It’s generally believed that wide-grip lat pulldowns activate the lats more than an using over-hand grip where the hands are placed closer to shoulder-width apart. It’s for this reason that you often hear it asserted that “you’ve gotta do wide grip pulldowns if you want get a wide back, bro.”
This belief originates in bodybuilding dogma, but it can also appear to be “science-based” by the results of a 2002 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, which found that the wide-grip pull-down produced greater muscle activity than pull-downs using a closer, supinated (i.e., underhand grip). The problem is that this study didn’t compare different overhead (i.e. pronated) grip widths. (1)
That said, a 2014 study also published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research did just that, by comparing 6 repetition maximum (6RM) load and electromyographic (EMG) activity in the lat pull-down using 3 different pronated grip widths: narrow, medium, and wide grips at 1, 1.5, and 2 times the biacromial distance. (2)
Note: Biacromial distance is a measure of shoulder width, which is the distance between the most lateral points of the two acromion processes in a subject standing upright with arms hanging loosely at the sides.
This study found “similar EMG activation between grip widths for latissimus, trapezius, or infraspinatus, but a tendency for biceps brachii activation to be greater for medium vs. narrow. Collectively, a medium grip may have some minor advantages over small and wide grips; however, athletes and others engaged in resistance training can generally expect similar muscle activation which in turn should result in similar hypertrophy gains with a grip width that is 1-2 times the biacromial distance.”
In other words, aside from a bit more biceps involvement in the medium grip width, all three grips produced similar lat activation, which challenges the old bodybuilding dogma that wide grip is “best” for targeting the lats when doing pull downs.
So, some of the practical training take aways I have from this research are:
- You don’t have to use very wide grip lat pull-downs in order to really stimulate your lats. Instead, you can find a grip width that feels most comfortable to you.
- If you’re looking to add in some extra biceps work while doing lat pull downs, this evidence indicates that using a medium grip width may just help you do that.
- You can mix up grip widths to add subtle variety to your lat pull downs without feeling as if you’re missing out on the “special” lat building benefits of using a very wide grip.
How to Do Band Lat Pulldowns
While I’m on the subject of the Lat Pulldowns exercise, I wanted to share this quick video I put together on how to perform Lat Pull downs with a resistance band.
The reason why I’m sharing this video is because the way I usually see people try to perform lat pulldowns with a set of resistance bands makes the set-up much more difficult than it has to be for the times when people who often train at home or while traveling may not have access to a lat pulldown machine.
Check out the video and the quick explanation I provide for why I did this video to see what I mean.
- Signorile JF, et al. A comparative electromyographical investigation of muscle utilization patterns using various hand positions during the lat pull-down. J Strength Cond Res. 2002 Nov;16(4):539-46.
- Andersen, et al. Effects of grip width on muscle strength and activation in the lat pull-down. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Apr;28(4):1135-42.