Risk vs Benefit: Is Your Training Program Hurting You More Than Helping You?
With the vast amount of misinformation being taught in weight rooms across the country it is essential that you heed good counsel when deciding on a workout program. The advice that you employ should consist of sound biomechanical and physiological principles. In this series, Risk vs Benefit: Is Your Training Program Hurting You More Than Helping You?, I am addressing common myths and errant exercise technique that can leave you injured and on the sidelines.
This article will focus on the lat pulldown (pulldowns) exercise, an excellent upper body strengthening exercise. The primary movers (muscle groups) of this exercise are the:
- Biceps Brachii. The “bi” in biceps is the reference to two heads of the muscle that attach at one end in the shoulder area (scapula – shoulder blade) and just below the elbow (medial side of the forearm) at the other. When it contracts, it flexes (decreases the joint angle) the elbow and supinates (rotates the palm of your hand forward) the forearm.
- Brachioradialis. It’s attachments on the humerus (upper arm) and radius (forearm) allow it to flex the elbow when it contracts.
- Posterior Deltoids. The “shoulder” muscles of the deltoids have three heads: anterior, medial, posterior. The posterior deltoid attaches on the scapula and on the humerus. When it contracts it laterally rotates the arm and extends the arm.
- Latissimus Dorsi (Lats). The largest muscle in your upper body is the latissimus dorsi (lats). It originates on vertebrae (T7-12) (L1-5), lower 3 or 4 ribs, ilium, and sacrum (posterior). The lats insert on the anterior or medial side of the humerus (upper arm bone). When it contracts, it adducts (brings toward the midline of the body) the humerus, extends the shoulder (arm moves backwards), and internally rotates the arm at the shoulder joint.
The lat pulldown exercise can be performed with three different hand positions: pronation (standard lat bar), semi-pronation (multi-exercise bar), supination (standard lat bar). Although all three hit the lats, a change in elbow and hand position create a different area of emphasis on the lats and the upper arms. For example, the pronated and semi-pronated lat pulldown require greater activation from the brachioradialis, whereas the supinated lat pulldown recruits the biceps brachii.
Procedure: The use of proper technique is essential to maximizing your training and lifting safely. Select the bar you would like to use for the lat pulldown exercise, either a standard lat bar or multi-exercise bar. Your choice will determine your handgrip and therefore, the specific muscles that are emphasized. Choose a weight that you can perform the proper technique for at least 10 repetitions (err on the side of lighter rather than heavier until you can properly perform the technique). Sit on the lat pulldown machine bench with your knees at a 90-degree angle and your feet flat on the floor. A pad should be resting on your thighs to help keep you seated.
If you wish to perform the pronated grip lat pulldown, your hands should be placed on the standard lat bar slightly wider than shoulder-width with palms facing forward. This grip will emphasize the lats, posterior deltoids, and the brachioradialis’.
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With the same bar, you can perform the supinated grip pulldowns that highlight the lats, posterior deltoids, and the biceps brachii. Simply place your hands shoulder-width apart with the back of your hands facing forward (underhand grip).
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Attach the multi-exercise bar to the lat pulldown machine if a narrow grip is what you want. You will work the lats, posterior deltoids, and the brachioradialis’ by placing your hands in a semi-pronated grip with the palms of your hands facing each other.
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Use a false grip (thumb on the same side of the bar as your other fingers) with all three angles. This will allow you to focus your attention on your lats rather than your wrists and forearms.
To initiate each repetition, remember to arch, lean then pull. Slightly arch your upper back without leaning back at your waist. Then, slightly lean back at the waist as you begin to pull the bar towards your body. The bar should touch your upper chest, just below your clavicle (collar bone) with your upper back arched (chest sticking out). Return to the starting position with the bar directly over your head with your back upright. Exhale as you pull the bar down to your chest and inhale as you raise the bar back to the starting position.
Incorrect Technique Commonly Performed: 1) Pulling the bar behind the neck. Done with the pronated or semi-pronated wide grip, this movement not only places stress on the cervical vertebrae, but doesn’t allow for the arch in the upper back essential for a full contraction of the back muscles. 2) Rounding the upper back when pulling the bar to the chest. This occurs when the weight is too heavy or when you start to fatigue and can’t perform the exercise correctly. This form doesn’t allow for the full contraction of the back muscles and therefore, minimalizes the amount of benefit you will receive. 3) Not pulling the bar to the chest, but several inches in front of the body, rolling the shoulders forward. Like the two previous errors in technique, this poor form will encourage a rounding of the upper back when it should be arched.
Tip: When performing the arch, lean then pull portion of the exercise, lead with your elbows and use your hands as “hooks” to pull the bar to your body. This will help you feel a greater contraction in the lats.
Equipment: Lat Pulldown Machine, Multi-Exercise Bar, Standard Lat Bar
Why This is Important for Basketball: The muscles strengthened from the lat pulldown exercise are needed to pull down a rebound, perform a rip-through, and protect the ball in the low post or in traffic.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to share Rusty Gregory’s experience, education and research on the topic at hand. The contents of this article are the opinions of Mr. Gregory and should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Consult with your licensed physician or healthcare provider about your specific health needs. Be smart with the lifestyle choices you make and all your health-related decisions. Rusty Gregory provides personal training in strength for Austin basketball players and their families as well. Check out his website at www.RustyGregory.com (http://www NULL.rustygregory NULL.com).