This article was originally published on the Onnit Academy website.
The straight-arm pulldown exercise is a variation of the classic lat-pulldown. In this case, you perform the movement standing and keep your elbows locked out the entire time. The straight-arm pulldown trains the lats through a long range of motion, and is helpful for people who have trouble feeling their backs work on conventional pulldown exercises. As a result, it’s a great movement for focusing on lat development.
|1–2 x per week||Strength training||Steady, deliberate||10–15||30–45 sec.|
Step 1: Attach a rope handle to the high pulley of a cable station. Grasp an end in each hand and face the cable station.
Step 3: Draw your ribs down, tuck your tailbone under, and brace your core. Your torso should feel like one tight, solid column. Bend your hips back until your torso is at a 30–45-degree angle.
Step 4: Step back from the station a bit so that you feel tension on the cable and your arms are fully extended overhead. You should feel a stretch on your lats (the muscles along the sides of your back). Set your feet at shoulder width.
Step 5: Slowly drive your arms down to your sides in an arcing motion with elbows locked out, so your hands end up in line with your hips, or just behind them.
Step 6: Reverse the motion slowly to extend your arms again.
The straight-arm pulldown may also be done with a lat-bar or straight-bar attachment, but the rope allows for better shoulder positioning and a slightly greater range of motion. As a result, you’ll get greater muscle activation. If possible, use two rope attachments on the same cable so that you can use a wider grip and get an even greater contraction in the end position. Another option is to use a band, which will increase tension in the end range of motion, helping you get a greater contraction at the bottom of the movement.
In any case, it’s important to keep the elbows extended, as any bending will cause the triceps to get involved and reduce the involvement of the lats.
While the straight-arm pulldown can stretch your lats and increase mobility on its own, you should warm up your upper body before you perform it. The following video, courtesy of Onnit’s Durability Coach, Cristian Plascencia, is a sample routine you can use before an upper-body or back workout. (Follow Cristian on Instagram, @cristian_thedurableathlete).
If you feel like back muscles other than your lats are taking over the straight-arm pulldown, reduce the load you’re using, or try them with a band instead of a cable. You can also perform the movement while standing up more vertically, which will place less of a stretch on your lats and make the movement easier to control.
To make the straight-arm pulldown harder, use a longer rope or two rope handles at once to increase your range of motion.
If you don’t have a cable station or band at your disposal, you can use the following substitutes to get a similar training effect to the straight-arm pulldown.
Dumbbell or kettlebell pullover. Lying on a bench and pulling the weight from behind your head to over your chest stretches the lats, but will also involve the chest and triceps to a degree, which isn’t ideal if your goal is ultimate lat development.
Gironda Pulldown. This pulldown/row combination works the back hard, but doesn’t provide the same lat isolation that the straight-arm pulldown does.