Muscles Targeted: Straight arm pulldowns target the upper back, specifically your latissimus dorsi (lats), teres major and the trapezius. Aside from these, it also uses the secondary muscles of your deltoids and abdominals along with your quads and glutes to maintain a stable position throughout the movement.
Exercise Instructions: Stand behind a lat pulldown machine and grab the pulldown bar with your arms completely extended. Slowly lower the bar down and try to touch the bar to your thighs while keeping both arms fully extended throughout the entire movement. Make sure to pull down using your back muscles and avoid swinging your upper body to lower the weight. Slowly return the weight back up to the starting position and repeat.
Why This Exercise is Important: The back muscles are one of the largest areas of the body and neglecting this important muscle group can leave your physique out of proportion. A well-developed back conveys strength and confidence. It also gives an illusion of sleekness by creating a “v-taper” to your upper body which makes your waist look smaller. Aside from aesthetics, the back supports your frame. A strong back allows you to stand tall and not hunch over. If you maintain your posture, you will help reduce back pain and other issues. It also plays an important role in your balance. It supports your core and helps in developing a strong midsection.
Things To Avoid: Do not perform straight arm pulldowns if you suffer from any shoulder problems. Before you start the exercise, select the correct weight for you which is not too heavy that you lose your balance or too light that you breeze through the sets. If you are unsure about it, experiment first until you find the right amount of weight to use. Using a weight that is not ideal can result in improper technique which can lead to an injury. It can also reduce the range of your movement and render the exercise useless.
Posture is key to this exercise. Bend slightly at the knees, hold your arms straight (but do not lock them out), keep your head level and eyes forward. Hold the bar with an overhand grip and brace your legs and glutes. Stand slightly away from the seat of the machine and draw power from your lats all the way through the exercise.
As you perform straight arm pulldowns, maintain an extension of your arms throughout the movement. Bring the bar slowly down near your upper thighs in an arc motion while using a tightly controlled movement. Performing the exercise too quickly reduces the amount of muscle stimulation the movement allows. Do not jerk the bar around during the exercise. Stay in the same posture position and do not lean backward. Nor should you allow your weight to shift forward into the movement. Once the bar is at its lowest point, pause for a second and then release the bar up slowly and return it to the starting position, following the same arc motion. Do not rush through the set and really try to feel each repetition directly in your back muscles.
Reps and Sets: The quality of your straight arm pulldowns is more important than the quantity. If you are a beginner, do 10 to 12 reps for 2-3 sets. Increase the reps and sets as you master the exercise in a progressive manner. However, do not add reps and sets too fast. You can also try adding more weight as you progress with this exercise.
Other Exercises To Use: Aside from straight arm pulldowns, add some barbell deadlifts and barbell rows to your workout routine to add some solid size and mass to your back muscles. View our extensive database of exercise guides for a comprehensive list of exercises that target the back.