of the user, such as seat height elevation and foam pad elevation.

wide grip lat pulldown musculature

These adjustments - when used in the correct manner - allow an angle of resistance and grip technique that can target different parts of the body, much like in the case of the conventional cable machine.

Why Should You Use a Lat Pulldown Machine for These Exercises?

For the most part, the lat pulldown machine does not provide any exercise-specific benefits that other types of cable machines also provide. 

Instead, the main benefit of using a lat pulldown machine to perform these alternative exercises is in the convenience of doing so.

Especially in the case of home-gym owners, repurposing the lat pulldown machine for exercises other than the standard lat pulldown can allow one to save time, space and money as they do not need to purchase a full-sized cable machine or otherwise take the time to adjust it with each exercise.

Limits of Lat Pulldown Machine Exercises

The most significant limitation of using the lat pulldown machine for other exercises is simply that the angle of resistance will always be from overhead, making other forms of cable exercises such as rows or flyers impossible.

In addition to this, the lat pulldown machine will often only feature a single cable at once, most often forcing the exerciser to use bilateral variations of whatever exercise they are performing unless they wish to train one side of their body at a time instead.

Variations of the Lat Pulldown Exercise

The most obvious repurpose of the lat pulldown machine is to simply perform variations of the lat pulldown exercise - usually in the form of a different attachment that allows a greater level of muscular activation in certain parts of the body.

1. Single Arm Lat Pulldowns

As its name may suggest, the single arm lat pulldown creates a unilateral or one-sided activation of the back and biceps.

cable one arm lat pulldown

This is achieved through the use of a single-hand pulley attachment, and is most often utilized by individuals with a muscular imbalance, or athletes seeking greater mind-muscle connection during the movement.

2. V-Grip Lat Pulldowns

Also known as a close grip lat pulldown, the V-grip lat pulldown places the wrists in a more neutral angle while trading in direct biceps brachii activation for more significant brachioradialis and brachialis recruitment.

close grip lat pulldown

The V-grip lat pulldown exercise is most suitable for individuals seeking to alter the target of their lat pulldown for the purposes of focusing on a particular weak point or underdeveloped muscle group.

3. Reverse Grip Lat Pulldowns

The reverse grip lat pulldown, unlike other lat pulldown variants, can be performed with nearly any bar attachment, such as the standard pull-up bar attachment or the straight bar attachment.

It is achieved by the exerciser utilizing an underhand grip while pulling their elbows closer to the sides of the torso, vastly increasing biceps brachii recruitment in exchange for posterior deltoid head activation.

4. Parallel Lat Pulldowns

Parallel lat pulldowns make use of a parallel grip bar attachment in order to place a greater amount of training stimulus of the latissimus dorsi and biceps brachii.

This is made possible through the neutral grip and wide hand placement of the parallel grip bar, altering the mechanics of the lat pulldown enough that secondary and accessory muscular activation is reduced in favor of primary mover muscle recruitment instead.

Lat Pulldown Machine Overhead Tricep Extensions

The most straightforward and simplistic of the lat pulldown machine exercises, the overhead tricep extension is a triceps brachii isolation exercise meant to be performed as an accessory to other compound exercises.

cable tricep overhead extensions

When programmed in such a manner, the overhead tricep extension is meant to be performed with a low to moderate level of resistance for anywhere between eight to twenty repetitions per set.

What Attachment is Used?

The overhead tricep extension uses a double-ended rope attachment, or may also use a single hand attachment for a unilateral approach to the exercise instead.

rope cable attachment

How to Perform

To perform the overhead tricep extension with a lat pulldown machine, the exerciser will stand facing the machine with the seat between their legs. This will allow a horizontal angle of resistance to be achieved.

Gripping both ends of the rope pulley attachment, the exerciser will raise it overhead as they turn their body in the opposite direction, now facing away from the machine with their arms extended upwards.

Now in the starting position, the arms will extend upward by hinging at the elbow, thereby activating the triceps brachii in an isolated capacity. A single repetition of the exercise is complete once the hands have returned to their original starting position overhead.

Lat Pulldown Machine Tricep Pushdowns

Another simplistic triceps exercise performed with the lat pulldown machine, the tricep pushdown is a common sight in many bodybuilding workout programs owing to its mass-building capabilities in regards to the upper arm.

cable tricep pushdown

It is an isolation exercise performed with low to moderate levels of resistance and relatively high volume, much like the overhead triceps extension as well.

If the exerciser wishes to target the inner or medial head of their triceps instead of the outer or lateral head, they may instead perform the exercise with an underhand grip instead of the standard overhand grip.

What Attachment is Used?

Tricep pushdowns may be performed with any sort of straight bar attachment, though a rope attachment may also be used if the exerciser wishes to utilize a more neutral grip instead.

machine machine straight bar

How to Perform

To perform the exercise, the lifter need only stand facing the machine with the seat between their legs as they grip the bar in both hands.

Tucking their elbows against their sides, the exerciser will then push downwards until their elbows are fully extended or the bar meets the lower portion of their torso. If performed correctly, the exerciser should feel strain in the upper portion of their arms.

Once the bar is returned to its original position, a single repetition of the tricep pushdown has been completed.

Lat Pulldown Machine High Cable Bicep Curls

A variation of the standard cable bicep curl wherein the angle of resistance is overhead or in a similar horizontal plane, the high cable bicep curl is performed in a unilateral fashion due to the nature of the lat pulldown machine - creating a highly targeted isolation exercise.

Such a specificity of muscular recruitment makes the high cable bicep curl a particularly effective exercise for bodybuilders or individuals wishing to grow bigger biceps.

Because of the disadvantageous angle that the exercise is performed in, it most often utilizes a low level of resistance with a high volume of repetitions per set, often numbering between twelve and twenty for three sets or more.

What Attachment is Used?

The high cable bicep curl uses a single hand attachment, usually one with a variable grip style so as to allow the exerciser to maintain a comfortable wrist position throughout the exercise.

How to Perform

The high cable bicep curl is performed with a lat pulldown machine with the exerciser facing to the side and the handle is gripped overhead, forearm extended away from the shoulder.

To begin a repetition of the high cable bicep curl, the exerciser will draw their wrist inwards and towards their head as they squeeze their biceps, stopping once the elbow is at its full range of motion.

Once this phase of the repetition is completed, they will then release their biceps in a slow and controlled manner, allowing the resistance of the machine to draw their hand back into its starting position. 

This completes a single repetition of the high cable bicep curl.

Lat Pulldown Machine Face Pulls

A classic cable exercise best known for its effective training of the posterior deltoid head, the face pull exercise can actually be performed with the lat pulldown machine as well - relegating the need to purchase a bulky and expensive cable machine.

The face pull is generally seen as a rehabilitative or accessory exercise meant to develop the trapezius, posterior deltoid head and biceps brachii to some degree - three muscle groups often left under trained by many athletes.

Face pulls are performed with a very low amount of resistance and a high volume of repetitions per set, as excessive resistance during its performance can quickly lead to shoulder and elbow injury.

What Attachment is Used?

Face pulls, whether performed with a lat pulldown machine or not, will make use of a double handed rope attachment unless a pair of single hand attachments are available instead.

How to Perform

The face pull is performed with the exerciser standing two to three feet away from the machine as they face it, with both ends of the cable attachment held in their grip. 

Retracting the shoulder blades and drawing the shoulders back, the exerciser will then pull the handle towards and then eventually behind their face, stopping once their elbows are parallel or somewhat behind their shoulders.

Once this phase of the repetition has been completed, they will then slowly release their scapula, allowing the resistance of the machine to pull their hands back into their original position in a controlled manner.

If performed correctly, the back of the shoulders and the center of the back should both be recruited to a moderate capacity, thereby completing a single repetition of the cable face pull exercise.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, the lat pulldown machine is in fact quite versatile and not solely confined to be used as a lat pulldown exercise tool. If done properly, it is possible to activate nearly every muscle group in the upper body with this particular piece of fitness equipment.

In actuality, there is very little difference between most kinds of lat pulldown machines and most standard cable machines, as they use the same mechanics and much the same characteristics.

This means that there is very little difference between exercises performed with a lat pulldown machine or a cable machine, ending in the same sort of training stimulus and therefore much the same results.

References

1. Snarr, Ronald & Eckert, Ryan & Abbott, Patricia. (2015). A Comparative Analysis and Technique of the Lat Pull-down. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 37. 21-25. 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000173.

2. Aerenhouts D, D'Hondt E. Using Machines or Free Weights for Resistance Training in Novice Males? A Randomized Parallel Trial. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Oct 26;17(21):7848. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17217848. PMID: 33114782; PMCID: PMC7662789.

3. Lorenzetti, Silvio, Romain Dayer, Michael Plüss, and Renate List. 2017. "Pulling Exercises for Strength Training and Rehabilitation: Movements and Loading Conditions" Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology 2, no. 3: 33. https://doi.org/10.3390/jfmk2030033

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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