Tip: Build Your Back with Iso-Lateral Pulldowns

Here's a new twist on pulldowns. Pair this exercise with the 5 x 5 method. Here's how.

Standard pulldowns are fine, but if you have access to an iso-lateral pulldown machine that allows you to turn the handles, use it.

What's the advantage? Aside from being able to train one arm at a time, you can adjust your technique and grip easily mid-set if you're not feeling the tension in the right place. In fact, you'll notice in the video that I twist the handles from a pronated grip to a supinated one.

Start with a couple ramp-up sets of 10 reps just to help you get your form down and put the tension in the right places, then move to the heavier sets.

Once you find a nice challenging weight, knock out 5 sets of 5 reps. Go heavy enough that your fifth rep is a challenge. If you underestimate your strength, no biggie, just add more weight on the next set of 5. Then after that 5 x 5, finish up with a light back-off set of 10 reps.


  • Ramp-up set 1: 10 reps with a 45-pound plate on each side = 90 pounds total.
  • Ramp-up set 2: 10 reps with a 45 and 25 on each side = 140 pounds total.
  • Work sets: 5 x 5 with a 45, 25, and 10 on each side = 160 pounds total.
  • Back-off set: 10 reps with a 45-pound plate on each side.

If you're using a standard pulldown machine, ignore the weights above because everything will be different. The load will also FEEL different because standard pulldowns use a cable system. So select a weight that's challenging but doesn't make you lose your form.