Why I Dislike the Rear Lat Pulldown and You Should Too.

The wrong way

When I go to the gym I sometimes feel like I have to wear blinders to stop myself from seeing all the poorly executed exercises - or made-up, dangerous exercises. Let me be clear here, I don't really care if someone is doing squats and they have to wide a base or don't go to parallel, What I do care about is someone swinging a kettlebell over their head like they are Conan the Barbarian. I let it all slide because I know people don't like a random bearded man coming up to them to tell that what they are doing is probably going to end up in injury.

One thing that I have a hard time letting go is people doing the rear lat pulldown. The exercise really irks me, mainly because of people's flawed reasoning for performing it and because I think that the risks of the exercise outweigh whatever benefits one thinks it has over the front lat pulldown

The righ way
Firstly, neck position. Most of the people I see doing a rear lat pull down have terrible posture. They wrench their neck forward and slam the bar down at the CT junction. Like every other exercise, posture and spinal alignment are very important. if you're throwing yourself this far out of alignment, then it's a definite no-no.

Secondly, going along with the neck position, when somewhen flexes they neck so far forward they often times do a sort-of semi-crunch at the bottom of the movement. I cringe thinking about it, and I sort of picture Gollum from lord of the rings, with creepy bent over position.

Ok, so not everyone does the rear-lat pulldown with such terrible posture. I can hear you saying, "but I sit upright, retract my scapula and pull straight down behind my head. Why can't I do this?" Well, you can if you want to, but what benefit are you getting from doing it this way over doing the lat pulldown in front? Some people say they feel it more, or that the muscles in your back work harder, well I call bullshit. EMG studies show that the most effective position for activation of the latissimus, posterior deltoid, and teres major is the wide-grip front lat pulldown.

So even those of you with good posture are not getting the benefits you seek from doing the pulldown behind your head. What you are doing is placing your shoulder in a more externally rotated position which horizontally with horizontal abduction (a provacation test for shoulder sublaxation by the way), pinning your scapula to your back with excessive retraction during the movement, and putting added stress on the joint capsule. all this culminates to a high-risk-low-reward situation in which the only thing your increasing is the chances of anterior shoulder instability/dislocation, and impingement.

What are your thoughts? Do you still think it better to do the rear-lat pulldown? To be fair, I've seen people doing front lat pulldowns in a way that is much more dangerous (and stupid) than doing a rear lat pulldown with good posture. However, the key to any exercise is to do it as safely and as efficiently as possible, in this case the front lat pulldown wins.

Pugh, G. M. (2003). A Biomechanical Comparison of the Front and Rear Lat Pull-Down Exercise. Unpublished Masters Thesis. University of Florida.

Signorile, J. E., Zink, A. J., and Szwed, S. P. (2002). A Comparative Electromyographical Investigation of Muscle Utilization Patterns Using Various Hand Positions During the Lat Pull-down. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 16(4), 539-546.   

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