It's tough to truly target the lats, which is why you see a lot of guys with ILS (Imaginary Lat Syndrome) walking around most gyms. For them, pull-ups and pulldowns become arm exercises instead of lat exercises. The result? Puny lats.
The straight-arm pulldown cures ILS by taking the biceps and mid-back out of the movement, forcing the lats to do the work. In this variation, the lats bring the bar down and move in an arc toward the rear of the body. This movement is a natural function of the lats, and you're largely missing it if you only do pulldowns and rows as part of your back/lats training.
To make the straight-arm pulldown more effective, do this:
- Turn your elbows in, not out, to better activate the lats.
- Add an isometric contraction to the bottom part of the exercise. That means "hold it at the bottom" of each rep, squeeze, and try not to blow your eyeballs out.
- I like to do these leaning slightly over a preacher bench. Press the bar into the pad as hard as possible for the isometric contraction.
Do It First
Do this exercise first on back day. It'll pre-activate your lats and you'll be able to use them more effectively in the exercises that follow.