The latissimus (lat) pull-down is a common exercise in resistance training programs for fitness and sport. The lats are used in many sports including swimming, gymnastics, and climbing, to name a few.
Many believe having a wider lat pull-down grip position activates the lats more than a narrow lat pull-down grip position. Unfortunately, not many studies have analyzed the effects of hand orientation or width during the lat pull-down.
Lusk et al. (11) examined muscle activation in the pull-down with 4 different lat pull-down grip positions; wide and narrow pronated and supinated grip. Two sets of 5 repetitions at 70% of 1 repetition maximum (1RM) were performed with each grip. Lusk et al. (11) reported similar muscle activation in latissimus dorsi, the middle trapezius, and the biceps brachii between wide and narrow pronated grips.
Signorile et al. (21) found a higher activation of the latissimus dorsi with a wide anterior grip compared with other grips (close grip, supinated grip, and wide posterior grip) using 10RM-loads.
Andersen (2014) looked at the surface electromyography (muscle activity assessed on top of the muscle) of the lats, biceps, infraspinatus, and trapezius during 6 repetition maximum at 85% 1 RM with an anterior lat pull-down grip. Sixteen healthy teenage males with ~3 years of resistance training experience took part in this study.
The results showed a similar muscular activity with all three grips, with the medium grip having a trend towards higher biceps activation. Each movement had three phases, the eccentric, concentric, and isometric. The eccentric phase lengths the muscle, while the concentric shortens it. The isometric phase maintains the position of the muscle. The eccentric phase had significantly greater lat activity with wide, compared to the narrow grip.
The 6RM load using wide grip was approximately 4% lower than medium grip and approximately 4% lower than narrow grip. There were similar loads using narrow and medium grip widths.
Overall, a wide grip inhibits the amount of elbow flexion and extension, encouraging more shoulder abduction. This likely increases the lats and infraspinatus activity.
If seeking a greater activation of the lats and infraspinatus, a wider grip appears most applicable. However, expect being weaker in this position, due to less biceps activity and a slightly less advantageous position. Understanding the biomechanics and research behind exercise selection is key for elite personal training and sports training performance. Too often personal trainers lack the basic anatomical knowledge for exercise selection, resulting in sub-par results. Know thy anatomy and research for the best training results!
- Lusk, SJ, Hale, BD, and Russell, DM. Grip width and forearm orientation effects on muscle activity during the lat pull-down. J Strength Cond Res 24: 1895–1900, 2010.
- Signorile, JF, Zink, AJ, and Szwed, SP. A comparative electromyographical investigation of muscle utilization patterns using various hand positions during the lat pull-down. J Strength Cond Res 16: 539–546, 2002.
- Andersen V, Fimland MS, Wiik E, Skoglund A, Saeterbakken AH. Effects of grip width on muscle strength and activation in the lat pull-down. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Apr;28(4):1135-42. doi: 10.1097/JSC.0000000000000232.
Written by Dr. John Mullen, DPT, CSCS