Can't build a wide back? It's most likely because your technique sucks and you can't develop a mind-muscle connection (MMC) with the latissimus dorsi.
The solution isn't to do more of what isn't working for you. Doing countless sets of crappy reps won't make up for a lack of quality. If you want to build your back, invest some time improving the activation of the lats.
Not All Pulldowns Are Created Equal
Exactly how you perform pulldowns will determine if the lats are effectively stimulated. To bias the lats and build a great MMC throughout the entire range of motion, you need to train them all the way from fully stretched to fully shortened.
To do this, use the single-arm "break-through" lat pulldown.
The single-arm part of the name is fairly obvious. The break-through portion relates to the fact that you're going to try and drive your elbow down to "break through" the leg pad at the bottom of the lift.
This exercise has a couple of key benefits compared to traditional pulldowns. First, doing it one arm at a time helps you to focus all of your intention on one side. This means you can really feel the lat working. It also means your scapula can move more freely and can get into a full stretch easier.
Using the rotating grip allows you to reach up and in-front of the body to create a good stretch on the lats. (A pronated grip doesn't allow for this.)
Second, using the leg pad as an immovable object to drive into provides a range check and really helps to create a high-quality peak contraction.
There are some key techniques which really magnify this exercise's effectiveness:
- Let the arm reach up and in-front of the body to achieve the lengthened position. This will immediately place tension through the lats.
- Initiate the movement by pulling the elbow down and in-front, NOT in back. This will keep tension on the lats and keep the upper back from taking over.
- Keep your arm path out in-front for as long as possible. Keeping a long lever arm creates and maintains maximal tension.
- Only at the bottom of the lift do you finish by driving your elbow around into the spine. Imagine trying to stab your elbow through the leg pad towards the base of your spine to achieve a great peak contraction. Hold this for a two-count.
After a few sets of 10-12 reps you'll feel your lats like never before!