Why Are My Biceps Tired from Lat Pulldowns?
April 14th 2019
The lat pull-down machine is among the most common equipment in the gym.
While how to use it seems obvious, this machine is often used incorrectly, and not just by beginners.
You see, the lat pulldown is a back exercise which should work your back muscles.
Now, the big problem with doing this back exercise incorrectly is that you work your biceps more than your back muscles.
The biceps end up doing most of the work, and your back goes untrained to some extent, possibly even completely.
And there is more to it: doing the exercise incorrectly will often result in tired biceps after workouts.
In fact, this is the most common immediate effect of using the lat pulldown machine incorrectly.
In this article, however, we’re going to address problem comprehensively and tell you how to fix it.
Why Are My Biceps Tired from Lat Pulldowns?
Having tired biceps from lat pulldown can be a result of one or a combination of the following issues;
- Improper form
- Using weights that are too heavy for you
- Not knowing how to use back muscles altogether
1. Improper Form
Using improper form is what leads to working unintended muscle groups when exercising.
In this case, the unintended muscles are the biceps.
Here are three mistakes that people make when doing lat pulldowns;
Pulling the bar behind the neck
When performing lat pulldowns behind the neck, you will often tend to lean forward as you bring the bar down.
This strains your shoulders, neck, and arm muscles.
While the shoulder joints are very flexible, they are not designed for such movements.
If you keep doing the exercise like this for a long time, it may cause a variety of shoulder issues.
Pulling the bar
This is another common mistake that people make when doing lat pulldowns.
Lifters will focus on pulling the bar instead of pulling their elbows down.
As a result, the arm muscles do all the work.
The lat muscles aren’t engaged.
Also, this puts a lot of stress on the shoulder muscles.
It is a completely wasted motion, and many people end up having tired biceps from the lat pulldown sessions.
A supinated grip
The lat pulldown machine bar is rather wide.
Studies have shown that using a supinated grip does not activate the lats as effectively as using a pronated grip.
You may also be tempted to pull the bar using your biceps as well.
Therefore, the intended muscles are not properly engaged and stimulated.
What grip width should I use?
So what’s the right grip width?
Usually, for wide pulldown machines, one should grip the bar 3 to 5 inches wider than their shoulders.
Note that wide pulldown works the trapezius and central latissimus better.
For the narrow versions, a 6 to 12-inch width is recommended.
This version stretches the outer lats more, making your back wider.
To the best results, therefore, consider including both in your lat pulldown sessions.
So basically the first step to avoiding having tired biceps from lat pulldown is learning how to do the exercise correctly.
Here’s how to perform the back exercise correctly:
- Keep the shoulders back and down then lean back a little bit from your hips
- Bring your shoulder blades back and down
- Pull your elbows down until you feel your lats being contracted
- Do not use any arm muscles to help with pulling the bar down
- It is okay if the bar does not touch your chest. The most important thing is that your lats are being contracted.
2. Using Weights Too Heavy for You
I always see people in the gym lifting weights that are obviously too heavy for them.
While it is something done by people from all genders, body types, and ages, it is often more of a beginner mistake.
Sometimes, it can even be ego-lifting.
You see, lifting more weight than you can handle will prevent you from working the target muscles or muscle groups.
If you try doing lat pulldowns with weights that are too heavy for you, I can guarantee that you will use some weird jerky-looking motions that will force your biceps to do all or most of the work.
Also, in most cases, when the weight is too heavy for you, it won’t go where it needs to go, and therefore, your range of motion won’t be proper.
Either you would not be going all the way down, all the way up, or a little bit of both.
For instance, in the case of lat pull-downs, the bar should be touching or at least coming within 1-2 inches of touching your chest.
Perhaps another test for ensuring that you are not using too much weight during lat pulldowns is the ability to hold the end positions for a second or two.
This means that when you reach the end of a rep (when you have pulled the weight to your chest), you should be able to pause for a second or two.
If you cannot hold this end position, then you’re most likely pulling a weight that’s too heavy for you and you’ll end up working your biceps more than your back muscles.
It also strains the arm muscles too much resulting in tired biceps after the lat pulldown workout.
The simple solution to this is, of course, just lowering the weights you are using.
This will ensure that you use the perfect form and the right range of motion on each rep.
If you do this, you are sure to work the intended muscles.
3. Not Knowing How to Use Back Muscles Altogether
Sometimes, you may have tired biceps from lat pulldown because you just have no idea how to make the right muscles do most of the work instead of your arm muscles.
This is very common, and it’s mostly due to the fact that unlike the biceps, you can’t see how your back muscles are working (because they are in your back).
At some point, when doing back exercises, it is quite difficult to create a proper mind-muscle connection with a muscle group that you can’t see.
You, therefore, end up working and straining the wrong muscle group (in this case, the biceps).
So how do you fix this? How do you ensure that you are using your back muscles when doing lat pulldowns?
Here are some cues and tips that will get you activating the right target muscles;
- Do not try pulling the weights to you
You see, when you grab the bar of a lat pulldown machine, your instinct is to try and pull it into your body.
Unfortunately, this thought of pulling the weight into your body is often what activates the biceps more than the back muscles.
You may be wondering:
How then am I even going to do lat pulldown?
- Try and pull with your elbows, not your hands
How is this even possible?
You see, when you are pulling more with your hands than your elbows, you are using your biceps, not your back!
Think of your forearms and hands as some hooks that connect the elbows to the bar.
Back exercises are often all about using the elbows.
So try and imagine that the hands are only gripping the bar, and put your focus into moving the elbows behind your body.
Perhaps the best way to do this is imagining that there’s someone behind you and you want to hit them with the elbows.
Now since your hands are gripping the bar, the weight will end up being pulled towards your chest as a result of the elbows going backward.
When you reach the end point, be sure to squeeze the shoulder blades together for one second.
- A neutral or overhand grip may give better results than an underhand bar grip
When performing back exercises, an underhand grip (when your palms face you or the ceiling) engages the biceps more than a neutral grip (where the palms face each other) or an overhand grip (where the palms face away from you or the floor).
This, therefore, means that using an underhand grip when doing lat pulldowns will potentially increase bicep involvement.
This may result in too much straining of the biceps and consequently result in tired biceps from lat pulldown sessions.
Note, however, that your biceps will still be recruited with a neutral or an overhand grip.
The difference is that with an underhand grip, their involvement is more significant and that’s all that is required to strain them.
So when performing any back exercises, not just the lat pulldown, you are more likely to work your back muscle better with an overhand grip than with an underhand grip.
In a nutshell, if you have tired biceps after using the lat pulldown machine, the solution lies in avoiding improper forms, using a weight that will allow you use proper form, and learning to pull the weight with the elbows.