Increase Lat Activation: Rotational Strap Pulldowns

Increase Lat and Back Activation with Rotational Strap Lat Pulldowns

Dr. Joel Seedman


If you’re looking for a unique but very effective vertical pulling exercise try this rotational lat pulldown using standard wrist straps attached to the barbell as demonstrated by one of my awesome clients Matt Jordan.  Although this isn’t one that you’ll load up with incredibly heavy loads there are several unique benefits not only for improving movement mechanics but also for stimulating functional strength and size in the upper torso.  Here’s why you would use this variation.

1. The straps create a more unstable and vulnerable bar attachment.  Because you’ll be gripping the hanging straps several inches or more below the height of the anchor point on the bar, this causes the bar to be more susceptible to tilting, swaying, shifting or rotating.  If you begin to pull more from one arm or allow one shoulder to elevate higher than the other, or you use excessive momentum, these deviations will be magnified as you’ll begin to loose control of the lat attachment.  In essence you’ll be forced to use smooth, crisp, symmetrical, and precise vertical pulling mechanics to keep this locked in.

2. This rotating strap lat pulldown variation absolutely crushes the grip as you’ll have to pinch the daylights out of the wrist straps to keep the handles from slipping out of your hands.  If you’re in need of a lat pulldown variation to crush your hands, grip, and forearms, this one’s tough to beat.  You can also use towels to crush the grip even further but unfortunately it can take away slightly form the rotational movement which leads me to my next point.

3. This specific set up allows a very natural rotational pulling motion to occur rather than the overly rigid grip attachment you would typically find with a standard lat bar setup.  In essence you’ll be using a fully pronated grip at the top position and gradually rotating to a fully supinated grip as you reach the fully contracted bottom position.  Besides being very conducive for reinforcing proper and smooth scapulohumeral rhythm and centrated glenohumeral joint mechanics (locked in shoulder joint), the rotational movement is also very effective for stimulating significant lat activation and growth

The reason for this is that the overhand or pronated position allows a greater lat stretch while the underhand or supinated position produces a more forceful contraction in the lats at the end of the concentric pull.  This produces both mechanical tension and muscle damage (to a moderate degree) as well as a degree of metabolic stress and local occlusion.  As a result the stimulation and muscle mind connection you’ll receive to the lat muscles will be significant to say the least even though the load will be relatively light.  However, for those suffering with joint issues and overuse injuries, having access to a lat exercise that allows you to use lighter therapeutic loads while simultaneously crushing the lats is always a welcome bonus

If you feel like grip strength is more of a limiting factor during these, try pre-exhausting your lats immediately prior to the pulldown using some form of kettlebell, dumbbell, or barbell pullover.  You can also use straight arm pulldowns with bands or a cable system for more constant tension on the lats.  In fact this is exactly what I had Matt do during this workout and his lats were pummeled for several days.  Typically 2-3 sets of 5-8 repetitions will more than suffice for this pulldown.  

If you need more information about improving shoulder health and function, check out this article HERE.