Why Are Lat Pulldowns So Hard? 12 Tips For Progress
Have you ever done the lat pulldown and found it a really hard exercise to do? You’re not imagining things! The lat pulldown is one of the best exercises for targeting and building your latissimus dorsi (lats), so it’s no surprise that when doing them you can find it difficult for various reasons.
In this blog post, we’ll explore why exactly why lat pulldowns are so hard – plus ways to make sure you are getting the most out of each rep.
Are you ready to learn how to conquer this obstacle and receive maximum results while performing the exercise correctly? Read on!
Why Are Lat Pulldowns So Hard?
The lat pulldown can be an intimidating exercise that may feel uncomfortable and unnatural to many people. It is essential to ensure you have proper form when doing this exercise in order to avoid shoulder pain or injuries. Your body needs to be correctly positioned and your core should remain engaged throughout the entire exercise. If you are not positioned correctly, you may find the exercise difficult. Additionally, if you are going too heavy or your grip width isn’t correct, this can also make it harder to do the pulldown correctly. Another reason why lat pulldowns can be challenging is that many people don’t know how to properly engage their lats and end up using other muscles instead. Building a strong mind-muscle connection is essential in order to help you engage the correct muscles and get maximum results from the exercise. Finally, even though it may be tempting to rely on your arms during a lat pulldown, it’s important to remember that this exercise should be focused on pulling with your elbows and not just with your arms. This can take some practice and patience, but once you get the hang of it, you will be able to perform lat pulldowns with ease.
The lat pulldown is an incredibly powerful back exercise; however, it can also be difficult to perform correctly. To get the maximum benefit from this workout, you need to ensure that your form and technique are correct – let’s explore how!
1. Can feel awkward
The lat pulldown can feel awkward and unnatural to many people, making the exercise harder to do. This could be for a number of reasons. Firstly, many people don’t have the correct body positioning and posture while performing the exercise. Ensuring your chest is up and your shoulders are back will help to keep you in the right position throughout the entire exercise and make it easier to do.
Additionally, pulling the bar towards your collarbone might feel strange if you aren’t used to doing so because it’s not a movement you do in everyday life. With practice, however, it can become much easier to perform the lat pulldown with the correct form.
The action of pulling on the bar with your arms can also be quite difficult to get used to. Many people may find it tempting to overuse their arms instead of using their back muscles, but this will not help you achieve the best results and could even lead to injury. In order to really engage the lats, be sure to focus on pulling down with your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do so. Again, for this reason, the exercise can feel awkward.
2. Bar needs stabilising
Following on from the last point, when you are using the bar to pull down, it is essential to ensure that it is stable and secure. This will help prevent any potential injuries or strains, as well as help to improve your form during the exercise. When you pull the bar down it also needs stabilising which can make the exercise feel harder, as the bar isn’t fixed to a solid object, but rather a cable which has a lot of movement in it.
Due to this, the angle at which you pull the bar does matter and can make a massive difference in the difficulty of the exercise. If you are pulling too hard and at an incorrect angle then it can cause the bar to move erratically, making it much harder to perform the pulldown correctly.
Always make sure you are pulling the bar straight down and in a smooth and controlled manner. This will help to keep the bar stable and make it easier to focus on engaging your lats instead of relying on your arms.
3. You’re doing them wrong
This might sound obvious but, you might be finding lat pulldowns hard because you are doing them wrong. There are quite a few things you can do wrong with this exercise, which will make it harder than it needs to be. Firstly, you need to make sure your grip width is correct and that your arms are in the correct position. Your elbows should be slightly bent and you should be pulling down towards your chest without allowing your elbows to flair out to the side.
Keep your shoulders back and your chest up throughout the entire exercise, and make sure you are focusing on the right muscles. If you try to pull with your arms instead of engaging your lats then it is going to be a lot harder and can even lead to shoulder pain or injuries.
You also need to ensure that you engage your core muscles while performing the exercise. This will help keep your body in the correct position and will help you to pull from your lats instead of relying on your arms. Lastly, ensure that you are using a weight which is appropriate for your strength level; if it’s too light then this can make the exercise feel harder because you won’t be getting enough resistance, but if it’s too heavy then this can make it difficult to maintain the correct form.
4. Incorrect positioning
How you are sat can have a massive bearing on how difficult the exercise can feel. For example, if you are leaning back too much or slouching then this can make it harder to pull from your lats and can even increase the risk of injury.
In order to perform the exercise correctly, be sure to sit up straight with your shoulders back and chest out. This will help you maintain good posture throughout the entire movement, allowing you to focus on the right muscles and keep your body in the correct position.
The most crucial part of being positioned correctly is being sat right up against the padded cushions, all the way to your hips. This will put you in the correct position and encourage you to pull the bar at the correct angle from the bar’s starting position, which should be straight down.
5. You’re going too heavy
When doing any exercise, it is essential to make sure that you are using the right amount of weight for your ability level. If the weight is too heavy for you then it can make the exercise much harder and even lead to injury if you are not able to maintain proper form.
If you feel like the weight is too heavy for you then start lighter and gradually increase it until you find a comfortable weight that still challenges your muscles. It is also important to remember that when doing lat pulldowns, a slower and more controlled movement will help you to engage your lats more effectively and make the exercise easier.
More often than not, when the weight is too heavy people tend to lean backwards to gain extra leverage to allow them to pull the load down. However, in doing so their form is massively compromised and they could end up getting seriously injured.
6. Grip essentials
Another bone of contention when doing lat pulldown is your grip position, this is because changing your grip type and grip width can have a massive bearing on how the exercise feels and changes the comfort level based on your own personal range of motion.
Firstly, let’s talk about the grip type, there are three different grips you can use: neutral, underhand and overhand.
Neutral grip – is a common grip used and involves both palms facing each other when you grasp the handle and does feel comfortable but utilises the biceps more than the lats.
Underhand grip – is when your palms are facing towards you and in this grip, you should feel your lats doing the majority of work, the wider your grip is. However, this type of grip can feel uncomfortable the wider it is due to the range of motion.
Overhand grip – is the most common type when performing the exercise. Your palms are facing away from you with your grip being slightly wider than shoulder width. This also utilises the lats more than the biceps the wider the grip. Grasping with a narrow grip may feel awkward and unfamiliar to our bodies, given our natural mechanics.
I understand we all have varying ranges of motion, so try these different grip variations and widths to see which one feels the best for you.
Related: Wrist Hurt When Doing Seated Cable Rows?
7. Weak lats
If you feel like the exercise is too hard, even with correct form, then it could be because of a lack of lat strength. The best way to build your lat muscles and make the pulldown easier is by doing other exercises that target them. Cable rows, face pulls and bent-over barbell rows are all great options for increasing the strength of your lats.
If lifting is relatively new to you, then remember that your body may not be used to the new stimulus thats been placed on it and may take time to adapt. So, don’t be afraid to start light and gradually increase the weight as your body gets stronger.
This is why it’s crucial to make sure you get your form spot on, as this will ensure you are targeting the correct muscles and taking the pressure off your shoulders. Small and steady progress is the way to go!
8. You’re not engaging scapula
One of the most important steps in performing a lat pulldown correctly is to actively engage your scapula throughout the entire exercise. This can be done by firstly pulling your shoulder blades back and down, then squeezing them together as you pull the bar down towards your chest.
This helps ensure that you are using the correct muscles for the exercise and reduces the chances of injury. If you’re not engaging your scapula correctly then it’s likely that you won’t be targeting the lats correctly, which will make the exercise a lot harder and may lead to shoulder strain or discomfort.
This can feel awkward if you aren’t used to engaging your scapula, however, when you do get the hang of it the exercise will feel totally different and you will see your progress increase no end.
This leads us to our next point…
9. Your recruiting other muscles
If you are struggling to engage your lats, then it may be because you are recruiting other muscles in the exercise. This could be something like using your arms more than your back or leaning too far forwards during the movement.
In order to reduce this from happening and ensure that you are targeting the correct muscle groups it’s important to stay upright in the movement, engage your core and pull with your elbows and not your hands.
This is also a major factor if you are new to the exercise, as people’s forearms, shoulders and lower back end up taking over the exercise in order to get the job done. This is normally the case when the load is too heavy or your posture isn’t correct.
10. Change perspective
One thing that helped me get my head around the lat pulldown was shifting my perspective regarding the mechanics of the exercise. What I mean is that instead of thinking about pulling the bar towards me, I thought about pulling myself towards the bar…as you would with a pull-up. This might not work for everyone but it worked for me and it helped me connect with the muscles I was supposed to be using.
Doing little things like this can help you stay motivated and keep progressing with the exercise. So, why don’t you give it a try and see how it works for you? Visualising the mechanics of the exercise can also help you get in the right headspace and stay focused on the right muscles throughout the movement.
This leads us nicely to our next point…
11. Mind muscle connection
Mind muscle connection is key when it comes to any exercise and can be the difference between success and failure. If you focus on engaging the correct muscles and performing the exercise with control, then you are much more likely to see progress.
This means that every time you perform a lat pulldown, take a few seconds to visualise what muscles you’re supposed to be using and why. This will help you stay focused on the muscle groups that are being targeted and ensure that you are actually getting the desired result from the exercise. It also helps to have someone touch the area in which you are supposed to be engaging as this will help you feel it working.
Lots of professional athletes use visualisation techniques to help them focus and stay connected with their bodies, why don’t you give it a try?
12. Practice, patience and variation
Finally, the last tip is that practice makes perfect. It takes time to get your form right and start to see the results you want. So make sure you give it the time and effort needed in order to achieve success. Additionally, why not add a few variations into your routine such as changing up your grip width and grip type or trying out different exercises such as rows, chin-ups and pull-ups to really target the lats?
By taking the time to understand why lat pulldowns can be hard and why they are important, you will be able to make better decisions when it comes to your routine and start seeing the results you want sooner rather than later. So why don’t you give these tips a try and see how it works for you?
Related: Why do I feel my biceps when doing pull ups?
Lat pulldowns can be a difficult exercise for many people, but with the right approach, it can become an effective tool to target the lats and build strength. By taking the time to understand why lat pulldowns are so hard, as well as focusing on form, recruiting the correct muscles and visualisation techniques, you will be able to make faster progress and start seeing the results you want. Good luck!
Do you find lat pulldowns hard and have these tips helped? Let me know in the comments below.