Should the Bar Touch Your Chest While Performing Lat Pulldowns?
January 25th 2020
The lat pulldown is an amazing compound exercise to use for back development and gaining upper body strength. Not only does this movement target the lats but it also engages the deltoids, rhomboids, traps, and biceps along with several other secondary muscle groups.
It is often debated whether or not those who perform this exercise should touch the bar to their chest when finishing the first half of the movement. In general, as long as an individual engages their lats throughout the entire lift it shouldn’t matter too much whether the bar hits the chest or the individual stops right above the chest before returning to the top.
In order to perform the lat pulldown in an optimal and efficient way, the individual should ensure that they are engaging the primary muscle groups involved with the lift throughout its full duration and that they also do not compromising their form to complete the lift.
Is It A Lat Pulldown Mistake To Have The Bar Touch Your Chest?
The bar does not need to touch your chest but it depends on your grip, torso angle and lat strength. Performing the lat pulldown efficiently depends on what your goals are - are you training for strength or hypertrophy. Do you want to do sets of 5s or 10-15s? It is vital to know what you are training for and what rep range will best help you towards your goal.
After all, we would not want to ego-lifting and just swinging the bar down to your chest JUST BECAUSE the internet told you that the lat pulldown bar needed to touch your chest.
Let’s discuss the form of the standard wide grip lat pulldown and then explore the factors which will determine whether or not individuals should touch the bar to their chest.
Overview of the Standard Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown
The lat pulldown is a compound movement that involves a wide range of upper body muscles that are utilized throughout the majority of the lift.
Initially, it is important for those performing this exercise to adjust their seating and posture so that they sit upright in the seat with the kneepads securing their feet to the ground. This will prevent the individual from leaning back too far during the lift as well as reduce their risk of having trunk flexion or rounding. This will also enable the athlete to maintain a neutral position which sets them up for having better control over the movement during all stages.
Once the athlete is positioned correctly they should grab the bar with a wide grip, retract their shoulder blades, and slowly pull down the weight until it reaches somewhere between the chin and sternum.
Individuals who cannot maintain proper form or feel that they no longer have full lat activation past the chin should pause the lift right at their chin before slowly releasing to the stop. Those who are able to maintain proper form and have full lat activation throughout a larger range of motion should complete the initial phase of the lift until the bar either touches their chest or is within a few inches from the chest.
After holding the weight for a few seconds, the athlete should then slowly release the weight back to the top to the start of the movement and repeat the lift for the number of repetitions that fit their training regimen. In most cases, those who are using the lat pulldown for strength purposes should perform the exercise for 3 to 5 sets with only a few repetitions per set, such as 5 to 6.
They should allow several minutes of rest between sets before repeating the exercise. Those who are using lat pulldowns for the purpose of hypertrophy should perform the same amount of sets but with higher repetitions (6 to 15) and less rest (no more than 2 minutes).
Factors to Consider
Those who debate on whether or not they should touch the bar to their chest when performing lat pulldowns should take a few things into consideration before training the lift with higher intensity or with heavier weight.
First, individuals need to recognize whether or not they tend to lean back too far during the lift. Even though the standard lat pulldown is performed as a machine exercise and not a free weight exercise those who are new to the lift should have a spotter the first few times they perform the movement to judge whether or not they have good control of the weight and can maintain an upright, neutral form throughout all sets and reps.
Those who can perform the lift without rounding their back may proceed to touch the bar to their chest, however, those who lean back too far are at an increased risk of performing the movement incorrectly. When individuals round out too much when trying to bring the bar to their chest they generally use their entire body to initiate and perform the movement instead of controlling the movement with just the major muscle groups intended for the lift.
This causes them to not engage their lats fully and this places too much stress on their lower back. Until novice lifters can perform the lift correctly they should only bring down the weight to their chin and perform the exercise with lighter weight for higher repetitions to gain familiarity and better control of the lift.
In addition to leaning back too far, individuals should also evaluate their ability to control the weight and whether or not they move the weight too quickly. Those who can control the weight at a steady pace and allow each phase of the movement to last for several seconds should consider bringing the weight close to their chest to further develop strength and mastery of the lift.
However, those who cannot control the weight smoothly and rush through both the downward and upward phases of the lift should lighten the weight and perform the lift to just past their chin.
After they have performed the lift correctly with a lighter weight and controlled the movement from their chin back to the top they may then attempt bringing down the bar to their chest with the same weight.
Individuals should first become comfortable with lifting lighter weight during the exercise and then work on extending their range of motion before adding on additional weight to the exercise and training more for strength.
Once athletes gain more familiarity with the lift and can properly perform the movement they should actively try to touch the bar to their chest as long as their range of motion allows them to do so and they are free from shoulder injuries or issues.
When individuals limit the pull-down portion of the lift to just the clavicle area and not the sternum they reduce activation of the lower portion of their lats. When they instead pull the weight down to their sternum and either touch their chest or bring the bar a few inches above the chest they require more strength and activation from the lats in order to control the load and reduce the stress placed on their upper traps and shoulders.
Let us wrap things up
There are many different ways to do a lat pulldown. And with the explosion of social media, you also get to see what other athletes are doing in the gym, some with great form and some with very questionable techniques.
What is most important is that you get the benefit from the exercise and to get your lats firing. Keeping it light and later ramping up the intensity is definitely a no-brainer piece of advice that remains true over time.
Graham, J. F. (2003). Front Lat Pulldown. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 25(5), 42–43. doi: 10.1519/00126548-200310000-00007
Ronai, P. (2019). The Lat Pulldown. ACSM?s Health & Fitness Journal, 23(2), 24–30. doi: 10.1249/fit.0000000000000469
Snarr, Ronald & Eckert, Ryan & Abbott, Patricia. (2015). A Comparative Analysis and Technique of the Lat Pull-down. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 37. 21-25. 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000173.