Wide Grip Pulldowns – Back Exercise Guide with Photos


Muscles Targeted: Wide grip pulldowns target your back muscles. The “back” covers a wide area, but for this exercise, it specifically hits the latissimus dorsi (lats), which are shaped like two large wings and gives bodybuilders that manta-ray look. The most prominent bodybuilder who dominated the back pose is Arnold Schwarzenegger. The secondary muscles targeted are the biceps and forearms.



Exercise Instructions: Position yourself on the lat pulldown machine and grab the bar using an overhand grip with your hands a little wider than shoulder width. Slowly pull the bar straight down in front of you until it is positioned at either chin level (as seen in the photo) or the middle/upper part of your chest. The position will depend on your level of flexibility in your shoulders, so only go low enough to a point that is comfortable. Pause for a brief moment at the bottom and then slowly return the weight back up to the starting position and repeat.

Why This Exercise is Important: A well-shaped back has many aesthetic benefits. It gives bodybuilders that classic V-shape (or “V-taper”) and creates an illusion of small waist. It also conveys a statement of strength and power. A wide, well-defined back is one of the most coveted muscle groups by bodybuilders. Chin-ups and wide grip pulldowns are some of the best exercises for developing the width of your lats. Aside from making you look good, the lats draw the arms back and downwards. It’s the muscle you use when you need to rotate your arms back to reach towards the side, moving towards the front and vice-versa. This is the muscle that tennis players rely on when serving to their opponent. For the non-athletes, if you don’t work the back area, you can become prone to frozen shoulders, especially if your job entails long periods of immobility (e.g. working in front of a computer for extended periods of time). At the same time, the lats also play a major role in scapular retraction, or when you pull your shoulder blades together. It’s the muscle you use when you throw a ball or push against an object. A strong back ensures that you have good posture and your lats are part of these important interconnected muscles. Those who have experienced back pain know the importance of strengthening this area.

Things To Avoid: Grip the lat bar as wide as possible. Lean back slightly and position yourself with your chest slightly up. Feel the squeeze in your lats as you initiate the movement of the wide grip pulldowns. Choose a weight that is not too heavy that you are lifted off the seat nor too light that you don’t feel the movement. Pull the bar in one smooth movement, avoiding any jerky motions that might result in an injury. Hold the contraction for a second or two at the peak, then slowly return the bar all the way up for a good stretch. Don’t rock back and forth as you perform the repetitions. Stay relatively upright as you perform the exercise. Be mindful of your form all throughout the reps and for every set. Do not hunch over or drop your shoulders.

Reps and Sets: Choose a weight where you can do 10-12 reps of wide grip pulldowns but is also challenging enough that you cannot do more. Perform 1-2 sets for beginners, and 3-4 sets for the intermediate to advanced exercisers.

Other Exercises To Use: If you want the classic V-taper look, spend some time doing exercises to widen your lats, such as reverse grip pulldowns. It’s also advisable that you do thickness exercises for the back. Try using T-bar rows and seated cable rows along with wide grip pulldowns so that your back area will not look shallow. View our extensive database of exercise guides for a comprehensive list of exercises that target the back.

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  1. Anwar Qureshi on

    Good morning to all at ShapeFit. In the demo picture, the lady is bringing down the bar to face level and not to the level of the chest as mentioned in the narrative. Please look into it and guide appropriately. If I am right, for this exercise the focus and concentration should be on the back plus the forearms and biceps areas.

    • Hi Anwar – Thanks so much for your feedback. We have updated the instructions for this exercise which should explain the demonstration better now. This exercise primarily targets the back muscles (latissimus dorsi) and the secondary muscles include the biceps and forearms.

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