Today, I want to show you the best way to perform the reverse grip pulldown, also known as the underhand grip pulldown, or close grip supinated lat pulldown.
Reverse Grip Pulldown: Muscles Worked
The reverse grip cable pulldown works a number of different muscles in the back and arms, the main ones being:
- Latissimus dorsi
- Teres major (one of the back muscles that assists latissimus dorsi)
- Biceps brachii
- Posterior deltoid
Various muscles in the upper back, such as the traps and rhomboids, are also involved, but to a lesser degree. The forearm muscles are also involved in gripping the bar.
Reverse Grip Pulldown: Form Guide
The video below is one of the better demonstrations of the reverse grip cable pulldown. The guy doing the exercise is former Mr Olympia Dorian Yates, who popularized the exercise back in the 1990’s.
The lat pull down is typically done using a straight-bar attachment with a relatively wide grip and your palms facing forwards.
But in this variation, the hands are positioned slightly narrower than shoulder width, with the palms facing you (underhand grip).
1. The first thing I want to talk about is the position of the upper body. As the pulldown bar is pulled down to the front of the body, you want to lean back slightly, rather than staying upright.
I’m not talking about swinging, and using momentum to move the weight. Nor do you want to go back so far that you’re turning the exercise into a row rather than a pulldown. Just aim for a slight backward lean, rather than keeping the body upright.
2. Sometimes I see the lat pulldown being done in two phases, where the shoulder blades are retracted first, before the bar is pulled down. In most cases, there’s no additional benefit in doing so. Just pull the bar down towards the chest in one smooth movement, making sure to retract the scapula as you go.
FREE: The Muscle Building Cheat Sheet. This is a quick guide to building muscle, which you can read online or keep as a PDF, that shows you exactly how to put on muscle. To get a FREE copy of the cheat sheet emailed to you, please click or tap here.
3. Next, take a look at where the bar is being pulled down to. It comes down more towards the sternum than it does the upper chest. If you stay too upright, and pull the bar down in a straight line, you’ll end up pulling towards the clavicles. But with a slight backward lean, the bar will come down to the sternum. This a healthier position for your shoulders, as well as maximizing lat activation.
4. How far down should the bar come during each repetition? To the chin? To the chest? Rather than focus on whether the bar comes to the chest or chin level, I want you to focus on the position of your upper arm. If you look at the video, the upper arm is coming down so it’s roughly level with the torso.
And that’s the position I want you to aim for. As long as the elbow comes down to the point where it’s roughly level with the torso, that’s far enough. In most cases, the bar will stop short of actually touching the chest.
5. If you watch the video all the way to the end, you’ll notice that the extent to which Yates straightens his arms at the top of each repetition is reduced as the weight gets heavier.
While I don’t know for sure, I’m speculating this is because of an old biceps injury, which is causing him to use a partial range of motion. If you look at the earlier sets, where he was using a lighter weight, the range of motion was larger. And it’s his form in those earlier sets that I want you to aim for – the arms should be almost straight, but stop short of locking out the elbows.
6. If you find that fatigue in your forearm muscles causes you to terminate a set prematurely, use some lifting straps.
Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown: Popular Questions
1. Which is a better compound exercise for biceps, weighted chin-ups or the reverse grip lat pull down?
Both exercises are done with a supinated grip, and work the same group of muscles. So, in theory at least, chin-ups and pulldowns are both going to do a similar job. However, a lot depends on your ability to do weighted chin-ups.
It’s rare to walk into a gym and see weighted chin-ups being done well, under control, through a full range of motion. If you can do them, and do them properly, go with chin-ups. But in many cases, you’re actually better off with reverse grip pulldowns, at least until you get to the point where you’re strong enough to crank out multiple sets of 5-10 chin-ups.
2. Which is safer for your shoulders, the supinated or pronated lat pulldown?
Both a pronated (palms facing away from you) grip and supinated (palms facing you) grip are relatively safe for your shoulders, just as long as you don’t bring the elbows too far behind the body.
Some people have a tendency to pull their elbows too far past the middle of the body. This has the potential to cause something known as anterior humeral glide, which isn’t doing your shoulders any favors.
To avoid this, bring the bar down to the point where your upper arm is roughly level with your torso. It is possible to bring the elbows behind the line of the body, and do so safely, but only by utilizing more scapular retraction.
If your shoulder does feel a bit cranky with a particular lat pulldown variation, be it an underhand or overhand grip, then go with whatever grip feels better for you.
3. When doing a lat pulldown, is it better to stay as straight as possible or lean slightly back?
You want to lean slightly back, and pull the bar down towards your sternum. However, there’s a difference between leaning back slightly and loading up the lat pulldown machine with so much weight that you need to swing and use momentum to complete a rep. Nor do you want to go so far back that you turn the exercise from a pulldown into a row. A slight backward lean in the upper body is enough.
4. How many sets of underhand grip pulldowns should I do in my back workouts?
That depends on how frequently you’re training your back, how many sets you need to stimulate growth, and what other exercises you’re doing in those back workouts. In general, somewhere between 2-4 work sets is about right for most people.
If you’re following an upper/lower split, for example, your upper body workouts might involve 8 total sets for the upper back (4 sets of reverse grip lat pulldowns and 4 sets of rows), performed twice a week.
5. Is it better to do wide-grip pulldowns or reverse-grip pulldowns?
I wouldn’t say one is better than another, they’re just different. There are lots of muscles in the back, and including a variety of back exercises helps to ensure complete development of those muscles. Using different grip widths and hand positions can also help to reduce the risk of any repetitive stress injuries to the elbows, wrists or shoulders, which can happen if you do the same exercises all the time.
6. Should I do reverse grip lat pulldowns with a false grip?
In most cases, I’d recommend wrapping your thumbs around the bar. Your grip is stronger that way.
If you're overwhelmed and confused by all the conflicting advice out there, then check out The Muscle Building Cheat Sheet.
It's a quick guide to building muscle, which you can read online or keep as a PDF, that shows you exactly how to put on muscle. To get a copy of the cheat sheet sent to you, please enter your email address in the box below, and hit the “send it now” button.