Lat pulldown (for seniors)

Lat pulldowns are a great exercise for strengthening your upper back and biceps. Read on to learn why lat pulldowns are great for seniors!

If you’ve been reading any of my articles, you will know that I think that lower body strength is much more important for your health and functionality than upper body strength.

That still doesn’t change the fact that you should keep your upper body strength as well. Upper body strength helps in carrying things and performing day to day activities just like lower body strength does.

Having a strong upper back will also help to improve and keep your posture in order, as well as protect you from back pain, shoulder injuries and even fall. You see larger and stronger muscles help to protect your joints and bones in case of falling.

It’s very common for seniors to break a wrist or an arm when falling if they manage to save their hip by softening the impact with their hand.

Lat pulldowns and other compound row movement in addition to presses are perfect for strengthening the muscles, ligaments and joints of the upper body. They will also help to increase your bone mass and density, preventing osteoporosis.

What is a lat pulldown

The lat pulldown is a gym exercise that requires a special pulldown machine to perform. The machine consists of a bench, a grip handle, a cable, a pulley system and a stack of weights.

The lat pulldown is essentially a pull up performed on a machine. Instead of you hanging freely from a bar and lifting your self, you are fixed and pull the bar down.

Pull-ups are a great movement for building upper body strength but they are also notoriously hard to perform. Most seniors simply can’t perform several of them with good form and a full range of motion.

This is where the lat pulldown comes in. Like I talk about in my free weight training routine, progressive overload is needed over time for strength and muscle mass improvement.

The lat pulldown allows you to start with a very lightweight and increase the weight and repetitions over several workouts and week, allowing progressive overload to happen.

The “lat” in the name comes from Latissimus Dorsi, the large muscle of the upper back that is responsible for pulling and does most of the work in a pull-down.

How is the lat pulldown performed

The lat pulldown is performed as follows:

  1. The lift starts in a seated position, with the hands straight above your head, holding on to the handlebar
  2. Take a deep breath, tense your core and start pulling the bar down, with your upper back (think bringing your elbows to your sides).
  3. The weight is pulled all the way down down, either to face level or all the way to the chest
  4. The lift is finished by reversing the movement in a controlled manner

Important things to watch in the lat pulldown are a neutral lover back and midsection. Don’t use your abs to yank the weight down if you can’t pull it down. Just lower the weight.

You should also aim to keep your upper back fully extended. So don’t slouch. The muscles that should be performing the lift are the lats and the biceps.

Variations of the lat pulldown

The great thing about lat pulldowns is that it can be performed in several variations because it’s possible to change the handlebar, width and the orientation of your hands.

The “standard”, as in most common handle I have seen in gyms around the world is either a straight bar or a tapered wide grip bar.

The typical straight bar allows you to perform pullup (overhand grip) and chinup (reverse grip) emulations in various widths. The wide bar allows you to perform extra-wide pulldowns with an overhand grip that specifically targets the latissimus dorsi.

There are at least two opposing grips (palms facing each other) handle. The shovel handle and the narrow grip handle. They target the upper back muscles in a slightly different manner as well as targeting a different part of the biceps.

Muscles involved in the lat pulldown

The lat pulldown mainly targets the latissimus dorsi as the name suggests but it additionally targets several upper back muscle groups, the biceps and the forearms as well.

The lats are responsible for pulling your upper arms close to your body while your biceps simultaneously flex your elbow to pull the bar down. The bicep muscle involved are the biceps brachii, brachialis, and the brachioradialis.

The muscles responsible for depressing the scapula are also very active in the lat pull down. They include the rhomboids, levator scapulae, the lower trapezius and to an extent pectoralis minor.

The forearms muscles are responsible for producing the force to grip the handle. As the weight gets heavier, you will find the lat pulldown significantly fatigues and thus improves your grip.

Also the core muscles and lower back muscles work as stabilizers as you perform the pulldown so it’s actually a complete upper body movement that activates almost all of your upper body muscles to an extent.

Are lat pulldown beneficial to seniors

Lat pulldowns are very beneficial for seniors because they strengthen the upper back, the biceps, and the shoulder joints in a progressive manner.

Upper body strength is very beneficial for day-to-day activities as well as injury prevention and overall health. The large muscles of your back make up a significant amount of your overall muscle mass.

As I’ve explained it benefits of strength training for seniors article, the more muscle mass you have and the stronger you are, the more protection you have against injuries, metabolic diseases and old age frailty, also known as sarcopenia.

Since lat pulldowns allow you to strengthen a large proportion of your upper back, they will help you in getting the full benefits of strength training for your health.

The lat pulldowns are also excellent for improving the shoulder girdle stability which is a sure-fire way to improve your shoulder health, posture and to prevent shoulder injuries.

It’s important to perform a similar amount of pressing movements as you do pulling movements for the upper body to avoid developing muscle imbalances.

A great counterpart for the lat pulldown is the shoulder press because it’s the exact opposite movement pattern. You see, your body has antagonistic muscle pairs that need to remain in balance.

Antagonistic muscle pair means that as the other muscle contracts the other relaxes. The biceps and the triceps of the arms are antagonistic pairs as are the shoulder and the pectorals to the large pulling muscles of the upper back.

You should also include a horizontal row and press variations to develop functional strength in all planes and to activate all your muscles in a balanced fashion. These could include seated cable rows and push-ups for example.


I hope you found this lat pulldown tutorial useful and will include the exercise in your gym routine. The lat pulldown is a relatively simple exercise and it’s also very forgiving for form errors.

This doesn’t mean you should perform it with bad form, but it’s definitely an exercise that even complete novices should find relatively enjoyable because it’s simple to perform and allows you move some actual weight.

You will also find that if you learn the correct form with a light enough weight, you will progress very fast with the lat pulldown even as a senior because the large muscles of the back respond very well to strength training.

A strong back is always a useful thing and you will soon notice your posture improving and likely get comments from other people about looking strong. This is because nothing makes you look strong and healthy as well as a strong back.

Upper back strength also helps in activities like kayaking, playing tennis and nordic walking by improving your relative strength, posture, and endurance.

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See you next time.

2 thoughts on “Lat pulldown (for seniors)”

  1. Hi,

    Thanks for this great article. I do this lat pulldown 3x per week using a straight bar.

    I grip the bar as with my hands as far apart as they’ll go and the back of my hands facing me. I can feel a pull on each side of my back, more or less at waist hight.

    Would you say this is the best method, or should I be gripping the bar differently?


    • Gad you liked it, Judy! If I understood it right you are doing a wide grip lat pulldown with your palms facing you? This is fine if the straight bar isn’t very wide. I find that having a wide grip with palms facing yourself can be hard on your shoulders. I at least prefer a narrower grip with reverse grip and a wider grip with overhand grip.

      You know what. I just read through your comment again and realized you said back of hands facing you = overhand grip. It sounds you are doing a good variation that targets the upper back really well. If you don’t have any shoulder discomfort, there’s probably no need to change it. If you want to try a variation that targets your biceps a bit more, try the narrower grip with palms facing yourself. Hope this helps!


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