Grow Massive Lats and Upper Back Strength with This Side Lat Pulldown
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Side or angled lat pulldowns have become increasingly popular in the bodybuilding world as they’re quite potent for building functional size and strength in the lats and upper back. Here's a unique variation of a side unilateral lat pulldown performed by one of my NFL athletes Jarius Wynn using a kneeling position.
To perform a side lat pulldown simply angle yourself 90 degrees from a cable pulldown or plate loaded lat pulldown machine then perform pulldowns in a unilateral fashion. These can be performed kneeling, half kneeling, or sitting on a bench or ball. The lateral angle produces a unique angle of pull that targets the lats differently than standard variations yet also quite intensely. Both the stretched position and contracted position produce extreme levels of intramuscular tension so be prepared to fire your lats like crazy. These can be performed on a number of lat pulldown machines including Hammer Strength, Nautilus, Life Fitness, and more. You may have to play around with the position as each machine will have its own unique feel and necessary adjustments.
The key is making sure the handle is slightly in front of the body while still angled to the side. This is where many lifters screw up this exercise by having the handle too far in back of them. If the handle is completely to the side without being slightly in front of the torso this causes the elbow to flare thereby negating tension to the lats not to mention tension on the shoulder joint.
The side lat pulldown can also be performed on stability ball as demonstrated by two of my NFL athletes Jarius Wynn and Fernando Velasco.
The stability ball also adds an additional element of core stability and motor control. Contrary to most strength coaches I have nothing against using stability/Swiss balls in the training routines of my athletes and clients as long as they're implemented properly. Unfortunately most trainers and coaches don't apply the stability ball appropriately and as a result the stability ball often times has a negative connotation around it. Yes you may not be able to overload the primary muscles with the same load you would typically handle but the instability of the ball oftentimes forces the lifter to use stricter and more rigid body mechanics which can do wonders for technique and form. However, if you do have to substantially decrease the load by more than 10-20% when using a stability ball chances are your form was pretty sloppy to begin with and probably involved excessive momentum and cheating.
This specific combination is also a great way to clean up postural alignment and teach the lifter to stay tight rather than losing full body tension. Several sets of 6-10 reps on each side is ideal. Try pausing in the top and bottom position of each rep for additional stimulation to the lats and improved body mechanics.
I also recommend super-setting these with unstable unilateral overhead presses like bottoms up variations or pizza presses with plates. Performing an agonist and antagonist superset in this fashion helps both movements become more locked in. That’s because each exercise helps the other due to the similarity of body mechanics yet recruitment of opposing muscle groups This creates enhanced eccentric co-contraction and reciprocal inhibition on the subsequent concentric phase.