Pullups are a great test of relative body strength in the back, shoulders and arm muscles. They can be done with minimum equipment and because pullups require so many muscle groups, they are a great fat-loss exercise as well.
According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, men 21 years and older should be able to perform five to nine pullups on average, 13 or more pullups are considered excellent. On average, women tend to have a more difficult time performing pullups. One or two pullups is considered excellent for women. -
While the pullup is still my favorite vertical pull exercise, the lat pulldown machine is a great option for many. For those who are unable to perform a chin-up (palms facing you) or pullup (palms facing away), the lat pulldown is an excellent way to build strength and develop muscularly in the upper back. The lat pulldown machine is also a great way for beginners and intermediate individuals to learn how to use their back muscles properly. It allows trainees to strengthen and target the latissimus dorsi, a very large muscle that is responsible for pulling exercises. While there are numerous benefits with the lat pull down, the behind-the-neck variation of this exercise has its drawbacks.
The problems with this variation begin at the neck. Because of the bar, the neck must flex forward too much. This forces the shoulders into a position at the extreme end of external rotation and the shoulders are hyperextended. All of this puts the shoulder at a mechanical disadvantage. What does this mean? It's bad for your shoulders, neck and spine. By pulling the weight in front of your body, not only is it safer, but you will be able to do more weight and reps.
A common belief is that by performing the lat pulldown with a wide grip, It will develop the "outer lats." According to the text "Effective strength training: Analysis and technique for upper-body, lower-body, and trunk exercises," it does not work the outer lats, but can increase shear forces at the glenohumeral joint. This may be bad for the shoulders and the risk-to-reward ratio with the behind-the-neck and very wide grip lat pulldown are not worth it. There are a ton of different grips and handles that you can choose from and I would recommend to try them all and pick the one that feels the most comfortable. Also, to integrate the core, try the lat pull down standing, in a split stance or kneeling position to challenge the back muscles while forcing the core to stabilize. This makes the lat pull a more total body and "bang for your buck" exercise. For video demonstrations of poor and proper lat pull down technique, visit www.KCstrength.com .
-Kyler Crouse, BS, CSCS is a personal fitness coach at Sierra Athletic Club and in the homes of clients in the greater Lake Tahoe area. He graduated with a bachelor of science in exercise physiology / minor in nutrition and earned the most prestigious certification in the industry, the NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist. For more information visit www.KCstrength.com.